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Leaders: This is the root cause of the Great Resignation. Here are 2 ways to tackle it

A change management practitioner cautions that both leaders and employees are wise right now to resist being trigger happy without first doing some valuable self-appraisal.  

Leaders: This is the root cause of the Great Resignation. Here are 2 ways to tackle it
[Photo: Bob Osias/Unsplash]

I remember as a kid asking my grandma one of those benign questions that somehow shapes your perspective on life: “Why do adults have to work?” She responded, “because it keeps your hands busy, your mind sharp, and your heart full.” I’ve never forgotten it. 

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Most of us are lucky if we get two out of three of these benefits from our work or career. Even one. As creatures motivated by reward systems, we are constantly evaluating our options in life and work. As reductive as it might sound, everything in our life is based on an exchange of some kind: We receive a salary for our work, we pay rent or mortgage for housing, and we invest time and care into the lives of those we love. As humans, we ultimately seek a state of equilibrium and fulfillment. 

Today, across industries and companies of all sizes, we’re witnessing more job changes than ever before. We could analyze the metrics and variables for days. What we do know is that we’re all coming through a time of isolation, loss of connectedness, burnout, and honestly, we just have more job options. One study suggests we’ll see an attrition rate increase of 58% between April 2020 and December 2021. That stat alone means the stakes have never been higher for companies to retain top talent.  

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers 

Studies support this familiar turn of phrase. Great leadership plays a crucial role in maintaining and developing talent. A study conducted by Florida State University found that of individuals who recently changed jobs: “39% said their leaders failed to follow through on promises, 37% said they didn’t get credit for their hard work, and 31% said their leaders were absent or not present.”  

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So how do these concerns rise to the level of dissatisfaction that generates attrition in the levels we’re seeing?    

Our current, more isolated work environments have fundamentally changed the way we make decisions, both big and smallWith decreased access to the social systems of pre-pandemic times, we’re filtering our priorities through a smaller group of trusted connections—with fewer points of input.

As a change management practitioner in this strange time, I think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When our basic human needs are not being met for any of the following: psychological safety, physical security, love and belonging, and prestige and accomplishment we tend to follow pretty predictable patterns. We develop a singular focus and we prioritize our primal needs above all else.   

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With that as a backdrop, how do we know if our internal decisions and management approaches are truly objective or potentially compromised? How can we be sure we’re not inadvertently motivating or managing others in a way that makes it too easy for them to leave? 

Pause 

Pausing for self-evaluation never goes out of style. If you are seriously looking at quitting your job, which may be exactly what you should do, consider taking an introspective interlude. If you’re a leader or manager of people, it may be time to reflect on how you’re providing an exceptional work environment and growing trust with your team.   

From my vantage, both parties are wise right now to resist being trigger happy without first doing some valuable self-appraisal.  

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Evaluate yourself through a trust lens  

Years ago, Charles Feltman published The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Workone of the most concise, impactful resources on the value of trust and how to develop it in the workplace. The author holds that a willingness to cultivate two-way trust is essential to individual, team, and corporate success. If we think about work environments devoid of trust, we might identify a lack of creativity, productivity, innovation, and fidelity. In other words, a lack of success. 

Conversely, the behavioral markers for at-risk work environments are pretty recognizable. For example, have you witnessed any of these behaviors in yourself or someone else in the last few months? 

  • Fear 
  • Anger 
  • Resentment 
  • Resistance 
  • Expecting the worst 
  • Blaming 
  • Judging 

If you answered yes to any of these, it’s good to identify potential root causes. The following are Feltman’s four attributes that engender the most trust—actionable for any of us.   

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Be Reliable: Follow through on commitments.  

Don’t: Behave inconsistently, such as overpromise, sugar coat, or not follow up on identified next steps.  

Do: Be direct but honest and fair, keep scheduled meetings as much as possible.   

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Be Sincere: Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  

Don’t: Use superlatives (always, never, completely).    

Do: Make sure you understand the situation, practice active listening, and use specific and relevant information to justify your conclusions.   

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Demonstrate Competence: Proactively show your knowledge, skills, and abilities.  

Don’t: Overpromise or avoid asking for clarification if you’re unsure about how to proceed or you don’t have a definition of clear standards for the work to be done.  

Do: Be transparent, expose areas that lack clarity, seek information, and ask for feedback.  

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Practice Care: Show people you have their back. 

Don’t: Miss critical life events, avoid small talk, not understand areas of passion and frustration, or not share the decision-making process.   

Do: Practice radical transparency, demonstrate advocacy, celebrate critical life events, and be present during meetings.  

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We all have our own individual life priorities. If a core, fundamental need is not being met, we must find a way to resolve it. But understanding what shapes and drives these life priorities can help us make wiser decisions.   

I’m thinking of my grandma’s endearing and memorable trifecta of work benefits: It keeps our hands busy, minds sharp, and hearts full. Let’s all wisely pause to better understand what could be preventing us from actualizing these life-enriching ideals.  


Rachel Crocker is the people and change practice director at Propeller Consulting.

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