The Fuel Behind ‘The Great Resignation’ — And Steps to Combat It

  • Employee Engagement
Mark Fitzgibbons

As my colleague Ali Payne puts it so eloquently: Employees want to know they matter, and employers need to show they care. It’s a simple two-part concept that’s deceptively difficult to achieve.

Four million Americans quit their jobs, and there were a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs in July 2021, so it’s no secret we’re still in the midst of The Great Resignation.

Why Are People Leaving their Jobs?

There are a number of explanations about why so many people are choosing to quit now — the shock of the pandemic, social upheaval, and the need or desire for higher pay. But there something else at work(!) as well — workplace culture.

In organizations across many industries, employees have made it clear that they value purpose, wellbeing, passion, flexibility, and the opportunity to bolster their careers. They want respect, trust, empathy, transparency, and recognition from their leaders.

In direct conflict with these wants and needs, far too many leaders are stuck in the command-and-control, low-trust traditions of the past. With employees surveying the opportunities both inside and outside your organization, it’s time to pay attention to what your people value.

The Importance of an Exceptional Employee Experience

While change is hard, the onus is on leaders to rethink and adjust their management style and workplace culture to meet employees where they are. You must dare to care for your organization’s most valuable asset – people – and dare to change the status quo.

Here are five ways leaders can create an exceptional employee experience that attracts top talent and makes them want to stay.

1. Show Respect

Show interest and respect for employees’ thoughts and feelings by asking questions, listening, and acting on what you hear. Simple, yet provocative, questions work well:

  • Why did you choose to work here in the first place?
  • What’s working for you now, and what’s not working?
  • Why do you choose to continue working here when you have other options?
  • How can we make our company a community where people want to come to work every day and others seek us out?

As you ask, listen patiently and without judgment, so you can truly understand what your people want. Then, take action.

There are few things more frustrating than speaking out and never seeing any follow up or change. Execute on suggestions where you can, tell people what you’re doing (and what you’re not doing and why), and communicate your appreciation for their time and effort.

2. Actively Build Trust

Show trust preemptively by empowering employees to make decisions without micromanaging. Give them the flexibility to work remotely where possible. An employee who feels trusted also feels valued. And by giving trust, you build stronger relationships and deeper connections — key components of an improved workplace culture.

3. Prioritize Empathy

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s place to further understanding. It’s about forgetting “me” and focusing on “you.” As a leader, it’s not about sugar coating, jumping into problem solving, or having to agree. It is meeting people where they are now, listening, and providing what they need in that moment. To connect with people on deeper levels, we must shift from a focus on what people do to why they do it. As a problem-solver to my core, I struggle with this focus-shift regularly!

4. Be Transparent

Many of us “experienced” leaders were taught to leave our personal lives at home. “Work-life balance” was the always-elusive goal. What we should focus on instead is “work-life integration,“ which recognizes that everyone brings their whole self to work, wherever they work.

As leaders, we can model this through a willingness to be both vulnerable and transparent in sharing who we are. Your people want to know leaders are human. Get comfortable having open conversations with your employees to better understand of each person as a unique individual and to check in at a level that’s meaningful. Your willingness to consistently share and listen is essential to shed the traditional employee-employer relationship model and build trusting and sincere ones.

5. Consistently Recognize and Prize

One of the top reasons people leave companies is because they do not feel fully appreciated. If people don’t get recognition that’s meaningful to them, they will leave and find it elsewhere. Recognition can range from simple to extravagant, depending on the reason for it. As a writer, I think words are great, but they do not last and can quickly be forgotten. Find unique, personal, and meaningful ways to let employees know they matter and show that their thoughts, opinions, and contributions are valued.

Change, whether good or bad, is never easy. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers because Ali’s ethOs team does! Start by making sure your people feel heard and supported. And remember that you’re not building a company; you’re building a community where people want to work more than anywhere else.

October 14, 2021