A word of advice for big businesses set in their ways.
If the words “it’s not personal, it’s business,” are often muttered within the walls of your organization, I encourage you to lean in here.
The numbers can no longer be ignored. It is personal. It is real. And it’s something that can only be fixed by taking a good hard look at how your company got here.
The Great Resignation, and What It Means.
First and foremost, let’s address the true magnitude of a corporate mass exodus in 2021.
Change is hard.
Any kind of change is difficult but when we’re talking about things like making a mid-career industry change, leaving a corporate job to start your own business, or any other life-altering professional transition, change is a big deal.
It’s not something people typically do when things are “good”. In fact, it’s not something most employees will even consider unless things are quite bad.
The fact that employees across the country are making these huge changes at rapid rates during an already tumultuous time speaks volumes about the underlying issues causing it in the first place.
For the past several months, it seems that everywhere I turn there’s another news outlet covering this “phenomenon”, as it’s often referred to. What’s interesting, though, is that most of this coverage focuses on how companies and executive leadership teams can survive the great resignation from a forward-looking approach.
They discuss things like what to add to benefit packages and where to source top talent. Few, on the other hand, address the one thing that most needs to be discussed:
How your company got here.
If people are leaving your company faster than you can process the paperwork, these four problems are more than likely at play, and acknowledging them may be the first step to retaining your people in the future.
# 1 – Poor Leadership.
This is at the top of the list because it matters most. Excellent leadership has the capacity to make an organization thrive, to keep loyal team members while attracting great new candidates, and to dramatically improve the bottom line.
Poor leadership, quite simply, is a good way to ruin a business.
And everything else on the list? They’re all in one way or another impacted by the quality of a company’s leadership.
# 2 – Micromanagement
Let’s just get this out of the way: Micromanagement helps no one.
If you have cause for concern around the quality of an employee’s work, address it directly.
But if you micromanage your team members, it negatively affects them and ultimately, the company as a whole.
Whether we’re talking about a four-year-old writing their name or a 30-year-old building a complex database, when humans are micromanaged it tells them one thing: You are not trusted to do this on your own.
In the case of the four-year-old, the aftermath is a child doubting their capabilities.
For the 30-year-old who knows what they’re doing and brings their critical thinking skills to work each day, the aftermath often includes resentment, apathy, and ultimately departure.
#3 – Underpaying employees.
The days of paying the bare minimum for a quality team are long gone. In the past, certain companies had enough clout that they could get away with it, but those days are gone.
The startup space is bigger and more influential than ever, and millennial founders know the importance of paying their team fairly since most of us struggled through jobs where we could barely afford to live. This was often after going into debt to get the very college degree the job required, but I digress.
We’ve done this.
And since we’re often the ones making the job offers in the startup world, we lead with compassion and offer what we wish we’d had in the way of support from our employers.
It’s worth mentioning that a lot of larger companies appear to be adding “non-traditional” benefits to compensation packages (things like wellness plans, lifestyle allowances, and more) but adding them without increasing salaries. This isn’t enough.
If you want to attract and retain great team members, pay a competitive wage and offer them incentives that will increase their quality of life.
Because if you don’t, someone else will. This is not something that will pass, this is something that will increase in importance every year from here on out. It is vital and there is no workaround.
#4 – Preventable Stress from False Urgency.
If we’ve learned anything from living through a global pandemic, I’d hope it’s the ability to discern between emergent and non-emergent circumstances.
Beyond just being a reason they leave, the stress brought on by false urgency in the workplace often comes with serious adverse effects on the mental health of employees.
A few years back, I was talking with a friend and former colleague. Out of nowhere, she asked me how long it took before the sound of company notifications stopped making my heart race.
The reason she asked was because I had left the company a while before she did, and she was trying to gauge how much longer until she’d stop experiencing panic when Slack went off in her new job.
I told her I wish I knew, but my heart still raced when I got a notification. It had been a year.
A culture of false urgency and stress-inducing communication patterns affect your employees in ways that extend much further than your business hours. It negatively impacts the health of your people.
It’s also wholly unnecessary to your bottom line.
There are companies doing important, time-sensitive work in the world whose employees don’t feel this way when their email or internal company chat goes off.
It simply doesn’t have to be that way and your current, former, and future team members know it.
So, what’s the solution?
Like many companies, you’re probably asking employees what would make your company an even better place to work. You’re also probably conducting exit interviews when folks leave.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to give you the data you need.
If you’re surveying your current team members but you currently have any of the problems outlined above within the culture of your company, there’s a good chance your employees don’t feel safe telling you what they really think.
Likewise, if someone has just resigned and you’re surveying them in an exit interview at a time when they’re awaiting a final paycheck from your organization and likely feeling vulnerable – you’re not going to get the strongest insights here either.
To get more of the information you need, I’d encourage you to reach out to the people who have already left you.
Just like you’d ask former customers why they discontinued service, former employees who resigned no longer wanted what you’re selling. Find the ones who will talk to you and ask them why.
Ask them what you could have done differently. Ask them what needs of theirs were not being met while they worked for you.
Then ask them where there were sources of unnecessary stress or toxicity. Lastly, ask them what they think could be done to make things better.
They have nothing to lose and nothing at stake.
They won’t all be willing to give you their time but for the ones that are, I’d be willing to bet they’ll give it to you straight.
The big question.
The moral of the story here is simple: if you want to recover from the great resignation, you need to stop looking at it as a “worker” problem or a temporary side effect of the pandemic.
It’s a problem within the company. And it’s a problem that was probably always there, it’s just that employees finally began realizing it didn’t need to be their problem. This is one of many areas where people are boldly making choices about what they will and will not make room for in their lives going forward.
In his book, “Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind”, Jonah Berger includes a chapter called, “Endowment”. In this chapter, he takes us on a deep dive into the fact that even when they’re enticed with something shiny and new, it’s very hard to get people to give up something they already have.
As I recently read that chapter, I couldn’t help but think of how it relates to “the great resignation”. It reminded me that people do not tend to leave places where they feel comfortable. They don’t tend to leave jobs where they feel safe, even for a better opportunity.
Yes, it’s true that some people do. Some people leave an already “okay” job for a great opportunity elsewhere. But most people do not. Because of this, we can assume that people aren’t leaving a place of employment in droves because they find it “mediocre”.
They’re leaving when the discomfort of staying outweighs the fear of leaving something they already have. They’re leaving because things are bad for them.
To that end, if your organization finds itself on the receiving end of this mass exodus, the question to ask is this, “What about working here is so bad that our people would rather experience scary, life-altering change than to stay?”
Start there, then actually listen to what you discover, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Because it is not just business anymore. It’s personal.
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