In a recent blog, I shared my perspectives about the Great Resignation, based on what my Vida Aventura clients are experiencing, seeing and observing. At the time I wrote it, a record-breaking 4.3 million Americans had quit their jobs (August 2021) across an array of industries, toppling previous month’s records. This was based on a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Now that we’re all well into 2022, I was curious to see the bigger picture and so I looked up what the total voluntary quits ended up being in 2021. Are you ready? It was a whopping 47.4 million (here’s an interactive historical chart to put it in perspective).
Because my Vida Aventura coaching clients are continuing to see the effects of what is also called the Big Quit, I’ve been keeping an eye out for any new research that explains why workers have been quitting, and what leaders can do about it. And thanks to a recent MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) article, we now have even more concrete, data-based answers. Below I’m summarizing the results, and then I’ll leave you with my final thoughts.
What’s up with all the employee turnover?
Basically, the leading predictors of attrition boil down to five main areas:
1. Toxic corporate culture
2. Job insecurity and reorganization
3. High levels of innovation
4. Failure to recognize performance
5. Poor response to COVID-19
Toxic corporate culture. This area easily wins the categories as the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition – even 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover. Toxic culture includes things like failing to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, workers feeling disrespected, and unethical behavior.
Job insecurity and reorganization. When jobs are unstable or significant restructurings are prominent, employee turnover is higher. From MIT SMR, “When a company is struggling, employees are more likely to jump ship in search of more job security and professional opportunities. Past layoffs, moreover, typically leave surviving employees with heavier workloads, which may increase their odds of leaving.”
High levels of innovation. This area really surprised me, because my first reaction was to think hey, innovation is exciting and inspiring, what’s wrong with that? It’s not surprising that workers leave companies with toxic cultures or frequent layoffs. But, according to the article, “Staying at the bleeding edge of innovation typically requires employees to put in longer hours, work at a faster pace, and endure more stress than they would in a slower-moving company. The work may be exciting and satisfying but also difficult to sustain in the long term.”
Failure to recognize performance. When I’m coaching company executives, leaders and managers, this is a recurring issue. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to recognize employee performance. Here’s the proof: “Employees are more likely to leave companies that fail to distinguish between high performers and laggards when it comes to recognition and rewards. Companies that fail to recognize and reward strong performers have higher rates of attrition, and the same is true for employers that tolerate underperformance.”
Poor response to COVID-19. The bottom line is that protecting employee health and well-being is important, especially in times of crisis. “Employees who mentioned COVID-19 more frequently in their reviews or talked about their company’s response to the pandemic in negative terms were more likely to quit.”
Hey leaders, here’s what you can do
In my leadership development work, I help individuals improve things like self-awareness, emotional intelligence, communication, conflict management and mindfulness practices. All of these things are characteristics of good leaders, and key in taking the MIT SMR article’s suggested actions that managers can take in the short term to reduce attrition.
Provide opportunities for lateral job moves. Not every employee has an eye on that corner office. Some might want to do stretch projects and learn new things, but they don’t necessarily want to go higher on the company flow chart. “Many workers simply want a change of pace or the opportunity to try something new. When employees talk positively about lateral opportunities — new jobs offering fresh challenges without a promotion — they are less likely to quit.”
Sponsor corporate social events. Holding company-organized social events in the midst of a global pandemic hasn’t been easy. It’s getting better, and so I’m certainly hopeful that the opportunities for things like in-person team-building events, celebrations and get-togethers will continue to increase. They are, according to the research, a key element of a healthy corporate culture and are associated with higher rates of retention.
Offer remote work options. When participants in the research discussed remote work options in more positive terms, they were less likely to quit. “What you might not have expected is the relatively modest impact of remote work on retention — just a bit more powerful than compensation in predicting lower attrition.”
Make schedules more predictable for front-line employees. Some of my clients have noticed a higher level of resignations coming from their factories or plant locations. Here’s a good explanation. “When blue-collar employees describe their schedules as predictable, they are less likely to quit. Having a predictable schedule is six times more powerful in predicting front-line employee retention than having a flexible schedule.”
Final thoughts on toxic culture
Since toxic culture is the biggest reason why employees leave, I want to leave you with my final thoughts specifically on this topic. First and foremost, leaders need to understand and address the elements of their corporate culture that are causing employees to disengage and leave. And above all else, they must root out issues that contribute to a toxic culture. An upcoming blog will explore, empirically, what constitutes a toxic culture and how organizations can address this challenge.
And finally, I wanted to pass along something my good friend Susan Mosey, owner of TeamSense, recently shared:
At the end of the day, people want three things: to be seen, heard, and appreciated. It’s simple and profound
Being Seen is acknowledging the other person and not ignoring or making them feel invisible or unimportant.
Being Heard is working to understand where they are coming from and why.
Being Appreciated is respecting their point of view even if it is different from yours.
Vida Aventura can work with you, your managers and teams to be more effective leaders and help ensure your employees want to work with you.