022 Survey of Senior Leadership The coronavirus has really wreaked havoc in the workplace and the labor market, hasn’t it?

No wonder almost all of the respondents to this year’s Triangle Performance Survey of Senior Leadership ranked leading in VUCA as the top leadership challenge in 2022. Today’s job market is about the best example of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity I’ve seen off the battlefield.

That makes it easy to blame COVID-19 for our talent management challenges. (By the way, your talent doesn’t want to be managed.) We can just write our attrition problems off to the Great Resignation, right?

Not so fast, leaders! Most attrition is our own fault.

There’s plenty of research that shows most people say they leave their job because of the pay, limited opportunities for advancement, and their boss. We may have limited influence on the first, but the last two are absolutely leadership issues… and fixing those two is free.

Do the free stuff first!

Interviewing external job candidates last week, I wasn’t surprised to hear all of them say the reason they’re looking for another job is directly related to the environment in their current company.

And guess whose fault that is.

Now guess how many of them admitted to their companies that they’re quitting because their boss is a jerk. In round numbers, zero.

I quit and I am not going to tell you why

James Rickwood, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I would suggest that it’s not all that important why someone quits, because short of an opportunity dropping into their lap or winning a BIG lottery, they decided to quit long before giving notice. Like in a relationship that’s gone sour, once our partner decides it’s time to break up, it’s only a matter of time. They might be lured into staying a little longer, but if we don’t fix what they’re unhappy about, they’re headed to greener pasture.

No, what’s important is why they started looking elsewhere in the first place. That’s where we find a common thread: the boss. The leader who’s supposed to helping them feel valued doing worthy work. Sometimes, that’s actually us.

I asked all the candidates I interviewed what makes them feel valued – apart from the financial compensation, of course. (I also asked them what criteria they used to decide if a job was a good fit, but that’s a topic for a future newsletter.) Their answers weren’t particularly complex, and it made me wonder if their current boss ever took the time to find out. If they had, they might not be looking to fill an unexpected vacancy.

And it’s not the Quiet Quitters that are looking for better leadership. We wish! They seem pretty content to put up with shoddy leadership and give the minimum effort required to keep their jobs as long as we’ll keep paying them.

Unfortunately, it’s the good employees that tire of being treated badly at work and start looking elsewhere. Again, if we don’t URGENTLY fix what they’re unhappy about, they’re leaving us as soon as their criteria for a good fit is met.

Case in point: my daughter left a healthcare position she had been very happy in for a couple of years after a significant leadership change… not a change for the better, I might add. It didn’t take very long for her to realize the relationship was going to end, so she started looking around for an organization and position she believed would allow her to again feel valued doing worthy work.

Sorry I quit When she eventually let the company know she’d be leaving and they asked why, she gave them all of stock answers: limited opportunities in her current role, wanting to explore other areas of healthcare, flexibility, benefits, PTO, etc. What she didn’t tell them was that she was unhappy with the leadership and didn’t believe they particularly cared whether she felt valued or not.

I’m not suggesting we hit the PANIC button every time someone leaves the organization, but I do believe that if we don’t make an honest effort to learn why they started looking for a new job in the first place, we’re not doing our jobs as engaged leaders.

And fixing that is free, too.

It’s up to you, leaders.