Why people quit their jobs and how technology can help

Johannesburg, 05 May 2022
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Neil Pickering, customer insight manager, UKG.
Neil Pickering, customer insight manager, UKG.

Technology has a real role to play in helping to address many of the people issues companies face, not least of which is the fact that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have been leaving their jobs in record numbers. 

That’s the view of Neil Pickering, customer insight manager at UKG, a global provider of HR, payroll and workforce management solutions, which recently released the results of a survey designed to identify the reasons behind what’s become known as “The Great Resignation”.

The six-country survey of nearly 4 000 people revealed a distinct disconnect between what managers believed and employees actually stated were their reasons for resigning; as well as the role managers played in this decision.

The full report: “Resign, Resigned, or Re-Sign? Pandemic-era job quitters and their managers wish they had a do-over”, compares the responses of 1 950 employees who voluntarily left their jobs in the 18 months since March 2020, with 1 850 people managers who had people on their teams quit across France, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, the US and the UK.

The loss of trained, productive people who understand their job function and perform it well undermines company productivity. This applies both to highly skilled, professional-level employees – of which there is a severe shortage in South Africa – as well as to unskilled or semi-skilled workers of which there is an abundance.

“No company wants to continuously have to retrain new employees, and most are willing to rehire good employees who had moved on. The feeling is mutual, with over 40% of employees surveyed admitting they had been better off at their old job. In fact, one in five had already boomeranged back to their prior company, indicating that millions more may be open to the possibility of return,” Pickering says.

While pay/compensation was the main reason provided by interviewees – those who had resigned as well as their managers – for job resignations since the start of the pandemic, fewer than half of all pandemic-era job changers actually received a pay increase at their new position. In fact, one in five people took a pay cut to move on to a new role.

Outside of pay, however, there was a significant disconnect between managers and employees about other reasons people resign. When asked why they believed their people quit, managers correctly named only two of the next top five reasons for leaving: poor work-life balance/burnout (number four for managers and number three for employees); and lack of career development opportunities (number five for managers and number four for employees).

For departing employees, not feeling valued (number two), frustration with executive leadership (number five) and poor company culture (number six) were the other top reasons for their resignation. Managers, however, thought employees quit for family/childcare/personal reasons (number two); too many COVID precautions (number three); and desire for a shorter commute (number six).

Additionally, 75% of managers said their organisation supported them in their efforts to retain good people, yet only 48% of employees felt like their old boss made an effort to keep them. People managers also overestimated the relationship they had with their teams, as 91% believed they created an environment where employees are comfortable communicating frustrations – yet only 64% of employees agreed, with 25 admitting to never having discussed their frustrations with their managers before they gave in their notice.

Another major disconnect was evident around the issue of stay interviews. While 94% of managers claimed to have conducted stay interviews at least annually, only 62% of employees said they’d had even one stay interview. Stay interviews are casual discussions about why an employee stays at their job, including what they like most about the company, why they look forward to coming to work, what makes their job satisfying and what other areas they are interested in.

“People managers who conduct regular stay interviews build a culture of trust, belonging, open communication and loyalty. Although stay interviews aren’t the panacea to retention, nearly two in five job quitters who didn’t have them said it would have made an impact on retention,” Pickering says.

“In addition, over-communication, being vulnerable, providing insight into behind-the-scenes activity, giving autonomy and active listening are important to managers and employees alike. These will give the manager a shot at retention and help ensure employees make the right move for themselves and their families.”

However, while strong people managers are the key to employee retention and their potential return, the survey revealed that two in five managers are themselves considering quitting – for the same reasons as their former team members – signalling the next Great Resignation wave.

“Organisations have to consider the needs of all employees far more than they generally do. Trying to promote work-life balance is one way companies try to do this but most of the time, the focus of these systems is on supporting work rather than life. Organisations therefore need to become more life aware by developing a synergy between life and work, and by supporting employees and managers to help make that happen,” Pickering says.

He believes a close integration of conventional HR systems and operational systems can go a long way towards empowering employees, freeing up managers to actually manage people rather than processes, and ensuring better utilisation of human resources to enhance productivity by, for example, aligning scheduling with operational demands.

“The survey found there’s a clear connection between a strong, supportive manager and an employee’s willingness to stay or return. Managers therefore need to be empowered to manage better, to foster an environment where communicating frustrations is possible, to conduct stay interviews and try to retain employees bent on resignation. This can be achieved by giving employees a lot more control over their own life at work through the adoption of ‘life-work technology’ – technology that is in the service of people, not just the business itself,” Pickering concludes.

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