There’s a lot of talk about people leaving. A lot of people have already left. You may be one of them.
While it seems to be a pandemic-related phenomenon, the data show The Great Resignation has been impacted by Covid-19, but not caused by it (https://hbr.org/2022/03/the-great-resignation-didnt-start-with-the-pandemic).
In short, more people leaving their jobs every year has been going on for over a decade and cannot be blamed on a novel virus that showed up two years ago.
What this tells us is the trend is just that - a trend. The underlying issues have existed for a while.
According to new data from Pew Research (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/), the top three issues are:
Lack of advancement opportunities
Not feeling respected at work
Anecdotally, these reasons speak to a vote against inflexibility, lack of empathy and support, and poor leadership.
Here’s a sure way leaders can ensure they continue to experience an exodus: responding inappropriately when people leave.
Imagine this scenario: A staff member informs their boss they have found another job and will be leaving the organization. They have been faithful in their job for many years, have friends on the team, and have garnered respect from colleagues.
The person’s last day arrives and instead of the boss ensuring a going away event is planned, colleagues and friends realize last minute something needs to be done and set up a meet-and-greet opportunity to say good-bye.
Much to the disappointment of the employee, there is no acknowledgement from the boss. They do not attend the going away event, do not stop by between meetings, or even send a text message or some sort of farewell message.
Not only does this apparent lack of leadership interest damage the relationship with the individual (which is important even though they are leaving), it damages relationships with those who remain.
In truth, relationships are the only true currency of success. If relationships are not created, built, and maintained - even when an employee exits - the results can be disastrous.
There are few leadership behaviors that are more definitive in pushing employees into actively looking for a new job than not realizing the value of their people.
Employees who respect their colleague and understand how much they have contributed to the team over the years will see the boss’s choice to not acknowledge their contribution as a firm statement that employees are simply numbers and names filling a job description, rather than people with intrinsic value.
This is what employees are speaking out against with their feet - leaders who value systems and processes over people.
Authentic leaders recognize every person who leaves (whether they are happy to see them go or not) as a human who is part of the team. That person accomplished tasks, served customers, answered questions, provided solutions, and contributed during their tenure on behalf of the organization.
When an employee is liked by administration, it is easy to show them gratitude. Where an authentic leader shines is how they behave when people leave who are not on the favorite list.
Ways authentic leaders say good-bye:
First and foremost, always acknowledge the contribution of the person leaving, even if part of you is glad they are moving on. This does not need to be public. No one is 100% horrible. In fact, a vast majority of people strongly desire to do well. Acknowledging what they have contributed, or stating their strengths, not only lets the person know they have value, but also is a practice all leaders need to hone. Looking for the positive, identifying strengths, and paying attention to what is positive really helps the leader have a positive mindset, which affects how they address all team members.
Be consistent to provide the same level of send off for everyone. Perceived favoritism is a quick way to lose employee trust. Setting a standard going away event saves a lot of unnecessary stress and drama.
Reward the good and address the bad. There is a temptation to remove reward for good when bad occurs. If a difficult employee is leaving, leaders tend to breathe a sigh of relief and fail to reward the good that was accomplished, because here’s the truth - some good is always accomplished. I heard a story once where a student was promised his favorite drink for doing something positive, which he did. While the teacher was on her way to pick up the drink she received a call that the student had subsequently done something negative and therefore the drink should no longer be given to the student. The teacher was wise and still gave the drink to the student. Why? Because she knew that removing a promised reward for a positive behavior due to an unrelated negative behavior not only reinforces the negative behavior, but also diminishes the importance of the positive behavior. Celebrate the positive - give that favorite drink - and don’t shirk from addressing the negative. Your team knows the positive and negative anyway - show you’re engaged by following up on both.
How leaders say good-bye when people leave determines how many others may decide to leave in the future. Leaders have it within their control to stem the tide of The Great Resignation one employee at a time.
Be with your people, even when they leave.