Many a manager has wondered, "If I spend money training employees, won't they just use the skills they've gained to get a new job somewhere else that pays more?" To which training experts respond, "Of course not. In fact, training actually reduces turnover." When it's repeated long enough and loudly enough by enough people, it becomes believable.
It's gotten less believable now, however, thanks to a newly published study that shows training employees can, just as tight-fisted entrepreneurs fear, actually increase turnover. The study, published under the appropriately scholarly title "Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities" in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Psychology, reports the results of interviewing 246 Fortune 500 employees.
The researchers, two from the University of Iowa and two from the University of Illinois-Chicago, found that, sure enough, when employees took training classes and participated in career mentoring and similar programs, they had warmer and fuzzier feelings about their employer's support for their own development. They also found that when employees were trained they did their jobs better and were also less likely to voluntarily leave the company -- sometimes, that is. When opportunities for advancement were lacking, not only did job performance suffer in trained employees, but they were also more likely to quit and go somewhere else.
So, as it turns out, according to this research not only do you have to train your employees, you also have to give them a chance to use their newly acquired skills to move up the organizational ladder. Although the study was done in a large company, it may have particular significance for small companies. Being smaller and flatter, with fewer levels of hierarchy, they are inherently less likely to be able to offer employees promotions.
So does this mean that you'd better not train your people unless you want to see them hightailing it out the door, taking with them the skills they have acquired on your dime? Not necessarily. But it does suggest that reducing turnover can't by itself justify spending money on training -- unless you're also investing time and money and effort in giving people upward career paths.
If you want to increase your chances of hanging onto valuable employees, this research will probably prompt you to both train and promote them. Then if they leave anyway, you'll at least know you did everything you could.
Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, freelance journalist whose reporting on business, technology and other topics has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications. Learn more about him at The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Asiatic League, CC2.0