Features

Turnover Trouble

-Samantha Newman-

Turnover rate seems to be a hot topic at Menlo College. Many students have been wondering where administrators have been going and how many more are going to leave. Currently Menlo College has a turnover rate of around 26% * for the most recent fiscal year, and around 20% for the 2015 calendar year. There have been 46 voluntarily leaves or firings of employees with full benefits within the past 21 months, 23 within the last calendar year, and 30 within the last fiscal year. There are also currently 116 staff members with benefits, according to Menlo College’s HR manager, Jay Naidu. Most colleges have a turnover rate of 12.8%. Our closest neighbor, Stanford, usually has a turnover rate anywhere from 9-12% according to Angelina Ruggiero, HR manager at Stanford University. This leads people to wonder then, why is Menlo’s turnover rate so high?

Sharyn Moore, Rhett Burden, Jessica Ayers, Madison Steele, Teri Thomas, Sara Duran, Carmen Stockberger, and more have all left Menlo College in the past year or so. Perhaps one of  the most surprising and unexpected departures was that of Rhett Burden who came to us at the beginning of last school year as the new Director of Residence Life and Community Standards. He left before the Fall Semester had even completed, and now his LinkedIn simply says Assistant Director Housing and Residence Life at Campus Living Villages without so much as a mention about working briefly at Menlo College. Was Mr. Burden unhappy at Menlo? The sudden departure suggests that much. One student that worked with him explained that Rhett felt as if his work wasn’t solving any issues but instead only creating more. Miscommunication led to him being scheduled to work on every Tavern Night which added discontent and stress, especially because he was newly-wed who probably wanted to spend time with his wife. Not having meaningful work is the most common reason people leave their workplace, so if Rhett felt as if his work was not meaningful his departure makes sense. However, it wasn’t only Rhett who’s leaving surprised Menlo; there were many more after, which led to the intrigue of figuring out what was happening.

My next stop in uncovering this mystery was Glassdoor.com, a website where people can leave anonymous reviews for places they have worked. Looking at Menlo College on Glassdoor.com, I saw most of the reviews were generally positive except for two. One was posted on November 20th, 2015 and gave Menlo 2 stars. It simply stated:

[Menlo is] extremely divided among departments. Typically those who want to implement change leave the school. You either drink the kool-aid or you jump ship. If your primary focus is the students and their advancement you tend to help them off line as resources are low…

For being a business school in the Silicon Valley you have to catch up. Your (sic) technically behind and you can (sic) expect to hire A1 talent on post grad salary. (Anonymous User, Glassdoor.com)

Similar complaints followed on Glassdoor with qualms about the salary as well as employee perks.
A more recent review posted on May 20th, 2016 stated:

The pay is horrible, and there are often questionable practices where the written offer is dramatically lower than the verbal. It is well below market, even for higher education.

Dependent insurance costs over $900 per month.

Communication is horrible, even within a department.

The president is a former VC with no higher education experience.

High turnover due to extremely low pay. This is true in all departments.

Poor, even aggressive behavior is allowed to continue because management is clueless about what goes on. If they are told, they opt to do nothing because it’s easier and positions are difficult to fill due to poor pay/benefits.

They hire a lot of their former students, because getting experienced professionals to take these salaries is difficult.

Almost every major department head is either an empty position or someone who has been on the job for less than a year. Lack of continuity causes problems. (Anonymous User, Glassdoor.com)

Pay is mentioned in both reviews and  seems to be one of the biggest issues for Menlo College’s employees. An anonymous source explained that it was what led to the recent departure of both Jessica Ayers and Madison Steele of the Financial Aid department. “They were being paid 30% less than the industry standard,” the anonymous source said. According to Payscale.com the median salary is $60,064 for a Financial Aid Director**. There is one salary on Glassdoor.com for Financial Aid Director, and it gives a range of $47k – $51k. This is actually around 15-22% less than the industry standard, but when you factor in the area that we live in, the average salary for a Financial Aid Director in the Bay Area is $87,639 ***. This is actually 54%-58% less than the area’s average which is disheartening to any employee.

Admittedly, not everyone leaves because they are unhappy at Menlo College. One staff member told me that they believed the reason for so many departures was simply the fact that quite a few employees had been working here for many years and wanted to pursue careers elsewhere. “Sara Duran left Menlo College so that she could pursue her career at Google,” the staff member said. This makes sense since many people who graduate Menlo College often become staff members as a way to build experience in a familiar field. However, it is also important to keep in mind that this practice also leads to people leaving in order to search for better paying careers.

Is it purely an issue with compensation though? Other people around campus also expressed discontent with the organization of management, the miscommunication among departments and understaffing were also common complaints from people around campus. Understaffing is an issue that negatively affected Student Affairs for the majority of the school year. Another understaffing issue is the fact that Menlo only has one person running the Human Resources department, Jay Naidu.

My final stop was to go directly to the source, as I could, and interview Mr. Naidu. Below is our correspondence:

Strengths:

  1.     What is working well?

Menlo College is going places, and that’s always a great position from which to recruit and retain employees.  We also have a comprehensive benefits package for employees. In particular, the employer contribution to the retirement plan is exceptionally good. Cafeteria privilege/s is also a great benefit.

  1.     What do we do well?

From an HR perspective, the service areas (Business Office, HR, Security, OIT, Facilities, and more) are all easily accessible to the employee community…in fact HR and Security are available 24×7!

  1.     What is unique about Menlo retention strategies?

We provide excellent benefits, competitive salaries, and a good community environment.  

Weaknesses:

  1.     What are negative effects from the turnover rate?

We monitor turnover rates in the various units on campus. If the rate in a particular area spikes, we look to understand the reasons.  We conduct exit interviews with every departing employee, so we learn quickly where there may be opportunities to improve.  Based on exit interviews that have taken place over the years, we already know we lose most of our employees for either advancement opportunities, a spouse transferring, family medical issues, or retirement.  

  1.     What are the common complaints from faculty?

There are always room for improvements, but it’s important to note that we lose very few full-time faculty in any given year.  

Opportunities:

  1.     What needs improvement?

As stated earlier, we always look into ways to improve the benefits and pay scales. Always ongoing.

  1.     What does Menlo College need to be doing? (Executives, top people).

The Executive team is always responsive and has a great pulse on what is happening. They have an open door policy.

  1.     What should we start/ stop doing?

Our ongoing challenge is keeping up with the ever-changing demands of our jobs.  

  1.     How do you think the turnover rate should be lowered?

As stated earlier, we already know we lose most of our employees for reasons over which we have little control (advancement opportunities, a spouse transferring, family medical issues, or retirement).  

Threats:

  1.     What is the most common cause of leave?

Same as previous question?

  1.     Financial threats of turnover?

It is almost always far less expensive to retain an employee than to recruit and train a new one.  That’s why we take employee retention so seriously at Menlo College.

From the interview above; one answer stood out to me. Mr. Naidu stated that what was unique about Menlo’s retention strategies were “provid[ing] excellent benefits, competitive salaries, and a good community environment.”  This stood out to me because I know that Menlo actually has no formal retention strategies. Interestingly enough, benefits and salaries were actually what were seen as negative aspects among the employees who left reviews on Glassdoor.com.

Menlo College is an exceptional and unique college, but discrepancies between HR, employees, and upper management seem to have created something of a rift. Hopefully Menlo can resolve their turnover trouble so that students can have some degree of stability in their academic life. Coming to know and feel comfortable with an administrator only to have them leave in a few months is often jarring and disheartening for students. I believe Menlo College has the ability to solve this issue but just needs a push in the right direction.

* Turnover rate calculated by taking 30 voluntary departures and firing of full-time workers excluding seasonal, student, and adjunct workers over 116 employees of the same demographic for the fiscal year ending June 30th, 2016. Readers should consider that the rate did not account for the fluctuation in population because of positions that have yet to be filled.

** Since this article was written the title has been changed to Financial Aid Counselor, which vastly changes the percentages. If the numbers were to be calculated with Financial Aid Counselor, the pay would have been 12-19% less than the average salary in the Bay Area.

*** Average is subject to change based on continuous updates on Glassdoor.com.

Correction: Turnover rate was previously stated to be 40%, but this was a 21 month figure (ending September 30th, 2016). As now stated in the article, “ Currently Menlo College has a turnover rate of around 26% * for the most recent fiscal year, and around 20% for the 2015 calendar year. ”