The real reason people are quitting

By Kate Lee

The real reason for “The Great Resignation” is that employees are fed up with not being listened to and not being valued.

“Workers surveyed are not in the least bit happy with the way they are managed or told to work.” “Leadership has to wake up to the demands of their employees if they hope to attract and retain great talent in the 21st century.” “This is not the end of management and hierarchy, rather it’s a shift where companies involve the workforce in the design and maintenance of an organizational culture.”

These quotes are taken from Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace. 2016.

In 2010, one of the top reasons employees cited for quitting their job – not feeling valued by their organization. In 2021, one of the top factors employees cited as reasons for quitting – not  feeling valued by their organization.

Employees have not been silent about how they feel and what they need from their workplace.

So, why the attention now?

In an interview with Bloomberg in early May 2021, Anthony Klotz suggested that a combination of pent-up resignations that didn’t happen because of pandemic uncertainty “and pandemic-related epiphanies—about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means”—would lead to an uptick in resignations. “The great resignation,” said Klotz, “is coming.”

A few weeks later, the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed a record 4 million Americans had left their jobs in April.

To make sense of this phenomenon, to talk about it, and for those quitting to feel a part of it – people needed common language. “The Great Resignation” became a brand and a crisis.

With close to 20 million people quitting their jobs between April and August 2021, The Great Resignation has gotten, and continues to get, a lot of attention.

While attention is being paid to The Great Resignation, my concern is that the root cause of the crisis is not getting attention. An increasing body of research shows that employees are still not being listened to and still not being valued.

The 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey examined key areas crucial to planning for the future employee experience and discovered significant dissonance between employee and executive sentiment. Specifically:

Executives Think They Have a Culture of Flexibility — Employees Don’t

75% of executive leaders believe they are already operating within a culture of flexibility, yet only 57% of employees indicate that their organizational culture embraces flexible work.

Executives Are Better Equipped to Work Remotely Than Employees

Only 66% of employees agree they have the technology they need to effectively work remotely, compared to 80% of executives. In fact, only 59% of employees agree their organization has invested in providing them with resources that allow them to work the way they would onsite in a virtual environment — compared to 76% of executives.

 Employees Have Lower Levels of Trust Than Executive Leaders

Only 41% of employees agree that senior leadership acts in their best interest, compared to 69% of executives. Executives are also more likely to feel trusted when it comes to working from home, with 70% agreeing that their organization trusts employees not to abuse work flexibility, compared to 58% of employees.

Executives Think They Listen but Employees Disagree

Only 47% of employees believe leadership takes their perspective into consideration when making decisions, whereas 75% of senior leaders feel they do. This divide extends to whether employees believe their work environment is inclusive of a diverse set of employee needs and preferences: while 72% of executives believe this is the case, only 59% of employees feel the same.

Executives Hear One Thing and Employees Another

71% of executives agree leadership at their organization has expressed a preference for work conditions to return to their pre-pandemic model, whereas only 50% of employees have that same impression.

Executives Feel Greater Purpose Than Employees

While 77% of executives agree they feel like they are a part of something important at their organization, only 59% of employees feel similarly. Additionally, 70% of executives believe that managers at their organization are as diverse as the broader workforce at their organization, compared to only 52% of employees.

In a recent study by McKinsey, employers cited compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health as reasons why their people had quit. By contrast, the top three factors employees cited as reasons for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54%) or their managers (52%) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51%).

What to do?

The simple answer is that leaders need to listen to their employees and value their employees.

But this simple answer is enormously complex. Because when leaders begin to really listen to their employees and begin to show their employees they are valued – leaders will realize that there is need for massive change with respect to how we work, where we work, and our relationship with work.

Part of the answer is also the need for leaders to recognize that their perception of reality is likely different than that of their employees – and that action needs to be taken to close this gap.

A challenge here is that it is often those leaders who do not believe there is a perception gap within their organization, who are most likely to have ostrichism (the deliberate avoidance or ignorance of conditions as they exist).

The pendulum of power has shifted to employees, and employees are fed up.

If leaders want to retain talent, attract talent, and future-proof their organization, it is time to start listening, start valuing employees, and enact change.


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