Christina Lovelock MBCS explores the push and pull factors at play when it comes to retaining staff.

Retention. Resignation. Attrition. Attraction.

The words are currently circulating widely within the tech sector. Digital skills are in demand, and the digital skills gap in the UK is still growing.

Both permanent and contract markets seem buoyant and the whole picture is underpinned by millions of professionals re-evaluating their work / life / health / happiness and aspirations during the pandemic.

McKinsey research sets out a clear challenge: ‘Great attrition, or “great attraction”? The choice is yours.’ Every person considering a move is balancing two forces: the push and the pull.

Push factors For BAs

These are all the things that you don’t like about your role. There is a great deal of rhetoric that people don’t leave bad organisations, they leave bad managers - which is true. But for the right opportunity in a competitive market, people are prepared to leave good organisations and good managers!

Business analysts also feel ‘pushed’ from organisations due to a lack of understanding of the role, not feeling valued, being engaged as an afterthought when things have started to go wrong and being given a straight-jacket scope (such as ‘BAs only write user stories’).

Pull factors

Attraction factors for BAs are similar to most professional disciplines:

  • salary and benefits appropriate to skills and experience
  • inclusive language in job descriptions
  • evidence of professional community and emphasis on learning and development
  • clear career pathways
  • flexible and remote working options as standard

Organisations need to seriously consider what they have to offer in each of these areas. Those who embrace location-agnostic roles and offer opportunities for growth will be able to attract and retain the best talent.

The cost of loss

Consider the cost of recruiting plus the cost of loss of knowledge and productivity from replacing an experienced team member.

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Conservative estimates place this at around £5k per hire. How does this compare to the per-person training budget in most organisations? What if we were to give individuals access to a personal development budget?

One they could choose to spend on professional certifications, conference attendance, books, online learning... whatever suits their style and development needs... that would be a lot to walk away from! We would also have empowered staff who are improving their skills and knowledge and turning the concept of a ‘learning organisation’ into a reality.

Rate the losses

A certain level of turnover is healthy for any team. New employees bring new energy and new experiences. Not all losses are bad for the team / organisation. What if leaders were asked to rate the losses to indicate the level of impact associated with each person leaving?

Then we can see who we are losing (is it recent hires, top talent, long serving team members?). In other words, is losing that person helpful or harmful? This is far more useful to leaders than a single turnover percentage.

Expect to lose people

Many organisations put a great deal of effort into attraction and recruitment - and very little into retention, succession planning and developing a talent pipeline. What if we move to a model where we expect to lose people, where we’ve been planning for it and developing others to step into more challenging roles when the opportunities arise.

This means embracing early career roles, such as apprenticeships, graduate schemes, internships, returner programmes and more. It means actually doing something in our organisations about the digital skills gap, not just expecting other organisations to provide people with the skills and experience that we need!

Listen and learn

Exit interviews are far too late to learn anything about the state of the team or organisation. Consensus is split on whether we really get full and truthful information from those walking out the door.

What if we consistently and continuously listened to employees, through a variety of mechanisms? Asking frank questions about people’s happiness in their role and whether they are looking for new opportunities (internal and external) in the next 6-12 months helps everyone.


People leave - and that’s fine. However, high-performing organisations are doing three things we all need to consider:

  1. Addressing all the pull factors, and positioning themselves as an employer of choice.
  2. Spending as much effort (and money) on retention as recruitment, including actively removing the push factors.
  3. Developing a talent pipeline.

A happy workforce is worth far more to an organisation than an effective recruitment process. Attrition or attraction? The choice really is yours.

About the author

Christina Lovelock is a change leader and author. She is active in the Business Analysis professional community and champions entry level roles. She is co-author of the BCS book Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook.