Keeping Culture Healthy With High Turnover: 3 Insights on How to Do It

Jason Bacaj | 4 min read

Turnover is a hurdle you’ll have to clear at one time or another when handling company culture.

Whether it’s seasonal hiring, layoffs, or just coincidental departures, employee churn can stress an organization.

So, we did a sort of informal study to find strategies for maintaining a healthy culture amid high turnover.

We looked at a few industries —restaurants, retailers, and newspapers — that were identified by LinkedIn research as ones with some of the highest turnover rates, which was pretty unsurprising. All three are stereotypically known for too much work and too little pay.

Within each sector we found organizations that stood out for culture or notably low turnover. Then we dug around trying to figure out how they did it. Here’s what we found:

Hiring internally

The Cheesecake Factory, one of our partners, stands out for employee retention in part because it invests in its employees and partly because Cheesecake Factory makes many hires internally. Through its Diploma and Degree Program for kitchen staff, where the company pays for a GED or associate’s degree. As far as hiring internally, Fortune says the Cheesecake Factory promoted from within to fill 46% of junior manager positions.

Pal’s Sudden Service is — as you might’ve guessed — a quick-service restaurant. Pal’s is a drive-through with more than 25 locations in Tennessee and Virginia, and in 2001 it became the first restaurant to with the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, which is the country’s highest presidential honor for performance excellence.

Pal’s workers are mostly young and part-time, and received about 120 hours of training before they’re allowed to work on their own, according to the Harvard Business Review. Clear employee investment and internal hiring helps keep turnover low, as evidenced by annual turnover among assistant managers coming in at 1.4%.


A clear mission

The journalism world has seen plenty of tumult since the internet upended the industry’s traditional business model and things still haven’t settled out yet — in early 2019 more than a thousand journalists were laid off. Still, there are news organizations with healthy newsroom cultures.

Most of these organizations are nonprofits. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit news organization that started in 2009 and recently released its strategic plan. The Marshall Project started in 2014 pairs reporters and lawyers to exonerate the wrongly convicted. There’s even one here in our home state: the Montana Free Press, which has its own interesting story that’s too long to get into here.

ProPublica is perhaps the most prominently thriving news nonprofit. The investigative nonprofit is expanding, adding more reporters to its network through the Local Reporting Network initiative, which launched in 2017 and expanded in 2018.

One of the throughlines connecting this range of newsgroups is a clear mission, and concentrated focus.

By taking profit out of the equation news nonprofits are aligned, top to bottom, and committed to practicing good journalism. It’s attractive to reporters, who generally get into the business to speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account.

Employee development

Nugget Market is a California-based supermarket chain and a mainstay on Great Places to Work lists. It has appeared on Fortune’s Top 100 places to work list for 14 straight years, in part because of its investment in its people: Nugget Market spent $1.4 million on employee development in 2018 and the CEO annually offers a thousand dollar bonus to employees who quit smoking for a whole year.

Patagonia is known in part for its minimal turnover and employee-friendly culture; Yvon Chouinard, its founder, wrote a book on it, “Let My People Go Surfing.”

His words are put into practice through perks related to the company mission, and opportunities for personal development. Employees can take time to surf during the day, and can take two-month paid sabbaticals to work on environmental projects.

All in all, these are somewhat mundane insights. Hiring internally is smart. There’s value in a clear, unambiguous mission or objective. And employees are more likely to be invested and engaged if you invest in them. These are all things we should intuitively know.

The main takeaway, it seems, is that employees need a reason to buy into an organization, whether it’s appealing to someone’s desire to serve the greater good or giving them the opportunity to further their career. Sometimes, though, the obvious answers are the hardest to reach.

Wisetail LMS content creator, Jason Bacaj.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.