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KSRE Tuesday Letter

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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

June 20, 2017

On Retention

Submitted by Gregg Hadley

Many of us view Extension as a lifelong professional career. Whenever people leave K-State Research and Extension, it is natural to become concerned about retention (turnover) issues. In Extension Administration, we often hear State Extension Advisory Council members, Extension Board members, the professional associations, administrators, specialists, office professionals and agents talk about retention concerns, especially agent retention.

So, what is our agent turnover percentage? Thanks to Stacey Warner and her staff, we know that number. You may be surprised to find out that the simple average of our agent turnover from 1996 through 2016 is…4.8 percent. This number does not include retirements or transfers from one local unit to another. While the individual annual agent turnover percentages do go up and down, the trend line from 1996 to 2016 does appear to be downward sloping. The lowest turnover percentage, 1%, for the time period occurred in 2010. The highest, 9%, occurred in 1998. In more recent years, our agent turnover percentage reached 7% in 2012. It has since declined every year and plateaued at 3% in 2015 and 2016. Early results in 2017 suggest that our agent turnover percentage will be higher this year.

So, despite the actual data, why do we think our agent turnover seems high? Perhaps, it is the retirements, but I believe it is probably more about perspective. When 2 agents leave a 4 county block of two agents per county, it gives the appearance that we are at a 25% agent turnover percentage, and we are in those four counties. However, we have 105 counties and approximately 240 agents.

Of course, having any of our Extension family voluntarily leave the system is disappointing. Perhaps a better question to ask is why people are leaving our system. After all, if we can do something about that, we can reduce our agent turnover rate.

We offer our departing agents the opportunity to provide us with information about our organization including what they liked, disliked, and the reasons (they could select more than one) why they left. For the 15 departing agents who left between March 2015 and May 2016, the most common reason for leaving after factoring out retirement (6 responses) was the office work environment (6 responses).

While it pains me just as much to write it as it does for you to read it, we cannot ignore that the most common response given for voluntary departures were due to the office environment issues. If we are concerned about retention issues, we should probably ask ourselves and our colleagues about our own office environment. Are we working as a team? Do we at least get along and respect each other? Can we disagree and still respect each other as colleagues? If the answer to any of these very important questions is no, your team may not be as strong as it should be. I invite you to talk to your local unit director, regional director, or other members of the Extension administration team to help you determine ways to improve your office work environment.