It takes a team to tamp down high officer turnover, says Steven McNally. The team includes security officers, their supervisors and management. Also pictured: Noel Williams, island mobile supervisor; Ted Almarales, building supervisor; and Joseph Francois, bike officer.

Given the extremely high rate of reported security officer turnover, estimated at 100 to 400 percent, it’s imperative that security professionals have a thorough understanding of the factors that cause turnover. And since the costs associated with turnover are also extremely high, it’s equally incumbent upon managers to understand the strategies to counter turnover.

Of course, organizations must first know their historical turnover numbers and rates. Then current surveys, intertwined with proven retention strategies, will better enhance organizational success and profitability.

Documenting historical retention/ turnover performance establishes a benchmark to gauge and predict future performance. The security executive can then set goals to measure the effects of any attempted turnover remedies. Still, turnover rates must be continually recorded and monitored to ensure that high retention remains a goal of the organization.

Once turnover rates have been identified, managers should conduct a written, anonymous survey to gather officer opinions on issues that matter most to them such as what they believe contributes to their retention, and conversely, their voluntary separation. Since the variables that contribute to turnover have direct and negative organizational consequences, the exact identification, extent, analysis and understanding of any issues can result in an initial well-founded starting place to develop retention strategies as well as to measure the effectiveness of solutions.

Survey results can then combine with retention strategies while measuring success or failure in future surveys.

Turnover costs

The costs of employee turnover are measured in both financial and operational terms. When an employee resigns, is involuntarily terminated or retires, there is a direct and negative affect to the bottom line as well as adverse organizational performance consequences.

Financial estimates vary by industry and compensation levels, but reports of turnover costs generally range from 25 to 200 percent of the employee’s annual salary. For example, a 30 percent estimate for an employee who earns $22,000 a year would result in $6,600 turnover cost. Turnover costs encompass advertising, interviewing time, background checks, hiring, new employee processing and training. Furthermore, there is a related cost of covering terminated employees’ hours – frequently at an overtime rate. There is also the loss of employee productivity to consider as a newly-hired officer simply is not as knowledgeable and therefore not as productive as an experienced worker.

Security officers, like all types of employees, have individual needs, concerns and perceptions. Director of Public Safety Steven McNally has an officer staff of 95 at Williams Island

Turnover factors

The effects of turnover are not only felt on the bottom line, but operationally as well. According to Michael Goodboe, Ed.D., CPP, a vice president of training for the Wackenhut Training Institute, "high turnover is inherently dangerous in an industry charged with the security and safety...Clearly, when employees don’t stay long enough to become proficient at the job, overall performance suffers." Dr. Goodboe also pointed out that many security personnel earn less than the federal poverty level, and that "paying low wages that lead to high turnover is penny wise, pound foolish."

So to control officer turnover is to positively affect the bottom line.

High employee retention equates to greater customer satisfaction, contented employees and in the security industry safer and more secure environments.

There are numerous reasons to explain why employees opt to voluntarily terminate their employment. The following is a self-explanatory list of many causal factors that influence employees to resign.


  • Lack of recognition or reward

  • Lack of teamwork

  • Incompatible management style

  • Quality of life issues

  • Stress

  • Pay versus effort

  • Poor recruiting

  • Lack of orientation

  • Lack of training

  • Ineffective supervision

  • Lack of leadership

  • Boredom

  • Lack of job security

  • No opportunities for advancement

  • Not enough hours

  • Lack of benefits

  • Lack of standards

  • Lack of respect

  • Lack of feedback

  • Personal reasons

There also are overarching causes such as the local economy, industry trends, organizational characteristics, company performance, company culture, communications and job performance.

There are as many, if not more, retention strategies as there are factors that cause an employee to resign.

  • Recognize and praise – little things mean a lot

  • Help officers grow – encourage professional growth

  • Ask for ideas – they are in the best position to sometimes know what works best, and they need to know employers are listening

  • Reward ideas – demonstrate how valuable the employee’s ideas are

  • Improve skills – invest in their future

  • Invest – in screening profiles to select better employees

  • Get officers as involved with the company – the better they understand, the more they can offer

    There are other helpful suggestions to improve retention.

    Security should hire for a culture fit – spend more time in the selection process. Provide better new employee orientation and on-going training – set the stage and maintain the focus. Ensure a competitive salary and benefits package by reviewing salaries and benefits to ensure market competitiveness. Evaluate the effectiveness of supervisors and managers – remember the saying that people do not quit companies, they quit their bosses.

    In this regard, supervisors and managers must: set clear expectations; train and develop employees; flex their management style to the situation and the needs of each officer; provide positive and constructive feedback; evaluate and document performance; resolve conflict situations productively; communicate effectively and proactively; intervene and resolve performance issues before they get out of hand; treat all officers fairly, objectively and humanely; relate to a diverse workforce; weed out non-performers who are de-motivating to productive employees; sell and re-sell the company; conduct employee opinion surveys and exit interviews, which can be enlightening; beef up the communication efforts – people assume the worst and when there is no communication employees think the worst; and offer soft benefits and pass out psychological paychecks while taking the time to determine what is really important to each officer.

    "Ask for ideas from your officers and consistently seek feedback, too," says Steven McNally.

    Among compensation recommendations

    A review of various studies and reports concludes that the top reason for early termination versus long-term employment is unsatisfactory compensation. However, other proven causal factors include recognition, poor supervision, lack of growth opportunities and poor communication. Here are some ways to address these compensation concerns.

    Ensure competitive wages and benefits by reviewing hourly rates and benefits to make certain of the organization’s market competitiveness for quality employees. Conduct annual market analyses of similar companies with similar or identical security positions and, when you can, make necessary adjustments in pay and benefits.

    Offer soft benefits and pass out psychological paychecks by determining what’s really important to each employee. Supervisors know their officer better than the manager. They should take advantage of this knowledge in a positive manner to appropriately reward the employee. This suggestion could mean many different things to many different supervisors and officers, but the concept is simple and may not "cost" anything.

    Recognize and praise – little but important things mean a lot. Reward ideas by demonstrating how valuable employees’ ideas are. Setup or continue an Officer of the Month/Year program. Recognize staff by promoting their accomplishments throughout the organization – newsletter, special announcements and prominent photographic display of the organization’s top performers. Praise in public; criticize in private.

    "You don’t always have to hire the best, but always hire the best fit," says Steven McNally, CPP.


    Security operations cannot succeed forever with high turnover rates.

    Failure to address the causes of high turnover will affect the operational efficiency and eventually limit the financial well-being of the security function.

    So it’s essential that security professionals with responsibility to manage a security staff have an extensive understanding of the factors that cause turnover as well as the strategies to remedy employee turnover. Managers must be aware of their historical turnover rates while prepared to survey employees to identify issues that are contributing to high turnover. Combining survey-acquired insight and proven industry retention strategies can significantly contribute to low turnover rates and greater organizational efficacy, viability and a competitive edge.

    Sidebar: Twelve Ways to Keep Good Employees

    F. Leigh Branham, author of Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business and Six Truths about Employee Turnover, offers some strategies with a twist.

    1 Don’t always hire the best, but hire the "best fit."

    2 Have the insight to realize that, no matter what the job,

    not just anyone can do it well.

    3 Focus on matching a person’s strengths to the right challenge and

    the right role, not on improving weaknesses to the point that every

    employee is well-rounded.

    4 Build a culture of trust by giving people free reign to achieve outcomes in

    their own way, instead of insisting they do things the way

    you would do them.

    5 Manage different people differently. Know that not all people have

    the same motivations.

    6 See yourself as serving your people, and not the other way around.

    7 Be tolerant of diversity, but intolerant of


    8 Surround yourself with the most talented and don’t feel threatened.

    9 Care about your people and take a personal interest in what is going

    on in their lives.

    10 Let your people move on to a growth assignment outside the team

    instead of blocking the move.

    11 Give feedback, praise and recognition on the spot.

    12 Know when to confront nonperformance and either redesign the job so

    that it fits the individual, reassign the person to a better-fitting job or

    terminate when necessary.

    Sidebar: Need More Help?

    Check out these references, many of which were the basis for this article.