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Zero Voluntary Turnover is Like a Cure for Aging - We Couldn't Handle It...

Read an interesting book over the holidays that reinforced a perspective I have on the age-old concept of turnover.  The book is The Postmortal by Drew Magary, a novel that outlines a future dystopia where most of the population has opted to take a cure for aging, which means they stay the age they are when they take “the cure” for the rest of their lives.

The citizens who take the cure can still die – they can get shot, get cancer, etc, but the younger they are when they take the cure, the longer it takes those odds to catch up with them. Postmortal-cover-image

Of course, stopping the aging process is a lot like the thought of zero turnover – it sounds great.  But as you might expect when you stop to think about it for more than 5 minutes, there are some unexpected negative consequences of 95% of the world’s population freezing their age for an indefinite period of time:

-The concept of retirement goes out the window.  Dude – you’re going to live forever. There’s no longer golden years where you get a break and get to reflect about what it all means. You still need money to live. Forever.

-Marriage becomes a bit of a problem. Yes, we promised to be together until death do us part – but nobody said I was going to have to live with you for 200-300 years.  Plus, I look fabulous and can easily attract another hottie. Check please!

-Natural resources become a problem quicker than we thought we would. The population is booming since no one is dying, and leave it to the Chinese to start “resetting” their population numbers by nuking entire cities within their own borders (the ones the central government considers outliers).

The “cure” in The Postmortal was developed via a scientific accident where a scientist was attempting to modify DNA to create a cure for being a redhead.  Once the world found out about the discovery, the genie was out of the bottle before anyone could control distribution and think about what it all meant.

Scary, since there’s undoubtedly going to be discoveries in our future that are going to change the social contract we all live under.

But to the point of this blog - What would happen if some engagement wonk stumbled across the holy grail of retention? The workplace equivalent of stopping the aging process is ensuring 100% retention and zero voluntary turnover, right?

A lot of people think that would be a good thing.

I think it would suck.

Why? Voluntary turnover is the elixir of change. It puts constant pressure on everyone in the employment system – managers, employees, companies, etc – to not suck too badly.  Just like death (plus faith) in the real world. Eliminating voluntary turnover eliminates that pressure, and it would also eliminate a company’s ability to bring in new talent in a frequent fashion.

If I had the cure to voluntary turnover, I’d put it in a Al Gore-style lockbox, bury it and hide it from all of you.

The Postmortal taught me it’s just better that way.  Trust me.


Andy Phillips

Totally agree. Too little churn is worse than too much. Not only do you miss out on new ideas/approaches but also the relationship between employer and employee starts to become unhealthy. If nobody wants to leave, you have to ask yourself if you are hiring right.
Always enjoy your posts!

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