I was fascinated to read an article by David Allen, Professor of Management and Leadership at Warrick Business School, in which he traces out key reasons people quit their jobs. Pay level and satisfaction with salary are relatively weak indicators of a worker’s decision to leave, the research indicates. More important is worker satisfaction, which takes into account the whole working environment. If you don’t want to lose top talent, one, consider what nudges a person to leave, and two, work to create the conditions where people are thriving and don’t want to leave.
On the latter, much has been written. For a deep dive into this subject, look at the text “Thriving in Digital Workspaces”, published by Springer Switzerland. Or read the chapter I wrote: “From compete to create: exploring new tools”, where contextual factors for thriving at work are briefly explored, along with creative approaches like Lego Serious Play that set people up to do their best work (the method uses Lego bricks to deepen understanding, explore what’s possible and create alignment).
In a nutshell, you set people up to thrive by providing them with some freedom and some stretch, by creating clear goals and offering meaningful rewards. The line from the employee’s work all the way to achieving the overall mission of the organisation should be drawn. Commitment and general satisfaction soar when people can see the difference their input makes, and feel valued for it. Relationships also matter. People who are embedded in a web of relationships through work are more likely to stay. This web is formed through teams, participating in committees, at social events, and through voluntary activities, extending even beyond the organisation into local communities.
What can also be profoundly important is to establish a purposeful mission that people can attach to. As a leader you should drive this if it is absent – not only because it is the right thing to do, (we hope it will create good for more people and for our planet), but also because there is more pressure, more respect and more business benefit. Pay is important, but so too is fair treatment and being valued for a meaningful contribution that achieves a higher purpose. Organisations with a clear and actionable purpose have a surprising reserve of energy for thriving through all conditions.
We’ve considered briefly those key factors for staying – engaging conditions with purposeful and positive attitudes to work where people are valued and feel a sense of embeddedness. But what can push a person to leave?
As with emotions and job attitudes, there is growing evidence to suggest that turnover can be contagious. If one person starts to put their feelers out, it can make others in the team or group reflect on whether they shouldn’t do the same. Significant dates like anniversaries and birthdays have also been shown to prompt a search for what else could be out there. Back in 2019, Professor Allen reported on how shock events have a profound impact on a ‘move’ decision. This might be the promotion you did not get, a negative or unfair appraisal, or a paltry bonus in relation to your perceived effort. An external shock, such as a change in life circumstance, can also prompt the re-evaluation: “Do I really want to work here?”
Given we have had a mass global shock through Covid, it seems the perfect time for employers to reevaluate policies in response to a changing world. Those people who have the luxury of a move may have been shocked into doing so and great pay will not be sufficient to keep them. Policies around hybrid work are certainly taking shape, but creative adjustments to present and possible shocks may begin to define the organisational front runners of the future, and the talent they attract and hold onto.
Ideally, employers should consider what nudges employees into leaving as well as the conditions that make them stay. And employees should avoid sitting back to be served. It is highly likely that as our world changes, swiftly, shockingly and also in ways that are positive and much needed, more of us will need to take up the charge and lean in to create the webs of meaning and impact that will sustain and empower us all.
 Core Magazine Edition 8, Strategy for the Covid Era, Warrick Business School, pages 59-60