/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/bonnie-low-logo.png 0 0 Bonnie Low-Kramen /wp-content/uploads/2020/08/bonnie-low-logo.png Bonnie Low-Kramen2021-12-28 15:26:512022-03-16 13:07:12The Real Reasons People Are Quitting by Bonnie Low-Kramen
No doubt you’ve read about “The Great Resignation” and Americans quitting their jobs in record numbers. The headlines report alarming labor shortages that we see in our own towns with stores that have shorter hours or that have closed entirely. In fact, the data shows that a whopping 50% of Americans are looking for new work this year. Since April, 2021, 11.5 million workers have quit their jobs which is the highest level since the year 2000. A new trend are “Quit-Toks,” videos on TikTok featuring vivid and often emotional stories of quitting jobs.
What’s going on? What is chasing all these people away?
The news stories focus on completely legitimate reasons for why this is happening, such as staff taking early retirement, fears about Covid and not wanting to return to the office, lack of childcare, and of course, the search for better jobs at higher compensation. These are reasons for quitting that would be reasonably offered in letters of resignation and at an exit interview. These reasons are easily accepted without question.
It’s just not that simple though. There are other reasons, more damning reasons, that people are quitting. Reasons that are more difficult to be written down in a letter or spoken aloud in an exit interview. They are even more disturbing to address once they are known.
The saying goes that people join companies, but they leave managers. Don’t they? For this reason, all this quitting deserves a closer look. After all, no one ever starts a job thinking that they are going to be forced to quit one day. And when that day comes, you never forget it. Do you?
Leaders are not hearing the real reasons about quitting because staff are afraid, and even terrified, of speaking truth to power, especially if the employees are worried about backlash and repercussions. After all, most employees need a good reference in order to get their next job. It takes great courage to be a truth-teller and make uncomfortable waves. As a result, employee figures out other plausible reasons for leaving that do not prompt further investigation. However, the staff silently wishes that their leaders could know the truth so that things could improve for future employees. Instead, they turn in their neat resignation letters, retrieve a reference letter, pack their belongings, and never look back.
Except for one thing. They leave behind little bits of their souls.
Further, I have determined that this great resignation – and certainly the desire to quit – began long before the pandemic, but the Covid health crisis simply accelerated the exodus because it was now easier to leave their manager.
If leaders are interested in turning this situation around, the questions become;
- What if leaders knew what their staff really needed to stop them from quitting?
- What motivates some staff to go above and beyond every day while others want to do the bare minimum to get by?
- And what if we could radically transform the workplace to reflect the answers to these questions so that fewer staff quit?
Doing that would mean a major shift in the way business is being conducted. And even more to the heart of the matter would be a transformation in the way managers lead people.
My work is training executive assistants all over the world and lots of them have quit their jobs. They tell me the real reasons why. And sometimes those reasons are painful, traumatic, and difficult to say out loud.
In these reasons, I see universal truths and patterns for quitting that are as true in Newark, New Jersey as they are in Auckland, New Zealand. It is time for leaders to learn the real reasons that staff quits, what staff really wants, and the ways to stop, or at least slow down “The Great Resignation.” The sudden loss of large numbers of staff is destabilizing to companies and in the larger picture, to the entire global economy.
What’s Stopping Us?
On a purely pragmatic level, this problem defies logic. Consider the financial costs of quitting. It costs a company 6-9 months of an employee’s annual salary to replace them. For a staffer making $60,000, that comes out to $30-45,000. That is just for one person. It costs $1500 to replace an hourly worker.
If leaders are aware of the steep financial costs of hiring and replacing staff, why are they not doing more to stop this stampede to the exit? One reason is, that for many leaders, a 2021 Zenger Folkman poll reports that most leaders don’t receive their first training in managing people until age 46. That number has increased from age 42 in 2012. From where I sit, therein lies a big part of the of the problem. As leadership expert and pollster Jack Zenger points out, we are simply waiting too long to train our leaders.
So, it’s not that leaders are intentionally bad or mean to their staff. They simply have not learned how to manage them. Here are a few examples of what poor management looks like.
Stories of Quitting From Real Life (The following stories do not contain real names)
Jenny quit her job because her manager bullied her by humiliating her in staff meetings by asking her if she had “forgotten her brain at home” and on several occasions, called her an idiot. In addition, the manager intentionally mispronounced her name because she thought it was funny.
Kevin quit his job because he had not had a performance review in over two years and each time he asked about it, he was told it wasn’t a priority. Also, others received a bonus at the end of the year and he did not. Kevin came to wonder whether this situation was prompted by the color of his skin, but he never was totally sure. Tired of being depressed, he searched for a new job. When he found it, he jumped at the chance.
Amy quit because the job description that she was given when she was hired bore little to no resemblance to the one she was actually doing. When she was hired, her manager said she would be on track for promotions and salary increases but in three years, she was overlooked numerous times. A recruiter contacted her on LinkedIn and Amy made her move.
Michael quit after one month because the onboarding and training in his department was non-existent and when he asked for help getting acclimated, he felt like he was a bother to the other overwhelmed members of the team. Frustrated by the disorganization, his friend got him a job at his company.
Julie quit because her micromanager did not support her to pay for a workshop to learn the new Office 365 and Teams software that the company had just installed and expected everyone to use. In addition, the manager said that even if Julie paid for the training herself, she would need to take the time as vacation days or unpaid time off, even though the same rules did not apply to management.
Megan quit because her manager constantly flirted with her, commented on her clothing, and on Zoom calls, he told her she should “smile more,” wear her hair “up like you used to,” and “try to lose some of that pandemic weight.” When she told HR, they said that they would look into it. Nothing changed, so she left. She found a better job and goes to therapy each week to process what happened.
And years ago, I almost quit in the first year of my job at the Whole Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey because my new manager announced that I no longer could speak directly to the Artistic Director and that I needed to communicate only through him. This felt like he was tying one hand behind my back and a power play. As a twenty nine year old woman, I felt angry and powerless. I felt my only choice was to find a new job somewhere else. Before I made my move, the Artistic Director ended up firing this manager and she asked me to stay. I did – for 25 years. That Artistic Director was Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. I often think about how my life would have turned out very differently had I quit.
In all of these true examples, quitting felt easier than confronting the situation. Most people have never had any training for what to do when you are being bullied, sexually harassed, or poorly managed and so the easiest remedy is to leave. That’s real life and these are the real reasons people quit. If people are resisting going back into offices, these are some of the real reasons why.
What Motivates Staff
If leaders want to stop the resignations and truly motivate staff to be loyal and hardworking, they need to know what staff really wants. They are, in this order;
- Respect for their unique talents and skills
- Appreciation & Belonging as a valued member of the team
- Money, as in fair compensation
- Professional Development, opportunities for growth
Money is not first in the list. Definitely not. It’s easy to tell. I will ask my students, “If I could wave a magic wand and as of tomorrow morning, you were making $10,000 more dollars a year, would that make the problems go away?” If they answer no, then the issue is clearly something else and that something is usually a feeling of being disrespected in some way.
What leaders need to know is that respect is the not-so-secret and the most powerful ingredient in our workplace. That was true pre-pandemic and it is true now. The ROI – return on investment – of giving staff what they really want, is immediate and positive in every way, including the bottom line. Plus, many of these strategies do not cost one penny.
The universal truth is that when staff feel respected and that they are a valued contributor who belongs, everything becomes possible. The converse is true. When staff feel disrespected and that they are just a nameless warm body filling headcount, that is the recipe for failure and a roadmap to the exit.
- How do managers show respect for their staff? They take the time to learn who the person is and understand their strengths and aspirations through frequent conversations, user manuals, personality assessments, and surveys. They treat their teams as individuals and care about them as people, such as the hardworking single mom who has a need for scheduling flexibility on Wednesdays. Respect means saying please and thank you, good morning, Happy Birthday, and showing up at your father’s funeral. Respectful managers make it safe to speak the truth without backlash and don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Respectful managers don’t have all the answers, but the staff can trust that they will be dealt with honestly and fairly.
The best managers show respect by owning their mistakes and embracing transparency and accountability. They ask for feedback and act on that feedback, including information about racism and discrimination. They do not tolerate bullies or sexual harassers and do not behave this way either. They are willing to take action, even when it is uncomfortable and not profitable, at least in the short term, to do so. This is what respect looks like.
- The second most important thing staff wants is to feel valued, appreciated, and that they belong. Managers do this by making it their business to know the unique talents and skills of the team as individual contributors. It becomes a top priority for staff to be acknowledged and celebrated for their SMEs – Subject Matter Expertise. The greatest gift you can give anyone is the freedom to be exactly who they are. After all, every team member was hired for at least one reason, and they feel valued if those areas of expertise are leveraged and rewarded. That’s a win/win for everyone.
- The third most important thing that staff wants is to be fairly compensated in salary and other benefits. Money is one of those topics that is still taboo and shrouded in secrecy in many organizations, so the best managers believe in pay transparency and pay equity. Trust me, the staff knows what co-workers make, and they know when it is unfair. The smartest managers are determined to address the wage gap openly and not pretend it does not exist. These managers make sure they know what their staff earns so they can confidently stand up in support of increases, promotions, and bonuses.
In the current “war for talent,” we see a trend towards signing bonuses and increased salaries as a way to attract staff. We even hear about people being paid extra-high salaries as a form of “combat pay” to work with particularly challenging managers. These tactics are only temporarily fixes. Respect and belonging must be a part of the relationship equation if people are going to choose to stay.
- And the fourth most important thing that staff wants is to have a runway for growth and opportunities to keep learning. This means not having to fight for or apologize for training dollars. Good managers know that nothing feeds a person’s soul more than the support to keep learning. A manager who enthusiastically invests in their staff’s education is a manager who achieves high team retention.
Next Steps – Words that matter
As college students prepare to lead companies and manage people, they will be set up for success by knowing the top four needs of their teams. They will benefit from seeing themselves as a business partner, a collaborator, and not a “boss.” The word “boss” is derived from the Dutch word “baas” which translates to “Master” as in “master and slave.” The term “boss” has run its course and new words need to replace it. The time is right now for leaders to work with their staff to build cultures of respect and belonging. It’s time to insist on an environment where the staff, who has been painstakingly hired in the first place, feel safe to have a voice and know that their leaders understand what they really want and need to be successful and happy in their jobs, happy enough to stay.
An Uncertain Future – It’s Up to Us
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring – what new variant or new technology or new crisis that may be around the corner. However, what we do know is that as long as the world’s workers are comprised of human beings, that what they all want is to do work that matters with people who respect and value them, pay them fairly, and support their career growth. That is what matters most.
To focus on what staff really wants and understand the real reasons they quit would radically reset, stabilize, and transform our workplace. People will join companies and feel committed, staying longer with managers who are committed to them. It will, without question, turn the tide of mass resignations, not to mention positively impact the mental health crisis and save millions of dollars in restaffing. It’s up to us.
I am Bonnie Low-Kramen, TEDx speaker, author of “Be the Ultimate Assistant” and trainer of Executive Assistants all over the world. As part of my work to teach building ultimate business partnerships, I was featured in a Forbes online cover story. In the research for my second book about the workplace to be published in 2022, I have had over 1,500 conversations with assistants, leaders, HR professionals, recruiters, and business school professors in 14 countries and 38 states. I am excited to work with you towards building your ultimate workplace. Click here to set up a time to speak with me about your training needs which can be delivered virtually or in person. Thank you.