Mohammad Anwar is President and CEO of Softway and co-author of the Wall Street Journal Bestseller “Love as a Business Strategy.
If you’re a business leader, you’re already well aware that something is happening in the workforce. Whether we call it the “Great Resignation,” the “Great Disengagement” or another moniker, the facts remain the same: Employees are leaving their current jobs in droves.
A Gallup analysis from March 2021 found that 48% of America’s working population was actively job searching or watching for opportunities. What’s less clear about the Great Resignation is why it’s happening. It’s this “why” that has many business leaders across the U.S. debating the cause of the record number of resignations. I’ve seen some say “It’s about pay,” “It’s a fad” or “It’s unemployment benefits.”
It’s easy to blame employees for leaving, but to actually solve the problem, leaders need to address the cause, not the symptom. The cause behind the Great Resignation might indeed be multifaceted, but here’s the truth: I believe it comes down to leadership. As someone who has made a career out of discovering what creates satisfied, engaged employees, believe me when I say toxic company cultures are often to blame, and it’s up to leaders to fix it.
The Real Reason People Quit
A company with a toxic culture has to fight an uphill battle to keep employees engaged, happy and present. Employees at these companies often do the minimum required of them and leave at the first opportunity, which is what we’re seeing with the Great Resignation. But what exactly makes a company culture toxic?
Generally, companies with toxic cultures put little thought into the environment created for employees. They often tolerate misbehavior in the workplace, such as verbal attacks, mind games and apathy. They also tend to use fear of punishment to motivate action, and they prioritize profits over people. These decisions can yield short-term financial gains, but over time, the cost in employee retention, morale and productivity will be far greater. Eventually, your best employees will leave, and you’ll struggle to replace them.
The real reason people quit is that they don’t feel aligned with the company’s vision and values. It’s not all about pay and benefits. In fact, the remote environment of the pandemic has revealed exactly how much benefits like a modern, tricked-out office don’t matter. What matters is how people feel at work. Do they feel respected, heard and appreciated? Do the company’s morals align with their own?
If not, these employees likely count themselves among the 48% of workers already looking for an exit.
What Your Business Can Do
If you’re losing employees because of poor company culture, your business is already suffering. The Great Resignation has accelerated the problem, and attrition will only get worse until you change course. So, what will it take to stop the bleeding? Keep in mind you don’t only want to stop the bleeding; you also want to give your company a transfusion and prevent more bleeding in the future.
The answer to these problems isn’t a benefits package or a trendy office. Many companies reach for these surface-level solutions, but they don’t inspire real, sustainable engagement. Instead, your business needs a culture shift to retain your best employees and attract new talent.
Start by looking inward at your leadership style. Ask yourself the following questions:
• How does the behavior of your leadership team affect your employees?
• Does it inspire employees to perform their best, or does it leave them intimidated and discouraged?
• Why is the environment you’ve created for employees not working?
Take a critical look at your culture and find ways to improve the employee experience. Make it your goal to build a more inclusive, innovative culture. Commit to leading by example, and then act on that commitment. There’s plenty of commitment in corporate America, but commitment only gets results when it’s followed by action.
My word of caution is to be selective about where you look for inspiration. Many of the companies that get lauded for their “great cultures” actually have toxic cultures that result in high levels of burnout and turnover. Instead, look at companies where people truly love to work, and adopt the values and practices that make their cultures successful.
The Upside To The Great Resignation
For some businesses, the Great Resignation launched a downward spiral leading toward disaster, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your company. Managed correctly, this movement can be an opportunity instead. Consider it your wake-up call to reimagine your company’s culture for the better.
The Great Resignation is a chance for your business to change, and it’s been a long time coming. I believe people were already tired of many corporate norms, such as inflexibility in working hours and location, micromanagement, hierarchies and a lack of autonomy. These criticisms have been leading toward a workplace revolution for a long time, and now we’re living it.
Fortunately, prioritizing people in your organization does not require you to sacrifice profits. On the contrary, by empowering your people to perform to their full potential, your business will naturally grow and thrive in tandem with your employee engagement.
Instead of trying to fight the revolution, you can come out on top as a leader in your industry by championing a healthy workplace culture. Use this disruption as a springboard for positive organizational change and create a place where people want to work. Instead of losing talent, you can attract it away from your competitors.
Remember, half of the American workforce is looking for a positive change. Provide it, and you’ll have your pick of the best talent.