Could Too Little Turnover Be a Bad Thing?

 In Change Management, Employee Relations, Retention, Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan, in what he admits is meant to be a provocative post, argues that yes, low turnover leading to a large number of long-tenured employees can be a bad thing. His reasons are many, but I’ll put them in three big buckets:

  1. Satisfaction with the status quo and resistance to change: Resistance to all kinds of change (cultural, technological, organizational) especially if it was Not Invented Here.
  2. Networks/cliques of the like-minded: These groups can amplify the resistance to change, and may exclude or discount the value of newer hires, leading to recruiting and (ironically) retention problems.
  3. The expense is not justified by performance: Long-tenured employees make higher salaries and cost more in benefits, but may be resting on their laurels and failing to learn new skills.
The Long-tenured Dr. John Sullivan

The long-tenured Dr. John Sullivan

Sullivan sites research to back up these arguments. I must admit that these things have crossed my mind from time to frustrating time, and I expect I’m not alone!

The obvious objection is Age Discrimination. Sullivan raises this himself, and quickly deals with it by asserting that tenure does not equal age, (a twenty-eight year old may have 10 years of tenure) and by recommending that companies look at long-tenured employees and jobs individually rather than lumping them all in one big basket. That may work in theory, but in practice I think it’s a good bet that there is an adverse impact claim there someplace, especially in the Doctor’s native California.

Aside from the legal/compliance issues, I would argue that if change management is the issue, encouraging turnover is a quick, but probably futile, move. Change is difficult, and even if you can get rid of those who are most resistant as a first step, there will still be many steps ahead. Others will argue that the cost in lost institutional knowledge and wisdom is too great, that it is ethically flawed, and other reasons that will come to me after I post this.

I’ve been following Dr. Sullivan for quite some time, and had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a VHRA meeting a little over a year ago. He does succeed in being provocative. I’ll continue to follow him and I encourage you to do the same.