“People are still leaving,” lamented the Division President of a large firm. His company lost more than one-third of its employees by May, and he was concerned.
An exit survey indicated a desire for more flexibility; he implemented flexible policies around work hours. A culture survey showed that his employees wanted to be developed; he required mandatory learning and development initiatives. He read a book on culture that highlighted Google and Meta; he initiated Food Truck Friday and installed table games in underutilized corners of the office.
His intentions were positive but included two common mistakes, and you may be doing the same.
Reason #1: He attempted to treat symptoms and not cure problems.
A 2021 PEW Research Center survey found that low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work were the top reasons Americans quit their jobs last year. The need for flexibility, cited by some of his former employees when asked to return to work, ranked fifth on the PEW list. (And, notably, not one mentioned a desire to increase hand-eye coordination skills or eat more tacos.)
So why did he focus on this symptom instead of the problem?
Because the solutions to symptoms seem easier to implement than solutions to problems. For example, a common core issue is a lack of alignment between what the sales team promises and operation’s capabilities. This reduces flexibility, increases job demands and stresses out managers. Many managers are not equipped to manage stress and respond emotionally to their direct reports, who interpret these emotional outbursts as disrespectful.
Addressing only the symptom of a problem ensures it will bubble up elsewhere, leading to bad morale and more resignations. Drill down to the cause and attack the problem where it starts.
Reason #2: He Tried to Please Everyone
A closer look at departing employee feedback revealed that, although they agreed on the sources of their unhappiness, they were divided culturally by their disparate values around work life balance, workplace flexibility and the availability of development opportunities.
I originally assessed this Division President, whose results show a strong achievement orientation. I recommended him, in part, because of this. Employees who loved him were achievement oriented and wanted to make great things happen too. Employees who scored low in achievement, did not care for him as much.
His solutions increased anxiety because they sent a mixed message. On the surface, people were encouraged to focus on work life balance but underneath was an unspoken expectation to work harder.
By attempting to implement multiple cultures, differing values can often become contradictory. Trying to please everyone has the opposite effect.
What Should My Retention Strategy Do?
- Make the effort to solve toxicity and other culture issues at their core. Toxicity affects everyone, even employees who are culturally aligned.
- Signal to employees that change is coming, even if it takes time. Most change takes 18 months but employees will wait if they see effort and progress.
- Pick a culture that reflects the leader’s values and company purpose. See Carolyn Turner’s Book, Walking the Talk for a solid guide to culture types.
- Create retention initiatives that reflect the best aspects of the chosen culture and align with its values. Every culture has a dark side. Play into what is effective and positive about your chosen culture.
- Don’t panic when employees with differing culture values leave. Even if highly capable, they will always perform below potential and never truly be happy if they stay.
- Hire new employees who are aligned with the culture. Use assessments like Psybil to understand cultural fit.
- Reach out to an expert who can help you see things from a new perspective. Psynet Group consultants and firms like Walking the Talk have seen these issues from hundreds of perspectives.
Need a little more help? Curious about how we’ve partnered with dozens of companies to solve similar problems? Reach out to John at [email protected].