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ARTICLE: ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours


A recent McKinsey & Company survey showed a record pace of US workers has been quitting—19 million and counting since April 2021—disrupting businesses everywhere. Companies struggling to address the problem and are not understanding why their employees are leaving, jumping to well-intentioned quick fixes like bumping up pay or offering “thank you” bonuses. Without the effort to strengthen relational ties between colleagues and employers, rather than sensing appreciation, these quick fixes feel transactional, reminding them that their real needs aren’t being met.

Employees are tired and grieving, craving social and interpersonal connections with colleagues and managers, a sense of shared identity and purpose. Many employers are missing the mark and failing to invest in a more fulfilling employee experience, and as a result, employees are leaving. Furthermore, the reasons companies cite for why their employees are leaving do not match the reasons employees cite for leaving. Companies need to make a concerted effort to better understand why employees are actually leaving, and take meaningful action to attract, develop, and retain the talent they need to create a thriving postpandemic organization.

The pandemic has irrevocably changed what people expect from work in many ways, and the landscape will continue to change as companies try out new hybrid-work approaches. A CEO or top team member's best move now would be to hit “pause” and take the time to think through next steps. A heavy-handed back-to-the-office policy or other mandates delivered from on high—no matter how well intentioned—are likely to backfire.

As employers take stock in an effort to retain employees, ask the following questions:

  • Do we shelter toxic leaders? Executives who don’t make their people feel valued can drive them away. If you don’t have leaders who motivate, inspire, and lead with compassion, you need them—desperately.

  • Do we have the right people in the right places (especially managers)? If not, this problem can be particularly damaging, especially in hybrid environments, where new leadership skills are required.

  • How strong was our culture before the pandemic? Although the needs of your employees have changed, your culture may not have, and prior organizational weaknesses are now magnified. Employees will have little tolerance for a return to a status quo they didn’t like before.

  • Is our work environment transactional? If your response to attrition is raising compensation, you’re unwittingly telling your people that their only reason to stay with you is a paycheck. Your very best people will always have a better cash offer somewhere else. Solve the problems of the whole person, not just their bank accounts.

  • Are our benefits aligned with employee priorities? 45% of employees cited the need to take care of family as an influential factor in their decision to quit. Expanding childcare, nursing services, or other home- and family-focused benefits could help keep such employees from leaving and show that you value them as whole people.

  • Employees want career paths, recognition, and development opportunities. Can we provide it? Smart companies find ways to reward people by promoting them not only into new roles but also into additional levels within their existing ones.

  • How are we building a sense of community? Remote work is no panacea, but neither is a full on-site return. In-person connectivity continues to have massive benefits for your organization, but requires considerable management attention as health and safety concerns continue to evolve.

If you lead a large team or a company, remember this: the Great Attrition is real, will continue, and may get worse before it gets better. But by understanding why employees are leaving and by acting thoughtfully, you may just be able to turn the Great Attrition into the Great Attraction.


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