Why Are so Many People Quitting Jobs? The Impact of Work Culture

In the wake of the Great Resignation, company leaders find themselves asking why there are so many people quitting jobs. There are no simple answers — the events of the past two years have given workers cause to truly evaluate what it is they are looking for in their work environments. Clearly there are a number of people who have realized they are dissatisfied. 

Easy Answers to the Great Resignation

Much of the discussion around the Great Resignation centers on more practical issues. Pay disparity for those who stay at a company versus those who jump to a new role. A desire to maintain (or begin) work-from-home flexibility as we continue returning to a post-pandemic landscape. Even ancillary benefits, like unlimited PTO or flexible scheduling, play a role. 

I don’t mean to downplay those factors — they certainly have a lot of weight in job seekers’ willingness to move into a new role. In fact, 64% of those looking for a new job cite higher salaries as a major factor in their search. 

But I would be willing to bet that percentage isn’t too much changed from what job seekers would have said before 2020. 

What Are Workers Saying?

While money is almost always a major factor in people quitting jobs and new job searches, it’s far from the only one. 

A recent Pew Research Center survey sought to discover why the quit rate hit a 20-year peak in late 2021, which hasn’t appreciably slowed yet. 

The results aren’t surprising. The top three major reasons respondents gave were low pay (63%), a lack of advancement opportunities (63%), and not feeling respected in the workplace (57%). 

Respondents who have already changed jobs indicated that they are finding those things in their new positions. Time will tell if that’s just the honeymoon period, though. After all, most workers who have changed jobs during the Great Resignation haven’t been in their new positions very long. 

How Can Leaders Respond?

Some of these issues are easier to address than others. 

You might not have the ability or the authority to increase your employees’ salaries to a level they deem to be competitive, particularly when they see jobs posted at 2X their salary or more. 

But can you do something? 

Look at the costs associated with hiring a replacement if you lose an employee — lost productivity and institutional knowledge, time and money invested in the search and interview process, and more. Not to mention the potential impact on morale. 

Instead of investing in new hires, consider investing in retention. And that doesn’t always have to be a monetary investment. 

In an interview in Gallup’s Called to Coach series, here’s what Saurav Atri had to say about the Great Resignation: 

“[The] Great Resignation is not an industry issue; it’s a workplace issue. … Engagement is the best medicine you have [for] retaining people.” 

Further backing that claim up, Fast Company also cites Gallup’s research, noting that 42% of the reasons Gallup’s respondents noted for leaving jobs are directly related to their feelings about their bosses and their companies’ cultures. 

Additional research from MIT Sloan finds that corporate culture can even be a greater factor than compensation contributing to employee turnover. 

If culture and engagement are such critical aspects of retaining employees in the Great Resignation, what are some ways to engage employees? 

How To Engage Employees

For many managers and leaders, what I’m about to say will require a mentality shift. 

You are not in charge of your team. You are in charge of your team’s development. 

The people you lead are just that, people. Just as you would want to have the person or people you report to have a measure of empathy in your interactions with them, your employees feel the same. 

How can you tangibly do that? Here’s a short list. 

  • Lead by example.
  • Recognize the work your team puts in and celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Shine a spotlight on them within the organization and take any hits that might be directed at them.
  • Provide growth opportunities and open doors for their career development.
  • Be understanding and forgiving of mistakes and help them move forward.

There are times that, as a leader, you will have to make the hard call, and your team may not like that. If that’s the case, be open and communicative. Nothing will sink a team’s morale faster than unaddressed conflict. 

Also, remember that you might not be your employees’ first choice of someone to talk to. So don’t wait for them to come to you — seek them out instead. Ask what they need from you. And be willing to meet them where they are. 

For business leaders to be effective, they must successfully balance the two main needs of the organization: supporting both the financial bottom line and the employees ultimately responsible for the company’s performance. 

Leaders who can manage both of those aspects of their role will best position their companies to get through the Great Resignation with minimal employee turnover from people quitting jobs.

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