Personal Growth

Reason for the Great Resignation

While many hoped the new year might bring positive labor market developments, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 4.5 million workers voluntarily left their jobs during November–another unprecedented monthly tally and the highest number in the 20 years that the U.S. has been analyzing such data.

These figures confirm the Great Resignation is still going strong and leaders need to take a clear-eyed view of underlying labor problems affecting their organizations, industries, and society at large. Namely, they must recognize today’s crisis does not reflect a shortage of people willing to roll up their sleeves, despite the insistence of some pundits and politicians. Rather, our economy is suffering a shortage of jobs that are compelling enough to attract and retain talented employees. 

This phenomenon should come as no surprise, given that many organizations and industries have long overworked and burned out their people. Leaders have bought into the false narrative that high performance and humanity are mutually exclusive. 

The pandemic has shown the flaws and limits of such thinking. In fact, ongoing upheaval and uncertainty in the world have required many employers to directly appeal to their people’s humanity—not just sign a paycheck—in order to keep them engaged and employed.

But beyond the expectation that employers view and treat them as human beings, what does today’s workforce really want? Too much of the conversation around this question has been limited—beginning and ending with the topics of compensation and remote work. While there is no doubt that issues surrounding pay have always been paramount, and remote work has become highly desirable across various sectors, many workers are currently dissatisfied because of a range of other factors. 

As human capital advisors, we regularly design and conduct assessments that take the temperature of workforces both large and small. This ongoing analysis sheds light on often-overlooked job issues, unrelated to compensation and remote work, that contribute significantly to employee dissatisfaction. Organizations willing to identify and improve these issues can effectively turn them into key benefits and competitive advantages.

Here are five often-overlooked aspects of positive workplace culture that, in our experience, regularly lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, greater retention, more effective recruitment, and organizational success.

Greater autonomy and responsibility

At some point in their careers, many employees begin to crave greater independence and self-direction, as well as more meaningful assignments. People who are granted this autonomy and responsibility are not only typically happier on the job, but also work with less supervision, freeing senior people to focus on bigger picture issues.

Clear career development pathways

Employees must see a future for themselves at their places of employment if they’re expected to stay for meaningful tenures. To best improve retention, companies must overtly communicate the availability of opportunities up the career ladder, and their expectations for individuals looking to access them.

Opportunities to enhance knowledge and skills

Many working individuals describe themselves as lifelong learners. They’re best engaged when they can regularly expand their knowledge and skills. These employees can become enterprise-wide subject matter experts and internal educators, provided organizations grant them such opportunities and room to take advantage of them.

Ability to work with other high-performing and motivated coworkers

The necessity of teamwork can make it frustrating for top employees to work alongside colleagues who don’t have the same level of talent and/or drive. But paired or partnered with other high performers, these workers are better engaged and more innovative, adding greater value.

A sense of meaning and/or fulfillment

Individuals largely disillusioned with other institutions in our society are increasingly looking to hold their employers to “moral” standards that would have been unthinkable years ago. As such, they are more loyal to organizations that convey and uphold a mission that aligns with their personal values.

While it may seem obvious that workers are more likely to stay at organizations that offer such opportunities, most employment situations have historically lacked, and continue to lack, many of these very attributes. This illustrates how too few organizations have internalized the truism that attracting and retaining great people requires them to first become great places to work. 

The onus is on top leaders to make their organizations great places to work if they hope to compete for talent and fully harness the transformative power of their people. Fortunately, those willing can follow a roadmap forward to set themselves up for success amidst the Great Resignation and to weather future crises.


Matt Brubaker, PhD, is CEO of human capital advisory firm FMG Leading and an expert in human capital dynamics in rapidly scaling companies.




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