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The Great Attrition

The numbers are in, and they are stunning. According to a recent McKinsey report, 40% of all U.S. workers are considering leaving their current job. In August alone, over 5 million people left their jobs voluntarily, many without having another job lined up. Every client we work with tells the same story. They cannot hire and retain enough good people. And it is getting worse, not better. What is going on?

The easy response would be to blame it on external factors outside our control. But the data tells a different story. Leaders who misread the danger signs do so at their own peril.

Why are people leaving?

The simple answer is corporate cultures are broken. People feel devalued, discounted and disconnected, and they are longing for something better. This is validated in part by the top three reasons people give for leaving their current job:

  1. My boss doesn’t care about me.

  2. My company doesn’t care about me.

  3. I don’t feel like I belong.

The best translation for that last bullet is “my peers don’t care about me.” Take a moment to reflect on what is NOT in the list: money, more opportunity, benefits, etc. Each of the reasons above has to do with the character of corporate culture.

Why now?

What is happening with corporate cultures is just a reflection of what has happened in our broader culture. Every human being has a need to be part of something bigger, to contribute, to be valued, and cared for as part of a family. These needs have historically been met in many settings, work being one.

The break-down of civility in the broader culture means there are fewer and fewer places where people can connect and experience an authentic sense of contributing and belonging.

The result is people are desperate, and they are voting with their feet and leaving companies in droves to find a place where they feel valued and cared for.

The growing character gap.

The definition of corporate culture is the norms and values that govern how we work together to accomplish the mission. Culture is how we treat each other. Culture is NOT the values posted on the walls at work. The real culture is our "lived" culture—it is how we really treat each other. Whether we treat each other with respect or disrespect, that is the culture.

Many companies are clear in their stated values and beliefs that should define their culture. However, the problem is their stated culture does not match up with their lived culture. This gap has been exposed and amplified by the breakdown in the broader culture, creating a crisis situation. This is a burning platform moment that demands clarity.

I used to tell clients your culture strategy should be co-equal in importance with your business strategies. I have stopped saying that. I am now 100% convinced that to thrive in this environment, your culture strategy (people strategy) must be your #1 priority. Everything else flows from there.

So what?

Smart leaders have an uncanny ability to read the signs and act decisively. This is a moment in corporate history unlike any we have ever seen. The threat has never been more real, nor has the opportunity ever been so great.

The data suggests the average leader has a blind spot on this issue. In fact, when leaders were asked why they think people are leaving, their list of reasons was the opposite of the real reasons people are leaving. That means most leaders will NOT be addressing the problem, because they are blind to the real problem. Exceptional leaders who capitalize on this moment to build an extraordinary culture have a unique opportunity to use culture to create a sustainable competitive advantage—a great culture stands out now more than ever—it is a talent magnet during trying times.

Be courageous and do something.

How will you respond? This is the question every leader must answer. It is often said that our circumstances reveal our character. This is one of those moments where real leaders will be revealed by their response to the current circumstances.

What is needed is action. Action requires clarity, conviction, and above all else, courage. Rise to the challenge. If you and your leadership team are not 100% aligned on your culture strategy and how you are going to get there, huddle up with your team and gain clarity. Then act.


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Team Trek is a world-class provider of culture transformation solutions, leadership development, and team building.


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