Surveys and stories have piled up showing that maybe one out of four millennials plan to quit their job as soon as the pandemic really is over. Or maybe it's one out of three of them.

Some of these articles don't have much to them but a conclusion meant to alarm employers. As one report by the consulting firm Eagle Hill put it, "The employee turnover tsunami is coming."

As if the last year hasn't been hard enough.

It pays to be at least a little skeptical with all forecasts, yet there's clearly something to this. Venture capitalists are talking about it, articles have appeared in the human resource trade magazines and so on.

One of the first things to realize is that a lot of people quitting their jobs is not necessarily a bad thing. The reverse, a really low job quit rate, is one of the hallmarks of a terrible economy.

Ideally, of course, when someone quits their job it's to take a better one, not because the kids have had to go to school on Zoom rather than in person or worries about getting sick with a really bad infectious disease, as was the case for a lot of people in the last year.

Looking for a job during the pandemic hasn't been easy, either, so some of what we are likely to see is a little bit of a catch-up in people changing jobs.

What's really notable about the pandemic on job turnover, though, is the high levels of burnout workers have reported: about three out of four in a survey released in December and commissioned by a mental health provider.

Burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion caused by too much stress. Younger workers, women and parents of young kids in particular have reported feelings of burnout.

The millennials have become the largest generation in the workforce, and one out of three said they were planning to look for a new job once the pandemic eases, according to the Prudential Pulse of the American Worker survey, largely conducted in March.

That's put some attention on entrepreneurial companies, in technology and other growing industries, because they tend to have younger workforces.

Some turnover worry is justified, at least according to a couple of the venture investors in my network, because the tech startups in their portfolios have always had to compete vigorously for skilled people in such fields as data analytics or software coding. As the economy heats up, their staffers are going to see a lot of demand in the market for their skills.

Yet it wasn't easy to find a company that was really concerned about a coming surge in turnover. In talking with founder and CEO Atif Siddiqi of the Minneapolis-based software firm Branch, the lesson of the last year is that building a flexible workplace really matters.

Branch shifted to a remote-first model, he said, rather than have office work be the default setting. Among the benefits to Branch of this approach is being able to recruit people anywhere, not just in the Twin Cities area. Branch has also kept employees who have moved out of Minnesota.

Flexibility means more than being allowed to work from home. It also means more employee control over the hours of work, permission to put no meeting days into the schedule so they can work uninterrupted on key projects and so on.

In employee surveys like Prudential's, workers also report wanting an in-person work environment, but prefer to choose when they come in. It's likely going to be when their friends and close colleagues have plans to be in the office, too.

One takeaway is that unless the employer offers that kind of a workplace, workers will move on to an employer that will.

Some of this seems long overdue. How much time someone spent at their desk was a terrible measure of productivity and job performance long before anyone ever could have imagined the entire office staff being asked to work from home.

The consulting firm that put that tsunami warning on its report about turnover, Eagle Hill, also offered some good suggestions on how to retain employees this year. Stepping up communications is always a good thing, but make sure there's a lot of opportunity for listening, too, not just sharing more thoughts of management.

Another is to look closely at the top performers, not because they are the most valuable but because those employees are more likely to be the ones suffering from burnout.

My best idea for retaining employees came out of my experience as a business consultant. I called it moving up the exit interview.

That conversation usually takes place after somebody's given their notice, with the boss or maybe with a human resources manager.

The point is to find out what could make it better for the next person in that job. Mostly out the door already, the employee has little reason to sugarcoat anything.

A good exit interview, at least for the boss, is one with few surprises. Some problems, of course, are both well-understood and can't be easily fixed, like when the road to a promotion looks blocked by good performers already doing those jobs with higher pay.

In some cases, though, these conversations can be both surprising and frustrating. Imagine hearing from an employee who did great work that he or she had long felt unwanted.

Only then does it occur to the boss that this conversation should have taken place a year or two earlier.

So the thing to do is schedule some interviews. They should be far deeper than a check-in and with no talk of employee ratings or other issues that would make the meeting feel like a performance review.

Instead, think of them as an opportunity to re-recruit staff that's already there.

If nothing else, no one at the end of this conversation should be unaware that the boss really wants them to stay. • 612-673-4302