Mark Weil, CEO at TMF Group, discusses the rise of staff attrition in the industry

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At the start of 2023 many companies are still struggling to find employees. The job market favours the applicant far more than before Covid-19 across many sectors. Higher interest rates and lower economic growth so far haven’t reduced the pressure on labour availability.

High staff turnover isn’t just a matter of the cost it creates. The disruption from running with a lot of open roles and with less experienced staff can disrupt client service, increase error rates and lead to more serious compliance and reputation damage.

Mark Weil, CEO at TMF Group

Examining the data

A lot of commentary on the situation has been based on surveys of employees’ intentions rather than their actual decisions. By managing our clients’ financial, legal and employee administration we have access to large volumes of data. This provides insight on the overall recruitment and resignation levels across workforces, from several hundred thousand employees, covering a broad range of sectors and job levels in more than 90 countries.

As a starting point, the data tells us that there was indeed a significant global increase in staff resignation during and after the pandemic. Across the 90 countries, average company staff attrition rose from around 15% annually in mid-2020 to 25% at the end of 2021. That’s a dramatic 67% increase in just 18 months.

Global annualised employee attrition trend

Digging deeper reveals a much more nuanced picture by company and country. In 2021, staff attrition averaged around 20% across the 90 countries but was below 10% in a small number, with Argentina the lowest at 6%. Of those above 20%, India, the UK and Poland topped the list with a rate of 26%. Both India and Poland are now major destinations for companies establishing regional service centres – locations that are supposed to be low cost, stable hubs that support many other countries. So rising staff turnover there will be particularly painful.

2021 average employee attrition by country

When examining the data at company level, annual attrition levels vary  even more widely, from a low of around 5% to a high of 40%. Some of that will be a result of challenges in specific industries and companies. Some will arise from the underlying attrition in the labour market of the countries they operate in. To disentangle how much is company versus country, we compare in the chart below the attrition a firm is seeing with the average attrition it should be seeing given the mix of countries where it operates.  The wide spread in the data shows that that country averages matter far less than individual company factors. For example, looking at companies whose country mix should give them expected attrition of around 15-20%, we see many at 30%-40% and others at just 5%-10% attrition.

Company actual 2021 attrition versus average for the countries where they operate

Staff attrition is a problem at any time, but becomes a significant threat to a business if it gets too high. How high is a matter of judgement and depends on the particular company. In professional services, for example, when staff attrition is above 20% it starts to impact client service and above 30% it can pose a risk to regulatory and reputational integrity.

The rise in global staff attrition, coupled with big spikes by country and company means that multinational firms will have an increased number of locations where attrition is high and potentially well beyond manageable levels. From 2020 to 2021 the number of employees in company locations experiencing more than 20% attrition nearly doubled, from around 15% to 27%. Looking at where the levels were highest, employees in countries experiencing more than 35% attrition rose from 1% to 7%. That means there’s an increasing number of hotspots, where extremely high staff attrition means companies need to intervene quickly to avoid staff resignations spiralling due to increased workload.

Factoring in country complexity

An important additional factor is the complexity of a particular country to operate in. Many countries  have onerous business rules which are enforced vigorously. High staff turnover in complex countries is particularly dangerous because of the added risk of compliance breaches.

We can look at country complexity using TMF Group’s Global Business Complexity Index. It ranks countries annually based on 292 criteria, covering the fiscal, legal and employment environments for doing business in each location.