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Do You Understand Why Your Employees Are Leaving?

October 07, 2021 Leadership
paul pellman
By Paul Pellman

More than 15 million Americans have left their jobs since April of this year according to a recent McKinsey article. The Great Attrition crosses industry, demographics and state lines. Even in typically low-turnover sectors, such as education, 32% of workers reported they were “at least somewhat likely” to leave in the next three to six months. And in industries where higher levels of turnover are standard — such as hospitality, entertainment and retail — the average is 40%.

But the most alarming thing McKinsey’s data reveals is that most business leaders don’t know what the problem actually is.

Don't Offer a Quick Fix When Employees Want Purpose

Case in point: In response to record levels of voluntary turnover, most organizations are making changes to compensation, benefits and job perks. Sure, employees value all of these things. But none are the leading reasons they cite when leaving their jobs.

Even worse, employees who already feel disenfranchised may interpret quick fixes as bribery, a transactional reaction when more interaction is what’s truly desired.

So what are employees citing as important enough to make them look for another job?

  • Meaning: Two years in a global pandemic has given many a jolting reminder that life is short. Employees want to feel a sense of purpose in their work. They want to know their careers are going somewhere, and that what they're doing has meaning.
  • Belonging: Months of isolation have also shown us how deeply a sense of belonging and connection matters — to our mental health, to our stamina and productivity, and to our wholeness. A lack of community at work is all the reason it takes for many workers to look somewhere else.
  • Holistic care: A tremendous number of workers are grieving as a result of the pandemic. They’re seeking empathy and an environment that demonstrates support — not just as an employee, but as a person.
  • Appreciation: Finally, many employees have chosen not to stay in a place where they don’t feel valued for their contributions. Unfortunately, data suggests that feelings of appreciation are most important to employees, but viewed as least important by employers.

For managers and executives out of touch with the needs and wants of their workforce, the attrition problem will only get worse. Unlike typical downturn-and-recovery cycles, 36% of those who have quit in recent months have done so without having a new job lined up first. And now that geographical location has become essentially irrelevant for many positions, employees who might have been “satisfied enough” in their role could easily be enticed by an opportunity that sounds even better.

Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care

Turn the Great Attrition Into the Great Attraction

But, there’s an opportunity. As McKinsey put it, we can turn The Great Attrition into The Great Attraction, creating post-pandemic organizations that thrive. So what can we do if we want to attract (and hang onto) our best people?

The short answer is we have to become great students of our employees, then focus on improving their work experience from the ground up.

Here are a few specific things to consider:

  1. Evaluate managers carefully, and train them as coaches rather than bosses. More people leave their jobs over unappreciative managers than any other single reason — so make sure you have the right people in management. Reevaluate what tools and training your managers receive. Leaders who thrived in the office may not lead as well in a remote or hybrid model. Are you helping them become relationally savvy, emotionally aware coaches and advocates? Have you gathered feedback from their direct reports? Remember that toxic leaders can crush the sense of belonging and appreciation in an entire team. This is not the time to ignore this problem.
  2. Invest in benefits that mirror employee values. Forty-five percent of workers in the McKinsey article said their job changes were driven in part by the need to care for family. Are your benefits and perks supporting workers who have families? The only way to know for sure is to ask. Consider subsidizing childcare or offering it onsite. Mental health benefits such as access to counseling may also set your company apart as one that cares about the whole person.
  3. Continue to support remote and hybrid work. Sixty-five percent of employees cited their location as a primary reason for staying in their jobs. However, 90% of those who took jobs in a new city weren’t required to relocate. What does that mean? If people are staying with your company for geographical reasons, they may easily change their minds when presented with an opportunity that’s location-agnostic.

Now more than ever, employees “crave investment in the human aspects of work.” They’re looking for meaning, a shared purpose, and connection with their colleagues — whether in person or from behind a screen. Most importantly, they want to feel valued and appreciated for what they contribute to their teams and the company.

The truth may be hard to hear, but it’s simple: We just can’t solve problems if we don’t understand them. This is a wake-up call for executives and business leaders to start re-evaluating the employee experience. Will you be ready?

About the Author

Paul Pellman is the CEO of Kazoo, an employee experience platform that brings together performance management, recognition & rewards, and engagement surveys in one easy-to-use solution. As a seasoned executive, Paul is committed to giving employees what they need to deeply engage in their work by fulfilling the company’s vision to create rewarding and purpose-filled workplaces where all employees can thrive.

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