Two of three companies around the world struggle to attract top-performing workers, and seven out of 10 have the same problem when it comes to critical-skill employees – yet few bother to find out what prompts workers to leave or join another organisation.
A survey by HR consultancies Watson Wyatt Worldwide and WorldatWork has found that the U.S. has the highest staff turnover rate, running at around 11 per cent, against just 5 per cent in Latin America.
But the poll of 946 companies and 13,000 employees also found efforts by companies to limit turnover appeared to be being hampered by an incomplete understanding of employee priorities.
For example, while workers ranked stress as a top reason for leaving a company, it was not even among the top five reasons cited by employers.
Employers often believed people left simply because they were not being paid enough or lacked career development or promotion opportunities.
"Attracting and retaining the right employees is a challenge for employers globally," said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards for Watson Wyatt.
"Employers that are best at building and maintaining the right work force are often the best at aligning workers' rewards with the company's goals.
"Their performance management programs clearly communicate what workers need to do to get ahead and to improve company performance. This builds a sense of teamwork that makes it easier to retain employees, as well as attract high-potential newcomers," she added.
The study found that, when employees were satisfied with stress levels and their work-life balance, 86 per cent were more inclined to stay put, against 64 per cent of those that were dissatisfied.
Nearly nine out of 10 in the same scenario would recommend their employer as a place to work, against just over half of those who were dissatisfied.
"Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees," said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at WorldatWork.
"There's no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition," he added.
The study also found that, to attract, retain and motivate the best employees, companies needed clearly to communicate expectations about rewards and then deliver as promised.
More than two-thirds of employees who said their employers succeeded at both also said they were committed to their company and motivated to help it succeed, against a fourth of workers overall. These employees were also more likely to be top performers.
"Clearly setting expectations and delivering on the reward promise is a formula for having a dedicated, productive workforce," Sejen said.
"When workers see that their performance has a real impact on rewards and that management follows through, employees become more committed and confident about the opportunities with their employer," she added.
Among other findings, the poll also found that roughly half of the companies polled said their managers did a good job at performance management.
But managers at U.S. companies received the lowest ratings, while those in Asia-Pacific received the highest.