Why Are Your People Quitting their Jobs?

–And what can you do about it?

Human beings usually do not change course until something bad happens. That hardship makes us understand life is short and precious in a new context. It makes us see the possibility of a better life.

When I was young, I observed this around me: People who had meaningful lives, embrace life with both arms, and had a lot of joy happened to be those who had to go through some rough patch. I decided I will learn as much as I can about human behavior and what is possible for me before I hit a wall. I made it one of my life principles to live by:

Do not wait for something horrible to happen to live life fully.

The same thing is happening at work during this pandemic. What was already broken in the workplace became even more vivid during the last 18 months. There was a prediction that 64% of people may quit their jobs in 2020 before Covid hit us. People were already feeling “undervalued” and “underappreciated”.

The pandemic just exposed all the issues we already had.

Many of us did a life audit during this time; looking at our work in the light of the big picture. Some questions I asked myself decades ago and what I have heard from my clients became commonplace:

  • What does work mean to me?
  • Am I happy at work?
  • When I am unhappy, how does that impact me? My family?
  • Is it worth staying at a job that makes me so miserable?
  • Should I stay even if this job literally makes me sick? 

The answers gained clarity in people’s minds. Many decided there should be a better way to work (and live). Some also noticed human-centered organizations did a great job despite these difficult times. (Watch my short interview with the CEO of Garry Ridge for example and hear what he shares about what happened during the pandemic. It is amazing to see what a human-centric organization can do. More examples like that coming up by the way at the same channel.) As a result, people started quitting their jobs and the term “big resignation” became a thing!

What are the root causes of this discontent?

  1. burnout – which is recognized as an occupational phenomenon by WHO,
  2. not having flexibility – 9 to 5 workdays are over even if some leaders still do not want to believe it,
  3. lack of purpose at work – 2/3rds of workers said they reflected on their life’s purpose and half of them are reconsidering changing their work in a recent study (I wrote about it last year too; What Covid19 is trying to teach us about Purpose),
  4. supervisors – according to SHRM, 58% of people leave their jobs because of their managers.

Now is the time to do something about it. We are already late; let’s not wait for another hardship before we make things better. We have more than enough evidence that shows the way we have worked so far is not working.

The answer to me is always putting our people in the center of everything. From giving them the chance to make their own decisions, to living their purpose at work to bringing their whole selves to work; basically Daniel Pink’s Motivation 3.0 or Teal principles. I know it is easier said than done. I see the strain and pressure on all organizations and their leaders. The best thing about creating a people-first culture is that you do not have to carry all the burden of coming up with all the answers. Your people are dying to share their brilliance and ideas with you. I have seen it in front of my eyes and how it solves so many of the complex problems we all face.

Start by meeting your people where they are: Listen to your people at all levels.

To listen, take an engagement survey. (I love the one I use with a partner from the UK. Their questions, the dashboard, the reports with easy-to-understand visuals bring so much insight and clarity to what is actually happening, what is working, and what is not. All anonymous too so that they can tell the absolute truth. Takes only 10 minutes! Enter your information here, if you want to know more so I can contact you. You may even be eligible for a free one now.)

Take the Leadership Perception Gap survey so that you can tell what you think as leaders may be different from what your people think. This happens almost everywhere. Leaders believe they have done so much and they still watch their people leaving. It is frustrating, I know. This survey also gives you a chance to see where to upskill your managers.

I also believe exit interviews with good questions are helpful but it is kind of late. We want our people to be happy working with us. We want to retain them for the right reasons.

Basically, listen to your people with any tool you trust.

When you have all this insight, it will be much easier to plan the next phase to stop losing your people. Although there are very common themes for discontent as listed above, every organization and even every department is different. It is important to pinpoint the contributing factors in yours and decide what is best.

The next step always involves a review of your purpose, vision, and values. They set the foundation for everything else you will build or improve. We will not go into the details of that here. That is a whole new article of its own.

Getting an accurate picture of what is happening now and what your people need is the crucial first step before they start quitting in bigger numbers.


Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

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