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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Employees are quitting: Are you to blame?

We found that people leave their jobs because they don’t feel valued or trusted, because the business doesn’t offer them stretch opportunities to experience tangible growth journeys, or because they can’t see a connection between their daily labors and the company’s greater vision and goals.

Employees are quitting: Are you to blame?
[LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock]

It’s hard to miss all the headlines about “The Great Resignation,” the unprecedented mass exodus of American workers from their jobs. Did the pandemic shorten everyone’s fuse? Or did it spur real reflection? My team and I ran a study to find out, discovering that what workers across industries and levels want most is to grow, know they have impact, and feel they belong. Businesses are losing dream teams, not malcontents. So if your own company is currently bleeding talent, it might be time to look in the mirror.

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RETENTION, AN OLD TOPIC WITH FRESH RELEVANCE

My company was one of many to conduct a study on mass resignations, though our perspective on talent and development made us want to ask our own questions. “Workers leave their managers, not their jobs” has been conventional wisdom for a long time. (So much so that Forbes, characterizing it as a cliché, jumps straight into offering advice on managing more positively.) But in our view, tensions between the big studies from Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company created space for more curiosity to fill.

In 2020, McKinsey doubled down on relationships with managers as the #1 factor determining employees’ job satisfaction. But a 2018 study from HBR cracked open dissatisfaction with jobs—not managers—as the ultimate force motivating employees to resign. To resolve these seeming contradictions, we chose to explore context, personal motivations, and the daily interactions that shape the experience of work. As specialists in culture and team building, we sought the complex, human answers that could inform better people strategies.

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Are managers convenient scapegoats, potential game-changers, or both? And beyond what workers want in their jobs, what do people want from their lives, as lived at work? And how do management behaviors and roles alike interact with those hopes?

GROWTH & BELONGING: THE NEW BENCHMARKS

In surveying over 800 workers across generations, industries, and positions, we found that people leave their jobs because they don’t feel valued or trusted, because the business doesn’t offer them stretch opportunities to experience tangible growth journeys, or because they can’t see a connection between their daily labors and the company’s greater vision and goals.

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Do managers play a role in how people feel and what they experience while working? Of course, but we found that employees leave the people and positions that make them feel like they don’t matter.

THE OPPORTUNITY IN REIMAGINING MANAGEMENT 

Knowing workers want to grow and feel part of a valued unified force pursuing the organization’s vision, leaders have a choice. They can scapegoat managers who lose talent or rethink the models that position them as obstacles. They can reward managers who take on the complexity of facilitating others’ growth—and become those managers themselves—or continue plugging and playing new employees into roles that might be easy to fill, but will only become harder to keep filled. At Bluedog, we reward those who develop and retain others with bonuses and advancement. They also report intrinsic satisfaction. It feels good to become a visible reason why colleagues stretch and thrive.

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We can’t (and don’t) ignore the reality that not every employee can be retained or should. It’s also true that employers must find ways to align employee aspirations with accountability. Mutuality requires transparency: the business promises to respect and grow the individual as the individual promises to apply their strengths and creativity to serve the company. But it’s clear that genuine human connections—to people and purpose—are what inspire enduring loyalty and investment. Not worker-manager chemistry, not a job description or title.

Why do people quit? They can’t see a path forward to making any difference. They don’t feel like they belong within your culture, strategies, and goals. They don’t feel valued and doubt they’ll even be missed.

Given how admirable we found them, it’s worth checking to make sure you’re not why.

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Michelle Hayward is CEO of Bluedog, a consumer-forward growth consultancy advising a global client base. Bluedog:Decisions That Matter

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