From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, Here’s Why Good People are Really Leaving and How to Keep Them.
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I sent an email recently to 500 of my top clients, partners and prospects, and I got 50 autoresponse emails that they were no longer with their respective organizations. About 10% of people I have spent years getting to know and collaborate with on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have transitioned roles in the last few months.
Just when we thought that the Great Remand was over, high turnover rates persist. It is important to understand why people are still leaving and what you can do to keep them coming back.
Why are people still leaving?
There have been several factors over the last two-plus years affecting people in the workplace. At the beginning of 2022, women’s employment was still 1.8 million lower than in February 2020. The Society for Human Resource Management cites the high cost of childcare and the continued lack of inclusion for women of color as primary reasons for this shift.
People increasingly have decided to quit working for toxic workplaces, pointing to the lack of inclusion and lack of respect as primary reasons for turnover. The pandemic’s lingering effects show that people want a sense of belonging and connection in the workplace, and likely always have. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a framework dating back to 1942, points to five key human needs: physiological needs (food, water, air), safety needs (shelter, physical safety), community and belonging (connection), esteem (valued) and self-actualization (the ultimate goal that few humans reach). These needs have always been present in the workplace. However, they are now essential needs and not nice-to-have ones.
There is no switch to control the need for belonging in the workplace. While people might have compartmentalized their needs before, with hybrid work and constant global change, these needs are no longer being suppressed. After their basic needs are met they look for ways to connect with others at work. People won’t stay where they don’t belong. Another reason people are leaving is because they are overworked. “People have 250% more meetings every day than they did before the pandemic,” said Mary Czerwinski, the research manager of the Human Understanding and Empathy group at Microsoft. This means that everything else, such as email and writing, is being pushed to the future. “
Burnout is on the rise with 25% of people reporting symptoms (a number expected to be larger in reality). Average workweeks are getting longer and the boundaries between work and life have become blurred. In the last few years, people have been working longer hours.
There are key strategies that your organization can use to retain top talent, given the toxic workplace data and issues with burnout.
Best practices for retention
When people feel connected to their work, and it fills a deeper more self-actualized purpose, they’re more likely to work harder in a sustainable way. Designing work with purpose could be ensuring your organizational goals are mapped down to the individual contributor level, with people knowing their role in contributing to the overall purpose. Leaders should share real-life stories of how their work has an impact on the communities and customers they serve. The organization’s culture must be woven with purpose.
The traditional work environment was based on assets and not people. People were viewed as worker bees, designed to do the job and maximize productivity. The ideal worker mentality was the basis of the workplace. The ideal worker is someone who puts work first and doesn’t need much flexibility to get their job done. This is not the case in most corporate settings where average tenure is decreasing.
Ideal employees are expected to check email after work hours, respond to most requests, and be available at all times. This taxing model creates a toxic workplace atmosphere where availability is prioritized over actual work performance and disadvantages caregivers (often women), people with disabilities, and people in lower socioeconomic conditions that have obligations outside of work.
Instead of rewarding the ideal workers, encourage people to bring their “best” selves to work. People who bring their best selves to work will produce better work, be more productive, and stay longer.
When work is designed to promote actual work rather than ideal worker tendencies, people are able to be their best selves and retain more employees.
Mistakes to avoid
I recently did the opening keynote for a financial services conference. Later that afternoon, we held an optional breakout on diversity. Although there were hundreds in my keynote, the breakout sessions had a significantly smaller audience.
About 20% of the audience attended the breakouts, and senior leaders were absent. It sends a huge signal to your team about what’s important by what you prioritize and pay attention to. Engaging senior leadership in this conversation is important to drive inclusion and retain top talent. Another client in the tech industry has seen high-performing employees leave at a higher rate than their lower performers. Instead of talking with high performers and trying to retain them, they accept the departure with the excuse that they don’t want work here anymore or that they found a better job. “
Neither one of those sentiments are true from talking candidly with these individuals. They are leaving because they lack inclusion. Talk to key people before they leave if you want them to stay.
A leader in learning and development at a large automotive company was having difficulty getting input from her leadership team. She repeatedly asked her team for feedback and input on the corporate learning strategy, but was met with silence. She eventually left the company as a top performer. The organization has no learning leader. Inclusive leaders are not afraid to make difficult decisions.
The Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” are far from over. Find out why people are leaving to keep them happy and create work that centers belonging.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.