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How Do We Measure Turnover?

Our university is trying to determine the best way to calculate turnover. Is there an industry standard for how turnover is calculated in higher education?

More precisely, we aren't clear whether to base it on total employee count, number of full-time equivalents, and whether adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty should be included in the turnover ratio. We would love to know how other universities are calculating turnover ratios.

— Numbers Game, budget and finance, government, Colorado

August 18, 2014
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Related Topics: HR Metrics, Retention, The Latest, Dear Workforce, Talent Management
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Dear Numbers Game:

At our university, we have done some research on how other organizations, including universities, are calculating turnover. Two basic calculations are:

  • Number of employee exits / (number of employees at beginning of time period + number of new hires during the same time period).
  • Number of employee exits / average number of employees (number of employees at beginning of time period + number of employees at end of same time period /2).

Of course, while these two methods look straightforward, the rest of your question raises important issues about the details of turnover calculations. For example, you ask whether “exits” and “employees” should be based on full-time employees or headcount.

We believe it should be based on headcount because, after all, we’re trying to assess employee turnover. Whether the person who leaves counts as half or one full-time employee, he or she is still an employee who left the organization.

You also ask whether adjunct/non-tenured faculty should be included. The answer really hinges on why you’re calculating turnover. In most organizations, turnover analysis is used to identify whether there are workplace issues that need to be addressed (e.g., if turnover is too low or too high).

The best way to answer this question may not be calculating and analyzing overall turnover across campus. Instead, it’s important to take a look at individual segments of the workforce. For example, turnover (and the reasons for and costs of turnover) may be quite different when blue-collar employees are compared to faculty members. So, we suggest that turnover be calculated for the individual employee categories, as well by other criteria. For example, is there turnover variability across demographic groups, or across different performance levels (i.e., are our best performers leaving at rates higher than other groups)?

As for your specific questions about adjunct/non-tenured faculty, if this is an important component of your workforce I’d include these employees and maybe even take a look at retention specifically in these groups. I recently had a conversation with the president of a university that is heavily focused on online learning. The president made a particular point that the university’s adjunct faculty, who “teach” the online courses, are critical contributors. Therefore, he said that the university specifically focuses on assessing their satisfaction, engagement and retention — and taking action to make sure that adjunct faculty members are satisfied and staying with the university.

A useful resource on turnover analysis is a report issued by the Partnership for Public Service, “Beneath the Surface: Understanding Attrition at Your Agency and Why It Matters.” This report addresses how to analyze attrition and understand who's leaving and why. Although written for federal government agencies, the report’s suggestions apply to other organizations as well.

SOURCE: Bob Lavigna, director of human resources, University of Wisconsin at Madison

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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