“People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” That’s a very popular phrase and one that will get you reactions on social media. It’s also crap. At least as a blanket statement about why people are leaving jobs right now.
There’s truth in the phrase, of course, but it falls WAY short of what leaders are experiencing in just about every organization. Regardless of how great a boss you've been.
The danger is if we take it at face value, then every leader should be ashamed of themselves when someone quits. “It’s your fault, says so right there—people quit bosses. Do better.”
Here’s something we have found to be true: If you lose an employee over something you can’t offer, it’s not your fault. They didn’t quit their boss, they quit the job.
There are insightful articles from The Atlantic, USA Today, Inc Magazine, and many others about what’s happening nationally with people quitting. Burnout (White collar/Blue collar/Covid), shortage of talent, remote work options...etc.
That’s not this blog.
I work at a company (CCB Technology) that has an average tenure of around 12 years. We’ve lost 20% of our staff in the last 9 months. Both of those things are true. For a company that’s been around 30 years and prides itself on having a healthy culture—this has been a very confusing time.
So why have people left?
Our Executive team had to brace ourselves as we looked at each other and asked, “Is it us? Why are we bleeding good people?”. We found a few themes and made some moves.
A pattern began to develop, so we looked deeper into the biggest factor--money. We wondered, “Are people leaving us over a $5k bump?” One of the benefits of having trusting relationships with employees is that most of them told their manager what the other company was offering – without being asked. Several were even apologetic that it was something they just couldn’t turn down.
Another pattern rose, these offers were BONKERS.
25-75% increases over what they were currently making. We investigated our pay structure and found we were competitive with our wages in the marketplace...then the marketplace changed. The tension of CCB being a small business was acutely felt. We just can’t give someone a $35k raise. Even if we love them.
Not all hope is lost though.
Losing 20% of our staff doesn’t tell the whole story any more than “people quit bosses” does.
On paper, those folks left CCB but they didn’t quit their boss. (The one that walked out had their direct supervisor asking for more information and offering to help. No explanation, just done.)
There’s more, we’ve also had a stiff uptick in interviewing and onboarding new employees in the last 30 days. I mean, what else are we going to do amirite?
We also fought back by settling into who we are as a company vs. trying to be something we’re not. For example, we like our employees to physically be together. Even if it’s not every day.
So we do a hybrid schedule of Tuesday/Wednesday in the office. We also kicked up the fun. Our Marketing team scheduled weekly company times around food, drink, and Farkle. (I’m sorry, what?) And the Sales team is accruing points that can be used during an auction later this year. Next week we're having a company-wide paper airplane flying contest.
But what about the money?? Where we could afford it, employees got raises, received bonuses, or saw their incentive plans more lucrative as goals were hit. Fortunately for the company, Patrick had been wise with the finances and that rainy day fund was available.
Liking who you work with is very important, but there’s something money says about value without speaking any words.
It’s painful to lose people. It’s worse to go through it and not learn anything. It’s a wonderful thing to learn from someone else’s pain!
The Great Resignation highlights leadership. It matters how we act when we’re unsure of outcomes but sure of the struggle. Know who you are. Lean into your trusting teams. Keep fighting. Breathe.
Listen to Tod Bolsinger talk about how to lead in uncharted territory.
Listen to Patrick Booth talk about The Great Resignation: Fight Like A Small Business
Check out the IOL Community Groups to connect with like-minded leaders!