Over the past year, it seems that every worker is preparing to quit their job. In fact, it has gotten so bad that the media has dubbed this time “the great resignation.” In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?” Ian Cook reported that 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. In fact, resignations peaked in April and remained abnormally high for several months. At the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a record-breaking 10.9 million unfilled jobs at the end of July. Why are so many people quitting their jobs?

The easy answer is “pay” or “pay and benefits.”  “We Are Hiring” signs are posted on the windows of restaurants, gas stations, and retail stores everywhere.  These signs often include a starting wage of at least $15.00 per hour, with the occasional mention of a “sign-on” bonus.  While it seems to make sense – raise starting wages, offer employment incentives, it’s not that simple.

A recent study found that 52% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs contend that their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving. Furthermore, 57% of employees claim that they quit their jobs because of their supervisor. Bad supervisors can make even the most loyal employees look for job opportunities elsewhere. Those familiar with employee turnover research will not be surprised. This has been true for years. A study released in the Journal of Vocational Behavior in1979 describes this finding in depth (Muchinsky, P. and Tuttle, M. Employee Turnover: An Empirical and Methodical Assessment).  What is different today is that with the pandemic-driven disruption to our economy, substantially more workers are leaving voluntarily (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Therefore, the natural assumption now is if a “bad boss” is the main reason that people quit their job, let’s make sure that we only hire or promote people who will be a “good boss.” Unfortunately, that’s not so easy.

While most companies often provide leadership development training for their managers, it’s not always enough to make an impact. True leaders are rare, but they can be found or developed, if each company can understand what their employees truly desire in a leader. Recently, Training Industry Magazine examined what employees wanted in their leaders, and they found that 45% said, “good communication skills,” 44% wanted “good interpersonal skills,” and 42% cited, “strong values and ethics.”

Interestingly, more pay, more time off, better health insurance, etc. were not important. Rather, the secret to attracting and retaining high-quality employees is to ensure that their leaders/supervisors are “good communicators, able to understand and relate to each of their employees and that they demonstrate strong ethical standards.” The challenge then becomes how to ensure that each leader in your company possesses these capabilities and demonstrates them every day.

The ability to communicate effectively is vital to the foundation of leadership. However, effective communication is more complex than most people realize. There are actually two elements to communication, with one being easier than the other: talking and listening.

Clearly articulating what they want, need, and expect from employees is essential. Providing clear instructions and resources for projects or processes is crucial, and offering constructive and actionable feedback is vital. Leaders spend much of their day communicating with people through email, phone calls, texts, online chats, and company intranets. Therefore, the importance of speaking and writing effectively cannot be overstated.

The second and more challenging component of communication is listening. Many managers struggle to hear what their employees have to say. However, effective leaders engage in two-way dialogue and maintain open lines of communication with all their employees.

The second most cited reason for quitting referenced a boss who had “poor interpersonal skills.” What exactly does that mean?  Leaders with very good interpersonal skills build rapport and create emotional connections with others. They look people directly in the eyes when they are speaking, smile often, show empathy to those struggling, remember people’s names and preferences, give positive verbal and written feedback, and are just plain pleasant to be around.

Finally, the third quality that employees look for in leaders is integrity. Nearly 42% of survey respondents indicated that they want their leaders to demonstrate strong values and uphold high ethical standards. Employees want to work for people who “do the right thing.” Leaders lead by example, upholding the company’s standards, abiding by laws and policies, and ensuring a safe and welcoming work environment for all (Marzullo, D., What Do Employees Really Want in a Leader? from What People Want in a Leader: How Do You Measure Up?  Stowell, S. J. and Mead, S. S. Training Industry Magazine, 2020).   

Recognizing these three leadership attributes make sense. However, ensuring that each leader in a company actually possesses these qualities requires a two-step solution. First, identify and select candidates who demonstrate a strong foundation in each of the key attributes and, second, provide training that further develops and reinforces each of these capabilities. Let’s start with selecting the “right” candidates for supervisor/leadership positions.

For years, E.A.S.I-Consult® has been helping companies identify employees who are most likely to succeed as supervisors. This includes people with strong interpersonal skills and who are good communicators. In addition, strong values and high ethical standards, or what we often call “high levels of dependability” are also crucial. All three of these abilities are incorporated into our supervisory selection programs. Whether you are looking to hire an external candidate or promote someone from within your organization, a validated front-line leader/supervisor assessment process is key.

The second step is providing high-quality leadership training. Once you have hired a person with a solid foundation in these three capabilities, along with other essential job requirements, you need to offer training opportunities that will further develop these leadership essentials. Larger organizations, with significant training and development staff, often design and offer this training within their company. Smaller companies must look to various providers that offer this type of training.

From either perspective, it is crucial for all front-line leadership training to include specific skill-building and ongoing support for each of these capabilities. Simply teaching new leaders/ supervisors about the policies and practices required for every company leader is not enough, nor is training that focuses on only the legal and ethical standards of leadership. Rather, all front-line leadership training must emphasize effective communication and interpersonal skills. Skill-building, along with opportunities for practice and “refresher courses” in these areas must be a key component of each supervisor’s training and development.

Bottom line — more money or great benefits will never stop the “great resignation” in your organization. However, exceptional front-line leaders will!

About the Author

E.A.S.I.-Consult® is a leader in researching and identifying leadership capabilities – at all levels of leadership – in an effort to help organizations reach their full potential.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com, or call 800.922.EASI.