How to Keep Your Employees from Jumping Ship During the Great Resignation

A Harvard career adviser has some advice for companies: Don’t blame your workers for leaving. Fix the mistakes you’re making! Here are five big blunders too many employers make.

A young woman happily leaves an office.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“The news is filled with stories of employees refusing to come back to work, jumping ship to another employer, or trying their luck at becoming entrepreneurs,” observes Gorick Ng (opens in new tab), the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right (opens in new tab).

As a career adviser at Harvard and a talent development consultant to employers large and small, he’s in a unique position to see the “why” behind the unprecedented turnover in today’s labor market.

“The knee-jerk answer is always money. And it makes sense,” Ng notes. “When so many employers are giving pay bumps to new hires but not to existing ones, why not hop to the competitor across the street if it means doing the same job for more money?”

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“Turnover is a problem, yes, but turnover is but a symptom — a symptom with a deeper root cause,” he notes. “To want to stay and excel, employees need to feel excited, supported and valued. Fail to deliver on one or more of these key ingredients and it’s only a matter of time before someone on your team starts tuning out.”

How are employers failing to keep their employees excited, supported and valued?

“A root cause of this labor unrest can be traced to a breakdown of the implicit agreement between employer and employee — which says: ‘I commit myself to growing into the organization,’ says the employee, and the employer promises, ‘Together we will invest in our growth and I will take care of you.’”

Ng outlines five key mistakes companies are making that could be contributing to America’s Great Resignation, and he has a request for America’s employers: “Look into a mirror and ask yourself, ‘Would I want to work here?’”

Mistake No. 1: Failing to make newcomers feel welcome

There is no more important time to leave an employee feeling excited, supported and valued than their early days in a new role.

And yet, many employers take a “Here’s your login; good luck!” approach to onboarding, leaving employees confused at best and feeling unsupported and undervalued at worst.

So, take the time to introduce new hires to everyone on the team. Learn about their goals. Doing so can mean the difference between having an employee who shows up with an ownership mindset or who feels like a replaceable widget.

Mistake No. 2: Thinking that high performers and managers are born, not developed

No one is born knowing how to manage people or projects, take initiative and speak up. Having a skilled mentor helps. To ensure that even those without that privilege can succeed, take the time to educate outsiders to your environment on the “unspoken rules” of what “great” looks like in your organization.

It is crucial to always be aware that just because someone has excelled at their job doesn’t mean they have the ability and desire to manage others. Managers require training, and many studies prove the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.”

The legal consequences of failing to educate managers leads to the kinds of lawsuits we see on the nightly news.

Mistake No. 3: Failing to explain the broader significance of the work

Why is a certain piece of work (and the person doing it) important to the team and organization? Few leaders take the time to explain the “big picture” and instead toss commands over the fence expecting others to “run with it.”

Taking a moment to explain not only what needs to be done but why it needs to be done can go a long way toward keeping people excited and valued, not to mention focusing on the right priorities.

Mistake No. 4: Not helping everyone feel seen and heard

Many managers complain about employees not speaking up, only to turn around and ask for input “from the same old people” or ask leading questions, like “Let’s do this; what do you think?”

If you truly want others’ input, be prepared to listen to and reward those who tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. And if you still aren’t getting feedback, consider whether you are leaving space for the shy or introverted to contribute — or if you are only hearing from the loudest and most confident.

Mistake No. 5: Failing to treat employees consistently

The more your employees think, “No matter how hard I try, I am stuck,” the more likely they are to move on to environments where they don’t feel suppressed or the victim of bias or discrimination.

Take a long, hard look at who gets promoted and why. Though not everyone wants to be promoted, every employee wants to be treated fairly and properly rewarded for their contributions.

Concluding our interview, Ng wants all employers to realize that they are being evaluated by their employees who silently ask, “Do you care about me enough for me to care about you?”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to 661-323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@Gmail.com. Also, visit dennisbeaver.com.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law (opens in new tab)." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."