Increasing Employee Retention or Reducing Attrition?

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It may be that these two topics seem to you to be the same thing. They are the "flip side" of each other alright. But when it comes to demonstrating the impact of induction and gaining support for your program, there is a critical difference. One works with non educators and the other does not.

Retention Solutions

The most frequent methods for increasing employee retention have been to provide orientation and some level of mentoring support and guidance, at least for novice educators if not all new employees. This authorís reviews of such programs find that they do increase retention to some extent, perhaps 15-20%. However, this ìbumpî is not as significant as is often desired, nor as high as a more comprehensive induction program can provide. A comprehensive induction approach can attain retention rates as high as 96% over five years. (Texas A & M at Corpus Christi, etc.) In fact, it could be argued that one would not even want a higher retention rate, for surely, not everyone who tries teaching should be kept as a teacher.

What a comprehensive induction program should provide will be discussed later in this article. Our purpose at this point is to affirm the value of an effective. Clearly, even when a district can not offer the top salary, it can still effectively compete for and keep the quality educators by treating them professionally and by expecting and supporting effective employee performance. After all, people become educators to make a difference in studentsí lives.

The more districts can demonstrate to candidates and new employees that the district can help them achieve their original goal for becoming an educator, the more effectively districts can recruit and retain those employees. However, such a statement is easier said then done. Never-the-less, there is now extensive documentation of the power of mentoring and induction programs to increase teacher success and, thereby, to improve the ability of a district to attract and retain the best new employees. Simply stated, induction program success breeds teacher success, which breeds district success in attracting and retaining successful teachers, which increases the quality of teaching.

Funding New Employee Retention Efforts

The most typical way to provide a new employee support program has been a ìcommon senseî approach, which is founded on two assumptions:

Each of these assumptions contain some element of truth of course. But experience has clearly demonstrated that each contains unexamined fatal flaws. Regarding providing a program based on our own initial year experience ignores the dramatic changes in our profession which have occurred since that time and the fact that mentors, our very best teachers, do not feel they have all the answers as teachers themselves. This flaw has led to the wide spread discovery that ìNot every good teacher makes a good mentorî, and induction programs which have ìeased the stress for new educators and helped a bit with their retention, but not helped us to improve the quality of teaching or success of students.

Finding funding for ìcommon senseî induction and mentoring incentives has been a challenge too. While induction programs seem so logical to educators, sadly, such programs are often perceived as less than essential by the non educators who are decision makers at the local school board, state or provincial policy, and legislative levels. This has led to inadequately supported and abbreviated programs which do not have the capacity to provide the desired results, or to stronger programs while grant funding endures, but which cannot be sustained when the grants are unavailable. Clearly, the case for common sense approaches to new employee support are not as compelling nor as valued as we need.

A more recent approach has been to focus efforts to generate funding for new educator support programs on increasing employee retention. This can be viewed as an attempt to demonstrate one of the major the benefits of effective induction, which is increased numbers of effective educators working with students. Many studies in every kind of demographic and geographic setting have shown the ability of effective induction programs to increase retention. Some examples of the impact of induction on educator retention include:

As powerful a demonstration of ìsuccessî as these programs are for educators, many non educators still question the value of induction and even increased retention. This may be because the intended benefits of retention, improved teaching and student learning, are less concrete, although no educator doubts they occur. The bigger challenge has been that itís harder to demonstrate these benefits have occurred as a result of effective induction.

Reducing Attrition

Clearly, we need a different strategy if we are to create and adequately sustain the new employee support programs we know we need. Just as in business and other noneducational sectors, in education, we have begun to look for a clearer connection between our programs and the ìbottom lineî. The goal has been to collect and present local data which clearly show a monetary value for better support of new employees. This is why the most recent strategy for gaining induction support has been to demonstrate the true cost of employee attrition, which is the negative ìflip sideî of the more positive retention factor. In other words, rather than trying to show the less tangible benefits of increased retention, we must show the cost-effectiveness of decreased attrition.

The Challenge of Employee Attrition- How Bad Is It?
National projections (refr) suggest that, during the decade of 2000-2010 about 1/2 of all teachers nationally will need to be replaced. While these national level data are alarming for educators, both educators and noneducators alike would rather know their own districtís attrition rate AND the actual cost of that attrition to the district and its taxpayers. Clearly, locally specific staff and cost data are better for motivating local action.

All of this means that, for every local school district, the strategic starting point to increased new employee support is to be able to clearly show two factors:
1. The extent of your districtís need to recruit and employ new staff during the next five to ten years.
2. The actual total and per employee costs of employee attrition in your own district.

Districts need to use two ways to establish the first set of data on employment needs:

Reducing End-of Career Attrition
Until recently, district efforts have most often been to offer early retirement packages as incentives to cause attrition of the most senior staff members. The primary motivation has been to reduce the cost of these high salary employees by replacing them with less expensive younger educators. Now that the problems are the quality of teaching and having enough good teachers to staff our classrooms, the challenge has reversed to ìhow can we keep people who might want to retire?î

The starting point for addressing these concerns is the development of a profile of the age of current employees and extrapolating the numbers and dates for their eligibility for retirement. This is an important set of information to know, since you want to target them with retention efforts, or at least, you must be able to replace them. Improving the retention numbers at the end of the career requires a different set of strategies than does increasing retention early in the career. Efforts should primarily focus on increased employee earnings that will increase a pension later, affirmation of the value of elder staff contributions, and on providing new, envigorating leadership responsibilities. Among other possibilities, appointment as a mentor, serving in mentoring roles, and receiving a mentoring stipend fit these needs very well.

Reducing Early Career Attrition
While you need to know and address the number of staff who will retire, you also need to know how many employees are leaving before retirement age. This is a more critical factor to quantify as it is one over which your district can assert considerable influence. Specifically, the district needs to determine the total rate of employee attrition less the number retiring. The goals are to define and target a specific group of people and to do so with a different set of strategies than the end-of-career people need. Since attrition is the ìflip sideî of retention, the retnetion strategies we have discussed are still relevant to address attrition. What is different here is the need to know the cost of attrition. These data can be quite powerful, for they are annually repeating costs which are assumed to be necessary. These costs are so accepted as to have become almost invisble expensens.

Your strategy should have three parts:

If done carefully, you should be able to show that the district is spending MORE on attrition than the cost of induction. In other words, it costs more to do it wrong than it does to do it right! This argument is all the more compelling because your district does not need new money to do an effective job of supporting and keeping new staff. Induction will reduce the amount of money the district is already spending and losing each year to attrition! Induction more than pays for itself every year. Further, while that cost savings alone is enough a reason to do a quality induction program, there are many other reasons as well, like the improving teaching and learning, saving supervisory time, and increasing school improvement momentum, significant nonfinancial benefits in their own right.

Factors to Consider in the Cost of Attrition

Here are some things to consider that demonstrate clear financial costs. You basic need is to know the cost to the district when a new employee leaves teaching or is not rehired?

What you want to identify are your district's costs for:

Collect these data and figure it out as a cost for each individual employee. Then compare that to the cost of induction per employee. In many districts, you will be thousands of dollars ahead by doing the right thing.

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