This article originally appeared in Wall Street Journal.
By now, you’ve read a lot about the Great Resignation. People are quitting their jobs at a rate not seen since the tech boom more than 20 years ago—and even then it was specific to the tech industry. Today, there are restrictions. In fact, recent Workhuman® research found that nearly 4 out of every 10 workers plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. Dig into the data and you’ll find the reasons are as psychological as they are material.
This stampede out the door should alarm business leaders, largely because it’s not due to a single, solvable problem. The pandemic triggered a complex turning point in employee sentiment. Some people are leaving for higher-paying positions, while others intended to quit in 2020 but postponed their move. Some are burnt out and need a break, while others aren’t willing to compromise or give up the remote or flexible work environment they’ve become accustomed to. And we’re seeing a wave of “pandemic epiphanies”—people who decide they want to find greater meaning in their work and lives.
This turning point signals an assertion of personal agency on the part of employees, one that has been quietly brewing for a while now. For 40 years, middle- and working-class people have felt left behind by corporate bureaucracies and businesses that treated them as assets to be used and discarded. They have felt disconnected from their workplaces and dissatisfied with the psychological contract between them and their employers.
So unless you’re willing to engage in a salary arms race you can’t win, you need to change the relationship. In 2022, you must focus on building and fostering a company culture based on priceless, utterly human qualities: respect and connection.
It’s no surprise the chance to earn more money is the number one reason people leave a job. However, the Workhuman survey found that only 30% of respondents cited salary as the reason they would consider resigning.
While there are several important factors that make up the remaining 70%, including more flexibility and a better title, one that stands out to me the most is wanting a better work culture. I believe this is a solvable problem—the answer lies in the active giving and receiving of respect.
Respect is admiration for someone’s good qualities, abilities, actions and value. When people take the time to express that admiration, either in private or public, the recipient feels valued, and a stronger connection to the giver. An active culture of respect is vital to employee engagement, loyalty, trust and smooth operations. It adapts flexible work arrangements and drives decision-making and accountability out to the team level.
Even if you think your workplace culture respects employees, you should examine their subjective, daily experience. Remember that compliance to workplace laws or a nod to the value of employees in your mission statement are just the beginning. Respect must be a cultural habit, much like customer focus and personal integrity (both of which, by the way, are signs of respect).
Storytelling, not slogans
When employees don’t see how their work connects to the greater good of the company, they become disaffected and disengaged. This kills productivity and negatively impacts culture. In a classic study, call center employees who spent just five minutes face to face with a customer became twice as productive as those who did not. Since video calls may not be practical for many jobs, effective leaders are finding alternative ways, such as storytelling, to ensure productivity is maintained, connections are built and culture is cultivated.
What’s more, you may have noticed that the most impactful public speakers evolve a personal story into a universal message. Authentic storytelling provides a much-needed human connection between employees and leaders. This form of communication also helps employees see how their actions lead to real business outcomes, such as happy customers and hitting growth targets. Weaving detailed storytelling into every communication medium you have, from online chats to company all-hands meetings, provides a way for your people to more than just know they made a difference—they’ll know how and why they made a difference. Put a dollar value on it. Put a mission value on it. When these stories of appreciation are shared publicly, employees identify with them and their peers, and build a stronger community.
Going into 2022, talent is not the only shortage. Community and belonging are also in short supply. People crave community in today’s polarized and suspicious culture. The forces that propel the Great Resignation are mostly out of your control; focus on building a culture of respect and connection in your organization and your employees will have personal, powerful reasons to stay.
Wall Street Journal Custom Content is a unit of The Wall Street Journal Advertising Department. The Wall Street Journal news organization was not involved in the creation of this content.