You Can’t Put a Sweater on a Jellyfish


A local friend, a hiring manager at her company, recently expressed frustration with the state of hiring in her organization.

“We get plenty of applicants,” she said. “Obviously some are better than others but we really have no problem with quantity and are able to hire pretty easily. Plus we’ve got decent benefits,” she added, “and above average pay.”

“But why,“ she wondered out loud, “do we lose so many new employees before they hit the 3 month mark? I’m super clear on job expectations and tell them WHAT they’ll work on and HOW they’ll spend their day. So why are they leaving?”  

(side note: she’s quite sincere and most assuredly not one who laments “no one wants to work anymore!” in which case I would have pointed out that our state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest point since March 2008).

So why don’t people last beyond the 3/6/12 month timeframe? (And yes; we could unpack this forever and come up with numerous reasons. I’m quite partial to this simple nugget BTW).  But here’s what I think is one of the primary reasons for poor retention in those critical early stages:

Companies hire for the culture they want…NOT for the culture they have.


Because a fair number of organizations, in the holy name of employer branding, share glossy manufactured versions of reality. They check all the boxes: creating great content, shooting Day in the Life videos, and having employees write reviews on their webpage. Good on them for having the right intent; candidates want to see that stuff since it’s better than 99% of the HR-developed job postings on the average company’s website (bullet points ad nauseum!!). But those videos – those “employee testimonials” – those employee authored blog posts – are merely ethereal pixie dust. 

  • No HR leader or recruiter is posting videos of the dudes back in the warehouse sweating in 100-degree heat with no Gatorade (only water!) and one 10-minute break every 2 hours.
  • No one asks Joyce in Accounts Payable (who has toiled for the company for 28 years and is bitter, frustrated, and pissed off because her salary capped out 6 years ago) to write a “testimonial” for the company career page.
  • And the Call Center Reps who churn and burn and cycle in and out within 30 days of hire? Do you think they’re going to make it onto the “Employer Branding Reel” that the Head of TA showcases at 4 Recruiting Conferences next year?

Of course not.

We want to hide our warts. So we take snapshots of parties and balloons and smiling, laughing, dancing employees. We’re certainly not going to post a picture of Bob in Accounting, forlornly cradling his head in his hands, at end-of-month close as he is once again waiting for the A/P team to get their act together.

Instead we share visions of the future – the hoped-for-state of endless sunshine and remote work (for those who want it) and ping pong tables on every floor (for those who crave coming to the office) and groups of employees volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.

“We have to get the right people on board to make that shift…to get us there,” we tell ourselves.  

“We know we’ll be able to innovate once we get the right people on board.”

“We intend to be better communicators!” (sotto voce: although, of course, we know we suck at it today).

We do care about our employees!” (well the HR policies are a bit rigid and draconian but we intend to change that once we hire the right people!)  

So we hire for our future state and bring on the people we think will plant the seeds for what we hope to become. The super innovator! The stellar communicator! The go-getter!  The light-the-world-on-fire manager with bold new ideas!

Then they come to work in the real culture. And leave at the 3-month mark.

Once again we’ve tried, too hard, to wrangle our jellyfish into a sweater.


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