What leaders can do to stem the talent exodus


Highly skilled workers with experience and knowledge are moving on and leaving significant strategy and service gaps.
Group of young adults, photographed from above, on various painted tarmac surface, at sunrise.
The reasons workers are quitting from their jobs are all too familiar and avoidable. | Image source: Getty Images

Employees around the world are not yet done with resigning, reshuffling, and pivoting in record breaking numbers. Which means, organisations are grappling with severe staff shortages and talent scarcity. The most affected industries are the ones that offer vital human services, like retail, food, hospitality, and healthcare.

Microsoft’s workforce survey from last year found that 41% of the global workforce was thinking of moving on from their jobs. We now have proof that most of them came good on that intention.

To corroborate these findings, PwC conducted a large global workforce survey, and found that, “more than one-third of respondents plan to ask for a raise in the coming year, and one in five said they are extremely or very likely to switch employers. Retaining these employees will require more than just pay. Fulfilling work and the opportunity to be one’s authentic self at work also matter to employees who are considering a job change.”

Resignation rates are also often highest among mid-career employees. Highly skilled workers with experience and knowledge are moving on and leaving significant strategy and service gaps.

The reasons workers are quitting from their jobs are all too familiar and avoidable. These range from being undervalued, disrespected, unappreciated, and poorly paid, to being forced to give up flexible work options in favour of full-time work.

If business’s are to stay viable in the future, leaders must play a crucial role in engaging and retaining talent. Here are ways in with leaders can do that.

Recognise the need for listening and empathy

Empathy is not a luxury, it’s a necessity at the workplace. Contrary to popular belief, empathy does not take more time, the lack of it does. Pushing people harder to be productive, at the expense of their wellbeing, slows things down. In the absence of empathy, people burn out more, feel anxious and unsupported, and take longer to recover from set backs. Empathy is about letting people know that you are listening and will make space for them to work through tough times. To offer empathy is to play the long game. Effective leaders understand that without genuine concern, genuine commitment may never be achieved in the team.

Prioritise appreciation and acknowledgment

Appreciation is an important ingredient of workplace culture. Being unappreciated at work is a hurtful place to be. Most workers would swap a better salary for a working environment in which they felt valued. It tells people that they are seen, and their efforts and talents are meaningful to the team. Acknowledgement of effort is vital to retention. Research finds that 63% of those who were often recognised were very unlikely to job hunt in the next three to six months. In contrast, only 11% of those who were rarely recognised would agree. Also, 82% employees consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work. One could say, that appreciation punches well above its weight, when offered genuinely.   

Get better at inclusion and belonging

Exclusion costs organisations more than the investment required to develop inclusion. Without inclusive practices, leaders cannot instil a culture of respect and belonging. This leaves workers needing to look out for themselves when they could have used that energy in being creative. Lack of inclusion mutes individual initiative and promotes conformity and group think. Intentional inclusion on the other hand, helps people feel safe and inspired, and stay longer in their jobs. Leaders can do this through listening deeply, setting aside judgement, and allowing people the space to bring their best skills and talents to the biggest problems.

Make flexibility a norm at the workplace

In the post-pandemic world, most organisations faltered with their return to work policies and plans. The tone and communication raised attrition and employee disengagement. This is indifferent towards employees who are the most affected by such decisions. Many workers have chosen to walk out than work it out. Instead of blindsiding people, leaders need to consult and listen keenly. Without participation, it turns harder to navigate turbulent times in business. Providing flexibility is also no longer a perk. It’s a strategy for organisations to stay agile and retain diverse talent.

Create a psychologically safe environment

Amy Edmondson, who coined the term psycological safety, defines it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up.” Sadly, several teams continue to languish in emotionally unsafe work environments where expediency precedes safety and trust. Instead, when leaders listen, offer empathy, praise in public and coach in private, and include differences instead of shun them, safety emerges as a cultural outcome. Emotional safety at work inspires emotional confidence, so people don’t have to hide their struggles to prove their professionalism and commitment.

Sonali D’silva is a Certified Professional in Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst Inc. She is the Founder of Equality Consulting, a training and advisory service for raising diversity awareness, leading with inclusion, and creating psychological safety at work. Find out more about Sonali at www.equalityconsulting.com.au