Employees are Leaving — Here’s What They Want You to Know

by | Jun 29, 2021

Employee retention. It’s a conundrum for even the most-seasoned managers. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen an extensive uptick in conversations about The Great Resignation, as well as the what and how of keeping people in-house. Fewer are asking why everyone is suddenly on the run. 

Is Your House on Fire? Here are 5 Issues that Send Employees Running:

1) Attempts to communicate are unsuccessful
Leaders must take responsibility for attempting to work things out with the person who is creating the heat. Using honest communication, make an effort to express concerns in a constructive way and take responsibility for your part of the problem. Offer ideas for constructively moving forward but don’t assume the weight of your authority is going to correct the issue.  

2) Reframing the problem is not sustainable
There are times when an employee’s perception about a situation or person is partly to blame. As leaders it is worth asking if there are other ways to view the problem. However, if the issue lays smoldering even after you’ve addressed all the angles and attitudes, you’re exhausting your team’s mental and emotional energy. 

3) The level of stress is all-consuming
We all dread work on some days, but it’s different to experience signs of stress-induced illness. When a manager (or C-suite leader) in your company imposes irrational deadlines without the resources to deliver the work, or defers blame in all areas of mismanagement, those who report to them are the first to get burned. Leaders who lack the skill, or will, to change this behavior set their teams up for failure.

4) Support systems are not enough
An objective observer sees other points of view not obvious to you. There is no better time to take advantage of these resources than during your own office fire. While counselors can offer incredibly valuable insights, they cannot take the action for you. Identifying the issue is crucial but it is not up to your employees to change the toxic culture.

5) They feel lied to and taken advantage of
Everyone at every level feels burned out after 15 months of unpredictable working conditions. The bottom line is that your employees stuck it out and now they want you to make good on promises, implied or otherwise stated. This Fast Company article cuts to the chase, “Many have lost a sense of connection to the workplace, […] Even if they’re getting time with their manager, we discovered they’re having fewer interactions, and the quality of those interactions is diminished. They’re not having a feeling of genuine connection. They feel less seen, recognized, and appreciated.”

Research shows that employees feel rewarded when they work together and cooperate, which results in more motivation and productivity. And there’s good news: you don’t need fireworks or money to make it happen. 

Rewards & Retention — It’s Not about the Money

Thanks to neuroscience, now there are other proven options that activate reward responses in the brain. There is strong research that supports the notion that we have a “common neural currency” for rewards. This means social value, as well as monetary compensation, are awarded similar worth by the brain. While both types elicit motivation, intrinsic motivational rewards predict better job performance and satisfaction. Use these to improve your employee retention: 

To provide a sense of increased status, consider what is desired by the staff but is scarce. Anything that is special will work. Consider these findings from a recent study by Harvard Business Review: 

  • 86% of employees would prefer to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output 
  • 88% of knowledge workers say that when searching for a new position, they will look for one that offers complete flexibility in their hours and location
  • 76% of the workers polled believe that employees will be more likely to prioritize lifestyle (family and personal interests) over proximity to work — even if it means taking a pay cut

For individuals, status rewards may be time off, a flexible schedule, attendance at conferences, or access to training and education. For teams, group superlatives or even t-shirts can convey the “cool kids” rank. For everyone, recognition from and access to the boss carries distinction.

The brain’s reward network activates when a person perceives themselves as having a good reputation and social approval. How that person, and the company they work for, is viewed by others also influences cooperation and retention rates. Culture Amp, an Australian-based employee experience platform, analyzed 175 teams and rated their commitment to the workplace and what affects it. 

Though it is generally assumed that employees leave managers rather than companies, this data proves it’s the other way around. “Factors such as how the company is structured, what type of work the business is prioritizing and how the organization thinks about applying people to that work all come in to play.” They also found that development and progression opportunities far outweighed any other factors at 52%.

Perceived inequity in efforts made can dampen morale and performance. In fact, people are willing to incur a personal cost solely to punish others whom they consider to have behaved unfairly. Perhaps you have seen a team that is willing to remove a non-performer even though it means additional work for other team members. Studies using economic games indicate that fair “offers” led to higher happiness ratings and increased activity in reward regions of the brain. 

To activate the powerful response to fairness, stand up for those who consistently do their fair share. Praise them and give them opportunities for more status. Similarly, don’t let the free-riders slide. Address the inequity in performance. This, too, will reward your high performers.Work flexibility, clearer communication, more productive hours and increased personal time — when we peel away the buzz around our so-called “new normal”, it’s obvious that employees are not simply exploiting a weakness in the corporate structure. Sometimes we want to flee a stressful situation but struggle with being labeled a “quitter.” Then there are times when a toxic leader creates a fire that threatens the self-esteem and confidence of an entire department or organization. This scenario doesn’t have to result in total devastation but as someone in charge, you have to step up and control the burn.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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