Despite some high-profile tech layoffs, businesses around the country continue to struggle with high rates of employee attrition and lackluster recruitment efforts. Understanding the drivers of this trend may help employers identify strategies for getting ahead of it and keeping employees—especially top talent—on board.
We reached out to business owners and hiring and retention experts to get some input on the top reasons for employee turnover and job candidate selectivity in the current labor market.
Search for Greater Meaning
Life is short, and it shouldn’t be all about collecting a paycheck. That’s the sentiment behind one theory of high levels of turnover and a reluctant labor force, at least according to Danny Gutknecht, cofounder and CEO of Pathways and author of Meaning At Work And Its Hidden Language.
“People are either exhausted from a meaningless exchange of trading time for dollars, or they feel like they are a walking contradiction balancing ambition with not living a life that’s congruent with themselves,” Gutknecht argues. “The pandemic forced people to face themselves. Suddenly the drama, office politics, and pretend busyness were gone. All that was left was work. Initially, productivity saw a big boost, and now we’re seeing widespread burnout. America’s work models were already ripe for massive disruption, and the pandemic accelerated its pitfalls.”
Gutknecht proposes that quitting is ultimately the result of a crisis of meaning. “Looking ahead, there is a vast opportunity for organizations to create environments where employees can share meaning with the organization,” he says. “Finding meaning at work requires self-reflection. The company can offer engagement strategies and improved company culture, but it can’t provide the solution to personal meaning. Workers must consider what they find themselves doing outside their role and then decide whether that type of task fits within their current role or perhaps a different job. Employees must think about their goals and determine if their current role puts them on the right path. Unless they do this internal work, they’ll continue to struggle and never reach a resolution.”
Professional and Personal Growth
Another more personal sense of meaning may also be contributing to higher turnover and more selective job candidates, and that is the desire to get more professional and personal development out of work. A job doesn’t have to just be a job. It can also be a means of building one’s career or making one a better public speaker or expert in a particular field.
“In a recent Gallup survey on today’s evolving workplace culture, 87% of millennials said that professional growth and development opportunities are their top priorities,” notes Burl Stamp, FACHE, President and Founder of Stamp and Chase, a management consulting firm based in St. Louis. “Yes, they expect to be paid competitively. But millennials—and increasingly their older colleagues—are interested in whether or not a company can and will provide a path for future development and personal growth.”
Rapid changes in workplace policies and high-profile layoffs among top employers have both contributed to a general erosion of trust among employees. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated shift to widespread remote work have made workers feel more disconnected from each other and their employers than ever. The result is a serious deterioration in the relationships between employees and their employers, and that arguably has a lot to do with how willing employees are to sever that relationship.
“According to our 2023 Global Leadership Forecast study, trust among company leadership declined by 17%—the biggest decline in a decade,” says Stephanie Neal, Director of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research at DDI, a global leadership consulting firm. “When leaders aren’t intentional about building trust, it adversely impacts the organization’s recruiting and retention strategy. It can harm employee connections and the relationships being built, create inaccurate perceptions of the organization and suppress people from bringing new ideas forward. We found that when leaders did not view their company’s leadership as effective with interpersonal skills, they were 3.5 times more likely to indicate they wanted to leave within the year. Nowhere is developing trust and interpersonal skills more crucial than at the top—senior leaders and executives need to be going out of their way to build trust and practice these soft skills in everyday interactions—displaying empathy, taking the time to ask about their teams’ wellbeing and being transparent with decision-making.”
That breakdown in trust may be, at least in part, related to a parallel trend in recent years of employees’ feeling less connected more broadly to their employers and their coworkers.
“One of the primary drivers of high turnover is that the vast majority of frontline teams are chronically disconnected from the rest of the businesses that they work for,” says Cris Grossmann, CEO and cofounder of Beekeeper. “These workers have not benefited from most digital transformation initiatives, leading to poor collaboration, lack of flexibility around shifts, and manual tasks that make hard jobs even harder. When frontline businesses ignore this disconnect, employee engagement drops and turnover spikes. It also makes it hard to attract, hire and retain new employees.”
One strategy to mitigate this challenge is to be more proactive in employer communications with workers. This means actively soliciting employee input and paying careful attention to that input.
“It’s time for employers to listen to what makes workers stay and take action to prioritize their needs,” Grossman argues. “More than 6,000 frontline workers answered that question directly in a recent survey conducted by Beekeeper. These respondents said that acknowledgement and praise for hard work is their top reason for staying at a job. The next two top reasons were shift flexibility and competitive benefits. When managers were asked for their top retention strategies, they listed clear corporate vision, positive customer feedback, and recruiting. The disconnect in these answers leads to misdirected initiatives and wasted opportunities to reduce turnover.”
Finding dedicated, qualified, and effective staff to keep a company’s operations humming along has always been a challenge, but recent macro events, including a pandemic and resulting workplace shake-ups, have further complicated the situation. Understanding what is driving higher turnover and greater difficulty in filling job openings can help employers develop strategies to mitigate those challenges.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.