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Truth about why your employees are quitting and ways to prevent it

Despite the doubters, the Great Resignation is real and here today. Executive coach Karen Morley looks at the deeper issues and immediate solutions for employers.

Retaining Staff

The latest in a growing clanging of warning bells for employers, NAB’s February 2022 Behavioural Insights Report claims that more than one in five Australian workers changed their job in the last year, and currently, nearly one in four are thinking of doing so.

Despite the doubters, support for thr Great Resignation/Reshuffle grows. While an increased level of turnover might be expected after a couple of years of COVID-19 disruptions and restrictions, employers would do well to seek greater insight into the major reasons people are seeking new horizons.

While not everyone is the same – intentions to leave vary by industry, employment status, age and location – the major reasons for either leaving or wanting to leave are attributed to ‘push’ factors such as a lack of meaning and purpose, lack of fulfilment, lack of career growth, poor mental health, poor pay and benefits. Apparently, three in 10 are seeking to move to a new role or industry, indicating a strong desire for a fresh start.

Global studies confirm that one very significant reason behind the rise in burnout is an increase in meaningless work, which erodes organisational commitment.

‘Working on work’, longer working days, unnecessary meetings, duplication of work, lack of clarity about roles and tasks and increased hours sitting in front of a screen reduce meaningful work. While some of this has settled as organisations have adopted better remote work practices, there’s an alarming prevalence of mind-numbing meetings for which agendas aren’t clear, too many people are invited, half the participants aren’t given a chance to speak and there’s little or no follow-up.

Simple secret to retaining good employees

Meaning and purpose is what people lack, yet is fundamental to being human. With work more personal than ever, helping people to make sense of their world and to clarify their purpose is becoming increasingly important.

US research published last year confirms that major crises and events – and isn’t this pandemic one of those – cause us to rethink our meaning in life and our purpose. It is logical that employees are re-evaluating both their own life purpose, and the extent to which their work and their organisation supports its expression.

Addressing this explicitly could be a game-changer. Rather than a problem for organisations, this is a windfall for those that care.

Organisations that promote, rework, and clarify their purpose, their aspirations and values, help their people to find meaning and align with what matters most.

Purpose drives engagement and commitment

A common purpose is one of the key drivers of high levels of engagement. Work engagement is the willingness to devote energy to work, feeling a sense of significance through work, and an ability to be absorbed by the experience of working.

While different people have different purposes, simply having clarity of purpose increases work engagement. Having a purpose that is focused on others increases not just engagement, but also commitment to the organisation.

People want to feel this sense of fit and alignment, just as much as it benefits organisations when they do. The better the fit, the more the basic psychological needs for meaning and connection are met.

Allowing people to be authentic in their self-expression delivers better organisational outcomes than traditional practices that expect people to fit into the organisation’s norms and identities. Right now, organisations need to support the expression of individual’s purposes and purposefulness if they are to buck the resignation trend.

Make hybrid work

According to research conducted by Slack in late 2021, 95 per cent of knowledge workers want flexible hours and 78 per cent want location flexibility. This is not new news, but it’s certainly news that’s worth repeating, because most (72%) of those workers who were unsatisfied with their flexibility (whether hours or location) say they will seek work elsewhere.

As the research notes, the focus on hours worked is outdated; management must stop prioritising presenteeism and activity tracking and instead focus on the results and value that people achieve. The continuing preoccupation with presenteeism gets in the way of organisations’ ability to make swifter, more sensible decisions about flexible working arrangements. What are people here to do, do they actually do it, and how well? You don’t need to see people all the time to know the answers to these questions. You need to have good communication, good measures, and good systems, all of which predate COVID-19.

What leaders need to start appreciating

Finally, McKinsey research confirms that the factors that employers prioritise don’t match those that employees do. Employers focus on transactional areas, such as compensation, while people focus on relational factors, such as being valued by their manager and feeling a sense of belonging. Understanding why people choose to leave is critical in stemming the exodus of your top performers who are hard, and increasingly expensive, to replace.

Priority focal areas for CEOs:

  • Help people to make sense of the change that surrounds them.
  • Take the time to ask people what they want, and then listen.
  • Focus on purpose and values, and seek alignment: make sure individuals can see how their purpose is honoured through the work they do.
  • Make hybrid working arrangements work.

If you can show your appreciation for what people need now, respond and provide the kind of leadership that puts people at its heart – where it should be – you stand a better chance of keeping your best people.

Karen Morley is a distinguished executive coach, an authority on leadership coaching and a thought leader on inclusive leadership. She is the author of FlexAbility: how high achievers beat burnout and find freedom in an overworked world, Beat Gender Bias, Lead Like a Coach, and Gender-Balanced Leadership.

Read next: Why the Great Resignation will steal your best talent and how to stop it

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