From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, Here's Why Good People are Really Leaving and How to Keep Them. The Great Resignation and "quiet quitting" are far from over. To keep good people, find out why they're leaving and design work with the purpose to center belonging.
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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 the Great Resignation and "quiet quitting" were over, high turnover rates linger. To better understand how to retain top talent, it is important to understand why people are still leaving, the best practices to drive retention and mistakes to avoid in the effort to keep good people.
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). The needs have always shown up in the workplace, the difference is they are now must-have needs rather than nice-to-have needs.
There is no on/off switch for needs 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. Once people's basic needs are met, they look to connect with others in the workplace. People don't stay in places they don't feel that they belong.
Another key reason people are leaving is that they're 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. "That means everything else — like coding and email and writing — is being pushed later."
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. People have extended their work days significantly in the past few years.
Given the toxic workplace data, issues with burnout, and the need for belonging and connection, there are some key strategies your organization can do to retain top talent.
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.
It's also important for leaders to share real-life stories about how everyday work creates an impact on the communities and customers employees serve. Purpose needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization's culture.
The traditional work environment centered on assets, not people. People were looked at as worker bees designed to do the job and optimize productivity. The workplace was largely built to support the ideal worker mentality. We commonly define the ideal worker as someone who prioritizes work first and does not need a lot of flexibility to get their work done. That is no longer the case in most corporate environments where average tenure continues to decline.
Ideal workers have been thought to check email after hours, respond "yes" to most requests and always be "on." 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. When people bring their best selves to work, they're going to produce higher-quality work, be more productive and they're more likely to stay longer.
When we design work with a purpose that prioritizes actual work over ideal worker tendencies, people can be their best selves and retention increases.
Mistakes to avoid
I recently did the opening keynote for a financial services conference. Later that afternoon, we hosted an optional breakout on diversity. While there were hundreds of people in my keynote, there was a noticeably smaller group in the breakout sessions.
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 been losing high performers at a much higher rate than their lower performers. Rather than speak with the high performers and proactively work to retain them before they decided to leave, they have accepted the exodus of talent with the reasoning "they just don't want to work here" or "they found a better opportunity."
Neither one of those sentiments are true from talking candidly with these individuals. Rather, the lack of inclusion is what's driving them away. If you have key people you want to keep, talk to them proactively before they leave.
A leader of learning and development for a large company in automotive was struggling to get input from her leadership team. She continually asked them for input and feedback on the corporate learning strategy and was met with silence and avoidance — so she ultimately left as a top performer. The organization now has no learning leader. Rather than avoid making tough decisions, inclusive leaders know they have to share hard things even if that does not want people to want to hear.
The Great Resignation and "quiet quitting" are far from over. To keep good people, find out why people are leaving and design work with the purpose to center belonging.