3 Reasons Why Staff Turnover Fails To Measure Employee Engagement

by Stacey Barr |

Staff Turnover might be easy and familiar to measure, but it is a very poor way to measure employee engagement. Here are five reasons why.

When they have a strategic goal to improve employee engagement, many people default to an easy and familiar measure: Staff Turnover, the percentage of staff that leave the organisation. But neither ‘easy’ nor ‘familiar’ are good criteria for the relevance of a measure for a goal. Here’s why:

Reason #1. It measures a symptom of the result, not the result itself.

Staff Turnover measures the amount of staff leaving the organisation. It doesn’t distinguish why those staff leave, and we all know that the reasons someone would leave an organisation are wide and varied.

That they feel disengaged is just one possible reason among many: they were fired, they retired, they have family commitments, they felt like a career change, they have a health problem, they’re moving to a new city, and so on.

Reason #2. It is a lag measure, at best.

Staff leaving the organisation happens well after they have been feeling disengaged – if it happens at all for this reason.

It’s too late to re-engage people after they’ve left. A better measure of engagement is one that can detect a shift in engagement before it becomes a problem.

Reason #3. An increase might be good or bad, depending on your aims.

One strategy for improving engagement of staff might be to allow the people who don’t – and likely won’t ever – fit the culture to leave. That means you’re aiming for an increase in Staff Turnover for these people.

But you’d still need to know who isn’t very engaged and why. So we still need a better measure of engagement before we can even use Staff Turnover as a tool to help manage it.

How to meaningfully measure employee engagement.

Of course, Staff Turnover is not the only example of where the wrong measure is used as evidence of a performance result. Customer Satisfaction is not a good measure of how loyal customers are, even though it’s used that way a lot. And Number of Sales Calls is not a good measure of how talented the sales team is.

The only way to get good measures is to design them deliberately for your performance results. If you settle for what’s convenient, popular or familiar, you’ll pay the price in your decision-making. Here’s an example of how to measure employee engagement using a deliberate approach.


Where might you be using the wrong measure as evidence of your performance result? Take the time now to design a better measure, and you’ll avoid wasting time in the future acting on the wrong assumptions.

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  1. Prahlad Bhugra says:

    Stacey, I fully agree with your coments. I can share few examples based
    on my observations for improving team engagement –
    1) if in a team people do not see promotions happening at senior levels – people perceive that it is waste of time working in that team. Usually when a new team is formed – this is the cause of attritions in initial few years. Here Managers could focus on moving few of people from their team to other teams, could take leadership in defining senior role definitions for their team by collaborating with his senior management – examples of measure could be % people moved to other teams in a year, # senior positions created in the team
    2) Some actions are usually startegic in nature for improving team engagement – for example if we hire all senior folks in the team, the pipeline becomes stagnant and I have seen enmity between team members. Usually by having appropriate hiring startegy – we can create a right balance of team structure and provide opportunities of growth for all. Another example could be the team charter may be focusing on too many activities – so it thins the growth of the team. Having a startegy to remove few of the competencies out of the team is a very bold step but becomes necassary in many circumstances.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Prahlad, these are good points. It goes to show how we really need to 1) understand our specific challenge or performance problem, then 2) make sure we measure what’s relevant to managing that specific challenge or problem.

      Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Great Post. Your example points out the problems I run into when a metric isn’t comprehensive…a dead give-away that the metric wasn’t designed from the root question. When we design from a root question (“how engaged are our staff?”) then we next go to designing the picture of the answer. That picture would never be complete with only one measure (like turnover). In fact, since engagement speaks to our level of involvement and dedication to the ideals, values, and mission of the organization, I’d argue that turnover wouldn’t even be included in the picture! At best (as you say), it would be symptom…and to not really part of the answer at all.

    I find that people jump past the question and even when they start with the question, they jump past the design phase and want to go straight to a measure. Some even go straight to what data they have and skip the measure! My experience says that we do this because we don’t want to invest the effort to do it right, we just want to fill the box (the one that says we have a measurement program), or we are afraid of what the real answers will tell us.

    Thanks for your blog! I love reading your insights,

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