High Turnover Rate

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

There's a job opening, in what seems like a comfortable position. But it's hard. So hard, that no one lasts long. Many quit before the day is over. Many quit without waiting to take the money. Many quit while screaming, without looking where they were going as they fled, and were only seen again muttering about "Twenty bucks an hour" over and over and over again. In some cases, they never even got a chance to quit, and instead died in a suspicious accident or, in especially dangerous jobs (such as "sheriff of a lawless Wild West town"), the line of duty.

Usually the "no one can hack it" circumstances are shown by a montage of characters of different types attempting the task before leaving. Some of these may be Shout Outs to recognisable characters who would be good at the task in hand... but not quite good enough.

This is commonly used for nannies, teachers or babysitters to unruly children, to show how horrible the children are. Alternatively, it's the secretary to an utterly unreasonable boss. This is a common set up (or sometimes reveal) for a New Job Episode, showing the previous failures at the task, warning the characters of the horror they face.

As a rule, if the new employee is not a main character, we'll see how the job is so horrible, and even this "hard to crack" character will eventually fail to the nightmare that is the task.

But if the new employee is a major character, they'll be a little bit different. Perhaps they have a warm heart and honest demeanour that will soften the hardest heart. Or perhaps she'll be the first to turn around and tear their Pointy-Haired Boss down as vengeance for all the previous employees.

Examples of High Turnover Rate include:

Anime and Manga

  • Great Teacher Onizuka. Everyone who tried to teach the class Eikichi Onizuka was assigned to was driven mad, with one in particular joining a cult.
    • Inverted later on. When he needs money fast,he takes on a job "tuna fishing" -- picking up the bits of people that get run over by trains. He doesn't last long.
  • Weiss Kreuz: Kritiker personnel in general have a very high mortality rate. The protagonists go through three direct superiors and four handlers over the course of the series, and they themselves are something like the fourth incarnation of Weiss, the members of the previous incarnations having either been killed or gone Ax Crazy. In the last episode of Gluhen, Rex discusses forming a fifth incarnation of the team.
  • In Remote, the Unsolved Crimes Division, Special Unit A is renowned for this, as Inspector Himuro puts a lot of strain on his legwork partner with his special quirks and demanding personality. The heroine and newest legwork partner, Ayaki, despite being a Plucky Girl, nearly breaks down and resign from the post several times at the beginning of the series, until she gets used to the job and to Himuro's personality.

Comic Books


  • In The Sound of Music, no nanny can cope with the entire Von Trapp family, until Maria comes along
  • Equally Nanny McPhee is the first to survive her role.
  • And Mary Poppins.
  • The main premise behind The Devil Wears Prada.
  • ... as well as Morning Glory, also by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) is the fourteenth executive producer at Daybreak in eleven years.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader goes through several commanding officers, often promoting the person under them in the process. One amusing scene has him force strangle the elderly Admiral Ozzel who had failed him while talking with his ship's Captain, Piett. As the admiral gasps his last, he then says "You are in charge now, Admiral Piett", having promoted him on the spot. Piett's face is priceless as he doesn't know whether to look grateful or worried.
    • The Prequels have the Jedi High Council which over the course of 13 years goes through half their original twelve members. Some positions even had to be replaced more than once.
    • Arguably worse than the 24 example mentioned below is the position of Queen of Naboo. Granted it is stated to be an elective monarchy with monarchs serving two four-year terms and they can step when they want, but that doesn't change fact in Legends Naboo had four queens over the course of less than two terms. [1]
  • Mr. Thackeray was one of a string of teachers in To Sir, With Love; the kids drove one of his predecessors to suicide.
  • The live-action Casper movie. The villainess brings in a priest, Ray Stantz and even a wrecking crew. Eventually, the protagonist's father, a psychic psychiatrist, is contacted to try and exorcise the house.
  • Spinal Tap's drummers have a tendency to expire in a number of strange ways. Two of them spontaneously combusted.
  • Addams Family Values. The family go through nannies at such a rate, the agency finally suggests they get a Doberman instead. The one nanny who can handle Pugsley and Wednesday is a Black Widow after Uncle Fester's money, and the general hardiness of the Addamses drives even her Ax Crazy -- well, Ax Crazier.
  • The therapists Will Hunting goes through before Robin Williams comes along.
  • Rango discovers that the position of sheriff of the town of Dirt is like this, complete with a brief shot of a cluster of graves in the town cemetery.
  • In Dirty Harry, it's mentioned that Harry works alone because he tends to go through partners at an alarming rate; this trend holds true as the series progresses through 5 movies. On the positive side, it's mentioned in the first film that only a few of his partners actually get killed, with most only being seriously injured and transfered to other responsibilities.
  • In the Hulk Hogan film Mr Nanny, Hulk's character Sean Armstrong enters the household just as the kids send another nanny packing. The cook tallies off another name on a short list and explains;

Corinne: This is like the roach motel; 'The nannies check in...'
Armstrong: '...But they don't check out.' Well, that doesn't seem like a long list.
Corinne: Huh! (Pushes button on list, revealing it's a very long list folded over several times)

  • Men in Black: It's implied that no one stays Jay's partner for very long.
  • Cars (2006): "Jay Limo" (Jay Leno) jokes "I don't know which is harder to find, Lightning McQueen or a crew chief who'll work with him" after an entire pit crew resigns in protest. Doc Hudson becomes his new crew chief by the end of the film, but this trope still occurs in the sequels due to Paul Newman's passing in 2008.
  • In the original "Yours, Mine, and Ours", after the Frank's wife died he tried to get a house keeper to mind his 10 children, all of whom were angry over their mother's death and fathers negligence (he spent much of his time gone in the Navy.) They were all shown storming out horrified at the children. The final housekeeper actually set up the first real meeting between the main couple when she embarrassed his eldest daughter to the point that she fainted, necessitating a trip to the infirmery where the Helen works.


  • In the Discworld novel Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig takes on the job of Postmaster General after several previous occupants of the post died in odd accidents. Given the ruin he was put in charge of he'd assumed these deaths had occurred when they stopped delivering mail decades earlier, and was distraught to learn that it had been last month - none of the recent appointees had survived long enough to clean the place up.
    • Equally, Kings/Patricians before Vetinari and Archchancellors before Ridcully used to have quite short tenures; one king was killed mere seconds after his coronation, and became known to history as King Loyola the Aaargh. Patricians always seemed to end up going crazy and needing to be replaced or assassinated, while the wizards were firm believers in Klingon Promotion. Vetinari got around this by being irreplaceable, Ridcully by being virtually unkillable.
      • The last patrician before Vetinari, Mad Lord Snapcase, lasted about a decade. Homicidal Lord Winder is also implied to have lasted a good while. The Archchancellors, by comparison, were replaced once per book, implying tenures counted in single-digit months.
  • Passepartout's predecessors in Around the World in Eighty Days couldn't live up to Phileas Fogg's exacting standards.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's The Rowan, Afra Lyon takes up the role of second-in-command of Callisto Tower, where the Prime in charge, The Rowan, has gained a reputation for going through them like gum (a combination of candidates being unwilling or unable to cope with her temperamental nature and her simply sending them packing because she didn't like them). He later becomes her best friend and later, in "Damia" her son-in-law.
  • The infamous Defense Against the Dark Arts post in the Harry Potter novels. Which was literally jinxed by Voldemort when he was refused the job. It's not explained how he did this, or why Dumbledore doesn't abolish the post and replace it with something non-cursed.
  • Almanzo's school has gone through several teachers in Farmer Boy because a gang of older boys comes every winter to beat them up. No teacher has ever finished a winter term, and at least one was beaten so badly he died of it later. Everyone expects the same thing to happen to nice, young Mr. Corse, until he uses a whip to drive them off.
  • Mayors in the Dr. Sam Hawthorne mysteries: died in various impossible manners.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's The Lives of Christopher Chant, Christopher goes through a long string of governesses; in this case, however, they have no trouble with Christopher himself, but rather can't tolerate the stormy relationship between his parents.
  • In Death series: Portrait in Death has Eve and Peabody question a photographer named Dirk Hastings about some murders. Hastings has this sort of situation, because he is apparently such a tyrant and Jerkass that he scares off a lot of young assistants. He even says that he goes through assistants like toilet paper, and consequently has a hard time remembering them!

Live Action TV

  • A Running Gag on the Gilmore Girls. Lorelai's mom Emily can't keep a maid because she has such strict guidelines on how she wants things to be done.
  • In the second series of Blackadder, Edmund mentions that Head Executioners have a nasty habit of getting into nasty accidents, such as accidentally brutally stabbing themselves in the stomach while shaving. Inevitably, this is just before he gets the job in question.
    • Most amusingly, when Blackadder assumes the latest Head Executioner was murdered, he is informed that though they usually are, this time the man just signed his name on the wrong dotted line and they came for him while he slept:

Blackadder: He should have told them they had the wrong man.
Melchett: He did, but you see, they didn't, they had the right man and they had the form to prove it.

    • In the first series, the post of Archbishop of Canterbury is similarly undesirable, mostly because previous archbishops had a habit of persuading dying noblemen to leave their lands to the Church instead of to the KING.
  • Sometimes a mysterious overlord changes the local Boss if they fail in their objective. For instance, The Prisoner: there is often a New Number Two, because the last one failed to break Number Six.
  • Mayors in Picket Fences: Died, or were involved in a scandal of some sort.
  • In the made-for-TV movie Merlin, King Vortigern's architects are frequently imprisoned or executed for destructive errors in the construction of Vortigern's "impregnable" castle; the final architect is given a lenient sentence of unemployment, and told to leave before Vortigern changes his mind. Likewise, the Royal Soothsayer seen in the film is the third employed that month, and he meets a similar fate as the final architect: Merlin himself notes that the King seems to get through them at an alarming rate, only for the Soothsayer to remark, "He gets through everything at an alarming rate."
  • As Dan Quayle is well aware, Murphy Brown is a single mother, but beyond that, she can't get a decent secretary and has to keep firing them. Except one, Carol, who is perfect, she's the best one in the world. She's so good, her former boss, Bob Newhart, comes on the show and begs her to come back to him and Jerry. (Of course he'd need to have her back, he was never running a bed-and-breakfast in Vermont, the whole show was All Just a Dream and he was still a psychologist in Chicago.)
    • In the last season, Murphy has to stand before a Joker Jury made up of all her fired secretaries. After Murphy gives her Reason You Suck Speech and they let her go, she meets up with one secretary who had perfect qualifications and no trouble with the job whatsoever. Murphy can not remember firing her.
  • The Doublemeat Palace in Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a suspiciously high turnover rate - it turns out to be because of a customer who loves the taste of the employees. Fast food servicing indeed.
  • Danger UXB, being about bomb disposal, mentions this early on.
  • 24 milks this trope, particularly in the arena of who will be the president in any given stretch of episodes and the high mortality rate of Jack's bosses. The number of the latter is debatable depending on who all you count as being is boss (i.e. all direct superiors or just agency directors?) but there are no fewer than 6 people that have been presidents in 24's 8 seasons. The number rockets to 9 if you include whoever was president in season 1, Logan's vice president taking over when he resigns and take President Taylor's resignation in the series finale into account.
  • Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict is both a straight and meta example, given the high turnover rate of its cast and characters. Due to assorted production and inter-personal issues, main actors tended to leave the show after only a season or two, leading to a constantly changing roster of lead characters (which also had elements of Klingon Promotion, ironically enough, as each departing character tended to have their role in the plot replaced by the supporting character most directly under them). In fact the only character who lasted through all 5 seasons was the secondary antagonist and Starscream, Agent Sandoval.
  • While they do usually manage to last a couple seasons each, Law and Order SVU goes through Assistant D.A.s at a pretty brisk pace, especially when you consider the core of the S.V.U. department has remained constant throughout the years. About 50% eventually ended up being terminated with prejudice (in one case seemingly literally, and another case actually literally) for one reason or another.
  • Don Draper on Mad Men cannot keep a secretary for the life of him. Season 4 was the biggest highlight of this and near the finale people started taking guesses on what will happen to his latest, Megan.
  • In the Misfits world, do not become a parole officer. You will die, your body will never be found, and, seemingly, the authorities will ignore your disappearance.
  • A high-ranking Vulcan on Star Trek: Enterprise tells T'Pol that before her, no Vulcan liaison had lasted more than a few weeks on the Enterprise.
    • ...and then there's the Red Shirt security team from Star Trek's original series, who are a trope in their own right.


Some groups or bands have historically had a high turnover rate:

  • It's said that no guitarist other than John Frusciante was meant to play for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Over the course of 27 years, they have gone through 9 guitarists, most of whom didn't last more than a few months.
  • The Other Wiki has a page dedicated to cataloging all the former members of The Fall.

The lyrics to some songs reference the trope:

  • Le blues du businessman (Claude Dubois) begins « J'ai du succès dans mes affaires / J'ai du succès dans mes amours / Je change souvent de secrétaire » without explaining how the businessman obtained such a high turnover rate for secretaries.


  • Sheriffs in most Western parodies.
    • If this were music, maybe Eric Clapton shot them? But he didn't shoot no deputy, oh no...

Tabletop Games

  • In Paranoia, Troubleshooters (the player characters) come in cloned six-packs; there's a reason for this.
    • Asking what that reason is a treason, which is punished by summary execution.
  • The Cheiron Group of Hunter: The Vigil goes through employees at an alarming clip. Which is why the player characters can get signed on.
  • Dark Sun uses Character Trees (each player rolls 4 characters right away), both to swap them between adventures and because after all it's a Death World and these characters are armored in animal hides and armed with stone spears - if they're lucky.


  • In one of the Umineko no Naku Koro ni Visual Novels, it's mentioned that working for the Ushiromiya family pays really well, but most servants can't handle the stress.
  • In the Ghostbusters game, it's implied the reason that the team refers to the player primarily by nicknames (specifically "Rookie") is due to this trope since your primary purpose after all is to be the team Guinea Pig for highly dangerous experimental technology.

Venkman: Ah-ah, no names, Ray. I don't want to get too attached to this one.

  • In Heroes of Might and Magic 2, the Royal Seer is responsible for adjudicating between the late king's two sons. Four in a row die in successive accidents.
  • The Guards in RuneScape, particularly the ones in Falador, have a roughly 100% turnover rate, and they're lucky to make it a couple of minutes without being randomly killed by players. A quest lampshaded this in conversation between two of the guards, in which one mentioned that they have a life expectancy of about 30 seconds and then a npc come in and kills them both.


  • The webcomic Freefall... every other mechanic Sam has taken on has run away screaming within a day. In some cases literally. But of course, Florence IS a bit different...
  • A short arc in Suicide for Hire focuses on a normal business offering nachos and other foods to contrast the eponymous job, while tweaking the trope a bit by having the main character be unsuccessful. The incredibly idiotic customers typically drive any worker intelligent enough to add insane within a few days. Arcturus lasts a few days before trying to strangle a man with red rope licorice, and only a week before trying to murder a man over a burger. That's still beating the spread by four days.

Western Animation

  • The Boondocks featured, in one episode, a series of flashbacks to the many babysitters who couldn't handle the Freeman boys. They never find one who can. Even the new guy, Uncle Ruckus, lasts about five minutes.
  • The Simpsons ran this with babysitters, before finding a character who was in no way whatsoever like Mary Poppins. She is still driven mad by the anxiety of looking after the family.
  • In South Park many nannies attempted to tame Eric Cartman's horrifying behavior; all rapidly became mad.
    • However a suitable caretaker is eventually found... however, it's The Dog Whisperer, who only manages to deal with Cartman's cruelty and racism by treating him like a disobedient yappy dog.
    • No love for Nanny Skeksis?
  • The employees of the band Dethklok seem to have a high turnover rate in general, but the chefs they employ apparently have to be replaced so often that even the band members (who unknowingly cause death and destruction among almost everyone they come in contact with) believe them to be cursed. This seems to end with Jean Pierre, who suffers a horrible accident but survives and continues to serve them after being poorly sewn back together (they even write a song about it called, appropriately enough "Sewn Back Together Wrong").
    • Just the training to become a Klokateer has a guaranteed fifty percent death rate: the very first task is to pair off and fight to the death. On the other hand, every recruit that makes it to the branding is insanely loyal.
    • Even Jean-Pierre's insanely loyal: right before getting in the accident, he said he'd rather scoop out his brains with a melon baller than miss the opportunity to serve Dethklok—right after they detailed what happened to his predecessor.
  • The Emperors of Trisol (the water people planet) of Futurama tend to last only a week on average. When Fry ascends to the throne we see his royal portrait is already followed by blank frames for Fry's Assassin and Fry's Assassin's Assassin.
    • It's implied a few times throughout the series that Professor Farnsworth was used to a somewhat high turnover of the flight crew until the present one managed to avoid death. The dangerous-sounding missions might have something to do with it. On one occasion when the crew doesn't return as soon as anticipated, Farnsworth is seen already welcoming a new crew to Planet Express.
  • In the episode when Mrs. Beakley was introduced on DuckTales (1987), she is preceded by a montage of nannies terrorized by the nephews' antics, but unlike the others she immediately learns their names and can differentiate them.
  • Happened to the Sheriff of Scabstone in Rocko's Modern Life, the job being taken by Bloaty and Squirmy as the old sheriff continued running across the Fatlands.
    • Also happened to Heffer during his stint as a security guard at Conglom-O.

Web Original

  • Level-D personnel are the SCP Foundation's equivalent of Red Shirts. (They're recruited from death row inmates for a reason.) As if the extremely lethal positions they're given aren't bad enough, all Level-D personnel are killed one month after being demoted to this level. There is one exception, but that's only because he's actually an SCP; a few others have also been exempted because they're needed for long-term study, and one particular set gets three months at least because their work is both vital to the Foundation, and requires technical skills they need to be trained in. Even the Foundation needs lab techs.

Real Life

  • Debt Collection has an extremely high turn-over rate, with nearly 85% of callers quitting within a year of being hired. The same can be applied to telemarketers, or really any job where you have to call strangers with the objective of getting money. Getting yelled at on a daily basis is not a terribly great incentive.
  • According to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, most major fast-food chains have a 100% turnover rate every year, with the average employee lasting only three months. McDonald's, in particular, is a big offender, and managers have been known to bonus based on how many employees they fire (which saves the company the expense of offering perks like health insurance and PTO). Do note that as with most franchises, different managers may be treated differently especially as the economy changes.
    • This McD's manager calls shenanigans. We do bonus based on the number of employees who are fired, it is true. We bonus if we don't fire them, not the other way around. If you have exceptionally high turnover at your store, it is a good way to get yourself replaced as a manager. She won't lie, turnover is high, but nowhere close to 100%.
  • The retail industry (at least at the store level) sometimes have a turnover rate over 100% for part timers - how is that possible you ask. It occurs when all positions have been refilled more than once in a given year. Full timers average 60% turnover. Anyone who has worked retail can attest that these figures are pretty accurate.
    • Awkward hours, pay that averages only slightly better that fast food, constant abuse from customers and corporate don't quite foster faith and loyalty in an organization.
  • The New York Stock Exchange also has high quitting rates, mostly the ones on the floor.
  • The most decorated unit in the British Army is a unit specialising in Explosive Ordnance Disposal. There is a reason for this.
  • Any company that uses a temporary employment ("temp") agency. Apple's factory in Cork City hires production staff through such an agency, and it is quite frequent that staff would be let go the day they are hired because the order they were hired for is no longer required.
  • Average tenure for a Prime Minister of Japan since the end of World War II is less than a year each. Because the PMs are the primary Scapegoat for bad governmental policies, they tend only to last until the next party scandal or cock-up.
  • Throughout the War On Terror, there has been a bit of Black Humor amongst the American intelligence community is that this is the case for the third-in-command for Al Qaeda, the job position evidently hitting that sweet spot between low enough in the chain to require exposing himself to actually do his job, and being high enough in the chain to make him a high-value target for one of the most powerful modern militaries in the world.
  1. The Phantom Menace took place months into Queen Amidala's first term and afterwards she served the maximum eight years before stepping down. The Next Monarch was Queen Jamillia from Attack Of The Clones who served the minimum four years before being replaced by Queen Neeyutnee from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Neeyutnee was in turned replaced by Queen Apailana from Revenge Of The Sith after maybe one year or so (The Clone Wars officially occurred over three years) but Apailana was assassinated by The 501st Legion only one year after that movie in Battlefront II and got replaced by Queen Klyantha. That adds up to about 7 years with four queens.