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This is not staff recognition

Surprise! Money just doesn’t do it

While in Philadelphia last fall, I came across this headline in the November 2, 2006 issue of USA Today:

“Bonuses don’t cut turnover for TSA”

The article describes how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had attempted to reduce turnover by introducing “retention bonuses” for airport screeners. Improved retention would mean shorter lines at airports and more experienced screeners who, the article says, are “better at finding weapons at checkpoints”.

As reflected in the headline, the initiative appears to have had no effect. Despite extra payments of
$500 to $1,000, the turnover rate remained unchanged at 19.9 per cent, one of the highest in the American government.

Once again, here is evidence that money alone does not buy commitment, even among people for whom $500 to $1,000 is a significant boost to an average annual income of $30,000.

To its credit, the agency appears to understand that more is needed and is taking other steps to improve
retention. According to the article, TSA plans to create screener jobs with higher salaries. These screeners will focus on detecting bombs and identifying suspicious passengers. Gale Rosside, a TSA associate administrator, is quoted as saying that this change could upgrade screening “from a dead-end job to an occupation where (screeners) can see years of opportunity”.

Will it help? Perhaps. But when it comes to reducing turnover, there is a limit to what can be done on
an organization-wide basis. The real battle against turnover is not one to be won at the boardroom table
or in corporate offices. People in senior positions are limited in what they are able to do. They may authorize bonuses or create new career opportunities, but they have little influence over employees’ daily, onthe-job lives.

The people who can do the most to reduce turnover and retain staff in any organization are the employees’ immediate supervisors. More than anyone else, supervisors create the climate of the workplace
and influence staff morale.

When supervisors manage through means such as intimidation, compliance, and pettiness when applying company policies, their departments are characterized by unhappy, disengaged employees and higher
attrition rates.

On the other hand, supervisors who respect staff, keep them informed, and express appreciation for their contributions are more likely to lead a workforce made up of individuals who are committed to the
organization and less likely to leave.

What was missing from the USA Today article was a description of what the TSA is doing to prepare supervisors to provide the leadership that builds commitment. Maybe this is because there was nothing to
report. Unfortunately, until this missing piece is added to the story, the tale of high turnover at TSA – or in any other organization, for that matter – will continue to be there to be told.

Nelson’s affiliation with the Vital Learning Corporation means that he can offer clients classroom and on-line training that develops leadership and communication skills which enable those in supervisory positions to build commitment within the workplace. One of the newest modules in the Supervision Series is Retaining Winning Talent.

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