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Turning Over the Big Quit

What employers can do to prevent their employees from leaving in droves.

Key points

  • To counter the "Great Resignation," many companies implemented quick fixes to weather the storm.
  • Tech giants are no exception: Apple employees recently received unexpectedly large bonuses, while Facebook changed its brand entirely to Meta.
  • Companies that take the time to figure out what employees really want will retain (and even attract) talent.

It was breaking news a few days ago that many top Apple employees received an unexpectedly large bonus, often reaching into the hundreds of thousands in stock options. As far as company incentives go, it can’t get much better than that. Or can it?

The bonus wasn’t part of Apple’s regular compensation package, and employees will only really get the full amount if they stick with the company for a few more years. Critics therefore say that the payouts were only meant to keep Apple employees from being poached by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, which recently lured dozens of engineers over from the Cupertino tech giant.

It’s not like Apple is the only organization that offers cash incentives for employees to hang around a little longer, but one has to wonder whether it works in the long run. Engineers often say that they don’t care that much about the extra cash.

In these days of the "Great Resignation," employers are struggling to figure out what their people actually want. The situation is as bad as it gets: organizations know that a record number of employees are already thinking about quitting, but they don’t have the slightest idea of what to do about it.

Meaningful interactions

The first step in changing anything is to learn more. Companies that take the time to figure out why their employees are leaving will have an edge in retaining (and attracting) talent.

It’s an urgent matter, too, because, in November 2021 alone, a record 4.5 million Americans left their jobs. The exodus has already seen over 20 million U.S. workers quit since Spring 2021, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Many companies have implemented quick fixes to weather the storm, usually in the form of bonuses or other financial incentives. But, without making an effort to strengthen relationships between employees, companies often see a disheartening result: employees notice the transactional nature of the relationship and feel even further alienated.

If the year has taught us anything, it’s that employees need human elements at work. They need a purpose, and they want to feel a sense of shared identity. Beyond all the financial perks, employees need to feel valued by their organizations and colleagues.

Companies that can offer meaningful interactions, and social and interpersonal connections, are best placed to build a strong organization.

The big disconnect

Big bonuses alone won’t save the day for Apple. In this area, Meta may have the upper hand: Facebook’s rebranding is an attempt to place itself at the forefront of “metaverse” building, and probably to publicly distance itself from privacy issues or the perception of having negative effects on the mental health of teens.

It’s easy to see how this could work—many developers now want to be a part of what Mark Zuckerberg calls “the next chapter of the internet.”

People these days choose jobs based more on wanting to be part of a vision and not based solely on a paycheck.

To illustrate the disconnect between what employers and employees are thinking, a McKinsey study asked employers why their people had quit. The employers cited compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health. They were close, but perhaps not close enough. The top three factors employees mentioned as reasons for quitting were:

  • They didn’t feel valued by their organizations,
  • they didn’t feel valued by their managers, or
  • they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

And even more importantly, among the employees surveyed, 36 percent who quit in the past six months did so without having a new job already lined up.

A healthy anarchy

Every challenge is an opportunity. It could be time for many organizations to do away with empty meetings, useless processes, and unnecessary bureaucracy. This is the time to stop and think, What makes up our culture? What do we stand for? What can we celebrate together?

Companies that put people at the heart of the action will win because, ultimately, people make change happen.

Essentially, managers should build attractive value propositions to get the right people to join, then develop those people, invest in their goals, and design teams for speed and innovation. In this day and age, many employees desire a culture of accountability where they themselves can take ownership.

Building a sense of community doesn’t require in-person connectivity, but it requires investment in relationships. With one of our companies, we’ve implemented weekly one-on-one “donut meetings,” where people from all parts of the organization can get to know each other over a friendly chat.

These are not ordinary times. If your organization’s leaders don’t know how to lead with compassion—don’t know how to motivate and inspire their teams—it is high time to find people who can. As a senior manager, the best move right now is to hit pause and make a plan. Just make sure that everyone at the company is involved and empowered to help shape it.

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