We’re in the middle of a period of talent mobility that most leaders have never experienced. 1.3 million Australians changed jobs in February 2022 - the highest in over a decade. But people are not leaving for reasons we are all familiar with such as money, boss, or location; they are rethinking their life priorities entirely. When the reason for attrition is this radically different, then our retention strategies need be radically different too.
So where do we start? What are the ‘radically different’ reasons for leaving - can we address them one by one? Well, not really - because the list you get depends on who you talk to.
The most reliable term I have seen is ‘overall dissatisfaction’. That might feel like too nebulous a catch-all statement to address, but it actually tells you a great deal.
Overall dissatisfaction has been triggered by the recent survival of an existential global threat. You may not personally feel that way about COVID, but your subconscious certainly does and ongoing threats of nuclear war and financial crises are not changing its mind. As with any near-death experience, it’s making us ask ourselves ‘if I had my life over, what would I do differently’?
Some of us are consciously considering this - and those people can narrow down their overall dissatisfaction to specific areas. But they are in the minority. Most are still unconsciously considering it, and hence so many are feeling an overall dissatisfaction that they cannot label.
This is the first place that you can help by engaging your teams to help them identify their own overall dissatisfaction. Don’t worry that you’ll be putting ideas into their heads, the dissonance already exists, they are just not talking to you about it (and I suspect that you are not talking them about yours either).
Identifying what’s changed
The first question that will help is to determine our own values and how they fit with our existing life and career choices. Run a team values audit - there are plenty of people around who could not confidently label their values, and even more people who have not run a recent audit of those values to identify what’s changed. This matters because when our values change, so does our reaction to an environment that has historically been ok.
This changed reaction to the environment is behind significant life changes like getting a divorce, leaving a job or changing career.
Then you can talk about tolerance levels. For many people, this shift of values gives rise to the conversation about ‘what I’m no longer willing to tolerate in order to simply be paid’. Quiet quitting is a perfect example of the sudden intolerance to historically standard expectations that you will work above and beyond. Tolerance to low levels of autonomy, expected work practices or toxic behaviours are critical to re-establish - because the tolerance levels have changed. It’s why a perfectly tolerated commute pre-COVID is a reason to resign post-COVID.
These insights will tell you where to focus at an individual level - because values are profoundly personal, and that’s why one size no longer fits all.
In my experience of working with leaders and their teams to stem attrition and reset their expectations and relationships, these are the three areas that need the greatest focus:
Long hours decrease our life expectancy by 20%, and after a certain point, productivity declines for every additional hour. And yet we keep increasing the workload and expecting more from less. In Japan they call it ‘Karoshi’ which means death by overworking, and the WHO proves that overworking is killing us. Buy into the burnout bandwagon or not - the fierce pace of work and overwhelming workload is an issue that needs a sustainable solution. This is why over 100 organisations globally are trialing a four-day work-week, to allow workers to be more focused and productive when the heat is on, and to have more rest and recuperation in between.
If staying with you means going nowhere for them, then of course they will move - and this applies to progressing both their skills and their career. Career growth is so important that HBR tells us for every 10 months in a role, an individual is 1% more likely to leave you. LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report found 94% of employees would stay longer if their employer invested in their learning.
The disproportionate impact of leadership on your ability to tolerate your environment, and on your decision to stay or go - has never been more profound. Visier’s 2022 report shows that 43% of the workforce has quit because of a bad manager. In this context, your leaders need more support. Employee motivation and management has never been so complex and personalised and the ‘right’ approach has never been more ambiguous. Most mid-level leaders, are not receiving sufficient development to confidently create a psychologically safe workplace where they can hold these critical conversations.