by Achim Nowak

Here’s How You Get Them to Stay.

January 10, 2022

The panic has set in.

Employees just don’t seem to stick around anymore. Welcome to the age of job-hopping. In November, 4.5 million American’s left their jobs (US Labor Department statistics). Voluntarily.

The power balance has tipped. The age of being an omnipotent boss has died a withering Covid death. Emma Thompson’s marvelous drill-down on this topic in the New York Times, No More Working for Jerks (1/8/2022), had my hair stand on ends.

Jerk behavior exists on a spectrum. Here are some of the extremes.

Oracle’s Larry Ellison had described his leadership style as MBR, short for “management by ridicule.”

You’ve got to be good at intellectual intimidation and rhetorical bullying, Mr. Ellison explained. Once his antics were reported, Ellison dismissed his behavior as errors of his youth. Sure, dude.

Steph Korey, former Head of Supply Chain at Warby Parker and CEO at Away, a travel luggage enterprise, epitomizes the arrogance of hustle culture gone off the rails. Korey demanded her staff be reachable via Slack 24/7. I hope everyone in this group appreciates the thoughtfulness I’ve put into creating this career development opportunity, Ms. Korey wrote in a message telling her staff to stop requesting time off.

Korey later apologized. Sure, Steph.

Well, I’m not that kind of a boss, you may say indignantly.

I trust you’re not. But if you work for a jerk company with jerk processes, you soon become the jerk ambassador, like it or not

You suddenly ARE the jerk boss they quit, no matter how sincerely you try to support your team with appreciative-boss-talk.

Offering expanded work-from-home flexibility and throwing more money at your top performers only goes so far in getting 4.5 million individuals to not quit. Let’s take a moment to look at some basics, shall we?

Daniel Pink, author of the modern classic “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” spelled out 3 areas that unleash our intrinsic motivation to do good work. I invite you to consider these 3 areas and translate them into business structures that facilitate and unleash this level of motivation.

Enable Autonomy

Is there room for those who work for you to make decisions? Is there an opportunity to initiate projects? Is there a chance to experiment and try new ways of doing things? Are there opportunities to stretch and fail? Are there substantial chunks of a work cycle that do not require a review or approval process?

The opposite of autonomy: The General Manager of a $ 400 Million dollar revenue manufacturing site tells me of having to go “up the chain” and waiting for 7 weeks to hire a new part-time employee.

And you wonder why he left?

Support Mastery

Do folks who work for you have a chance to take on increasingly challenging tasks? Do you hold real and honest conversations about enhancing workplace performance (as opposed to going through the motions because you have to conduct a performance review)? Do you have leaders who know how to appropriately challenge their teams and help them live up to their potential? Do you offer training, coaching and other developmental opportunities at every organizational level? Is a personal-growth-mindset fully integrated into how you “do work?”

Not Steph Korey’s cynical email appropriation of this credo. No. The opposite of Mastery: You are limited to forever performing the one or two tasks you do very well. You become known as the expert in these tasks - but you never tap or master your full potential. When you apply for the Senior role you long for, you are told how great you are and, in the same breath, reminded that there are one or two gaps in your resume. The opportunity to get the gap-experiences never comes.

And you wonder why she left?

Deepen Your Purpose

Does your business have a purpose beyond enhancing shareholder value? Is this a true purpose (as opposed to a clever ESG marketing purpose on your firm’s website)? Is everyone’s work contribution tied to such a deeper purpose? Are your statements of purpose and values actually “lived” and embodied at work? Do the leaders you work for/with show interest in your personal purpose, separate from what the corporate purpose may be?

A purpose connects us to the heart-and-soul reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. It fuels our dreams. Going to work in a place without a deeply human purpose is like living a slow death every day.

And you wonder why they left?

The first week of 2022 was marked by an onslaught of panic articles about the job quitting pandemic. An article in Business Insider summarizes this panic as tidily as any of them (1/7/2022, “Three Reasons Everyone Is Quitting Their Job”). Are people quitting because of their fear of Covid? Are they quitting because of childcare concerns?

Both are cited as resignation concerns. But the #1 reason stated is also blazingly obvious.

People want better jobs.

Done with jerk bosses. Done with jerk work processes. Done with jerk places of work.

Check up on your Daniel Pink. And start making some changes at work.

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