I recently announced my departure from my former job. It was a managerial role in the best company I’ve ever worked for. When I was asked (with a little too much enthusiasm) to make a speech, I started by saying “My departure is not bad news”. And it’s true for several reasons:

  • I felt that I had done what I had to do for my department.
  • I felt that I was bringing less and less value, having pushed the autonomy of my teams to its peak.
  • The projects I had that were parallel to my work contributed more to my motivation and my fulfillment. I just decided to focus on what was bringing me the most value.
  • This job helped to establish my Purpose and Meaning in life. It would have been absolutely counterproductive not to go all the way.

Having to explain this made me think a lot…

My problems with the turnover rate

As a manager, I was boasting that our department had an excellent turnover rate. And my departure was going to increase it. Yet my departure, as I said before my colleagues, was good news. That’s when my thinking started and I discovered several problems with the age-old concept of turnover rate.

The turnover rate is reactive

It’s a bit of the same problem that I’ve already denounced with exit interviews. Although the turnover rate may be an interesting metric for many, it has little meaning over a short period of time, and requires people to leave their job for this metric to “work”. But this metric provides no context. It is only an observation after the fact.

The turnover rate suggests that change is not welcome

It’s well known that you get what you measure. In this case, we measure whether or not people stay in the company. It seems, at first glance, to be the right thing. That being said, is the company moving forward? Are people progressing in their work? Have people had promotions? We do not know. But we know how many people have stayed. We want people to stay in office. It is the objective. And that brings me to my biggest problem.

The turnover rate does not ensure that people are thriving

For me, stagnation means death. The death of motivation, the death of self-fulfillment, and personal development.

If the goal is for people to stay in office, what do we do with people who are miserable but still stay? And for those who do not like their work? Who have aspirations? We tie them to their chair and cross our fingers? Too often, I’ve seen companies keep people in a role they did not like because they “didn’t want to lose them”, and guess what happened? They lost them much earlier then they thought. For me, stagnation means death. The death of motivation, the death of self-fulfillment, and personal development. I’m the kind of person whose role is changing extremely fast. I need it. Can a company that optimizes for a good turnover rate help me in my journey? Or, will the company try to keep me in a role I do not like, hoping that I bring as much value?

The turnover rate will soon be irrelevant

I have once stayed 8 years in the same company. Twenty years ago it was commonplace, nowadays, especially in IT, it’s almost unthinkable. And the trend will continue, and spread to other business domains. People are increasingly looking for meaning in their work, and are now willing to make many sacrifices to fulfill their daily lives. Labor relations are expected to be shorter or in another format. Companies that are very good (I will not even talk about companies of dubious morality) may have turnover rates of 60% in a few years, and it will be commonplace.

The question to ask is: are people leaving because of our businesses? Or do they leave because they no longer need us, to do things bigger than they could do with us?

When we’ll get there, I think the turnover rate will become irrelevant. People will grow, find meaning and achieve their dreams. The questions that companies will have to ask themselves will be:

  • People, who leave to do greater things, are they doing it in spite of us, or with us?
  • How did we contribute to the emancipation of these people?
  • Will these people be willing to refer people, or even find those who could replace them? Or have we broken this relationship by holding them back or preventing them from fulfulling their dreams?

In summary: Have we created an ambassador?

So I propose the emancipation rate

I know a ton and a half of companies that would rather have miserable employees in their jobs rather than help them grow, even if it could mean they might find work elsewhere. But I refuse their reality.

If I want to pretend to cultivate the awesomeness of people, I can not just keep people in the office. I absolutely do not think this is beneficial. People with career aspirations will not all be able to develop in their role forever. Isn’t it our job, we, the companies and their representatives, to make sure that our valued employees grow and thrive? Even if it’s in spite of us and our needs? I know a ton and a half of companies that would rather have miserable employees in their jobs rather than help them grow, even if it could mean they might find work elsewhere. But I refuse their reality. I sincerely believe that a happy person elsewhere is better than a miserable person who stays in office. I sincerely believe that it is the duty of every manager and every company to raise people beyond their potential and their motivation to the risk of seeing them leave.

Will my recent departure bring a shadow on the company as it increases the turnover rate? I am one of those people who used his role as a stepping stone to accomplish important things for myself, for others, and for the world of work. I’m still talking about Marine Press saying “We”. I am still an ambassador for this company, I still refer candidates. It’s still my baby. I have elected myself as an ambassador for them.

If I count myself among those who were under my responsibility, my emancipation rate is 75%. 75% of the people on my team who voluntarily left did it to flourish in other projects, and no longer needed the company for this to happen.

It’s a much more interesting metric for me. It proves that the company has done its part for happiness and fulfillment at work.


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Olivier Fortier
OLIVIER Fortier is first and foremost a believer in human beings. Owner of the blog Primos Populi -- which is Latin for People First -- his focus is to find innovative ways to bring back (and keep) people at the core of businesses, and ensure they can thrive. A manager, agilist, servant leader, facilitator, and former Scrum Master, all of these interesting titles and roles represent only the means to achieve what he truly believes in: cultivating people's awesomeness. His favorite things to reflect on are leader-leader relationships, psychological safety and the right to fail, career and personal development, humanity in recruitment, and how to lower the center of gravity of decision-making processes. Considering that businesses wouldn't exist without people, can one imagine how powerful it would be if all employees wholeheartedly wanted to be in their organizations, and wanted to do what they do? This is the work world Olivier wants to live in, and the goal he set for himself.
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