In the year 2000, workforce data began to indicate employees were increasingly unhappy at work. Turnover increased, and for more than two decades employers struggled to retain workers. Here and now, the Great Resignation is challenging and perplexing employers unlike any other time in history.
The bulk of the turnover blame game has been placed on ‘kids these days’ and their lack of work ethic. But the turnover crisis isn’t due to a lack of smart, ambitious, innovative people. Rather, it’s a crisis that stems from outdated workplace cultures.
Turnover is not a problem that exists outside of the organization – it comes from within the organization.
Every organization has a culture – a set of shared rules, beliefs, and attitudes that dictate how things are done and how people interact. Culture is largely influenced by an organization’s leadership, and often leaders unintentionally shape the culture in a negative way. For example, in the work we do at XYZ University, many leaders are unaware of how their actions and policies exclude the ideas and participation of young people.
When culture turns toxic, high turnover is common in addition to:
- Gossip, cliques, blame, or criticism
- Lack of voluntary cooperation among employees
- Inefficient work
- Sense of boredom
- Hierarchical management or a lack of leader-employee relationships
- Lack of positivity and praise
- Negative employer reviews posted via online job boards
In the 20th century the economy was fueled by natural resources and structured by hierarchy. Now, we’re well into the 21st century, a talent-driven economy characterized by knowledge, innovation, globalization, mobility, and customization. However, few organizations have made the shift.
Many organizations simply lack the structure, strategy, and culture to manage employees effectively in the 21st century. With a 21st-century generation now composing the majority of the workforce, employee turnover has accelerated and the workforce crisis has worsened.
To succeed, several factors need to be modernized and addressed, but first and foremost, leaders need to be attentive to the culture they create.
Here’s some insight as to what culture is – and is not.
Culture isn’t swayed by perks.
Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Yes, employees appreciate a free lunch, but that’s not why they want to work. Data repeatedly shows employee turnover isn’t curbed by perks, but employers fail to understand or choose to ignore the data. Ping pong tables and bean bag chairs are fun, but employees want more than fun at work. Employees want to be surrounded by people who are passionate. They need a manager who is motivated to push boundaries and think differently. They want to be inspired, included, respected, and have opportunities to learn, lead, and make a difference.
Culture is caring.
I’ve researched employee engagement and the best organizations—achieving high profitability and low turnover—differ from others simply because the leaders of those organizations care. These leaders don’t just say they care or preach the importance of caring, they are passionate about it and seek to cultivate a culture of caring throughout the entire organization. These leaders are humble and practice servant
leadership, sharing power and focusing on the well-being of others.
Culture is contagious.
Workplace culture is largely determined by leadership. Leaders are creating an environment where workers either feel appreciated or overlooked; inspired to innovate or fearful of change; collaborative or egotistic. With that being said, the most engaging companies are intentional about engaging their employees. These organizations excel at communicating with their teams to ensure people are well-informed but also heard. In addition, these organizations tend to be passionate about their missions and make sure the people they hire to work there feel the same way. Screening for culture and job fit takes precedence. Culture starts at the top, but the team has to be aligned and positively participate in the nurturing of a happy, healthy workforce environment.
Culture matters more than money.
Trust. Inclusion. Equity. Respect. Happiness. Purpose. All of these traits have become non-negotiable when choosing an employer. When Great Place to Work started its research of successful companies in 1981, the concept of organizational culture was considered a touchy, feely thing with no business benefit. Since then, research has proven great places to work are more engaging, have less turnover, higher productivity, and healthier bottom lines. In fact, employees now place a higher value on culture than compensation. For example, the most important factor for job satisfaction in Glassdoor’s research of 615,000 people was the company’s culture and values; compensation and benefits came in last. Likewise, Stanford Graduate School research revealed that a meaningful impact on the world is a better predictor of happiness than anything else—even money. This isn’t to say salary isn’t important. It is to say people are less likely to sacrifice their personal happiness for a pay increase.
The pressure for leaders to be culture-cognizant and dedicated to relationship-building has increased and will continue to do so. Job-hopping has increased because we now have a workforce mentality that celebrates and understands great workplace cultures. This is a good thing, but until employers prioritize the building of supportive, inclusive workplace cultures, turnover will continue to occur.