“The Great Resignation,” which was first called “The Turnover Tsunami,” and now many are calling “The Big Quit” is real, and it’s here.

To wit:

  • According to a study by Microsoft in April, 2021, 40% of workers were contemplating leaving their jobs
  • 39% of the workforce is predicted to leave current jobs for greater flexibility and to add more meaning to their professional lives, according to Bloomberg, and that number climbs to 49% among Millennials and Gen Z
  • Four million Americans quit their jobs in April, and by June 11.5 million Americans had done so. 

Those numbers are just too big to ignore. 

And if you think that’s only about factory, healthcare, delivery workers, or others, rest assured, it’s hitting the marketing industry.

According to Inc., 63% of marketing pros surveyed planned a 2021 job change. 

Yes, fellow members of the Spin Sucks community, we’re all at risk.

If The Big Quit hasn’t yet hit your organization, it will. 

And while no organization is immune, it doesn’t mean leaders should sit idly by while this takes place. Instead, there are a number of active steps you can take as a leader to reduce the effects The Big Quit will have on your organization. Here are four of them:

Be Consistent

Being consistent in your leadership style has always been a critical part of leadership effectiveness. Why? Because when leaders are consistent, it creates a sense of security among our followers. Do remember that security and safety are in the second level of good old Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Pretty basic stuff, right? 

In full candor, back in my agency leadership days, a key team member worked up the courage to tell me that on many days of the week my team’s nickname for me was “Uncle Ken.”

But only three or four days a week. The other days it was “Evil Ben.”.

Hmm. As my grandmother would say in Yiddish, “Nicht Gut.”

Because my team didn’t know which “me” they’d get, they avoided me, especially when they had bad news to share. Nicht Gut!

I came to learn that team members will follow a consistently good leader, vs. one who’s often great, but occasionally quite the opposite. 

Why is this relevant today? 

Because quite unlike the spring and summer of 2020, or the downturn of 2008, it’s a talent sellers’ market. That means team members are being choosy about the organizations for whom they’ll work and the leaders whom they’ll follow. 

And they’ll choose to follow consistent ones. Every. Single. Time.

So if you’re a leader who says one thing and does another, you may be in for a rude awakening. 

Remember, followers’ Bullshit Meter for this sort of gap is higher than ever. Lack of consistency between what you say and what you do will absolutely have no effect on your ability to retain your best staff. And not in the way you want!

When it Comes to Employees and “The Big Quit”, Culture Is Critical

Purpose is a critical driver for so many employees, but especially Younger Millennials, (26-33) and especially Gen Z, 22-26. 

As an example, according to global HR/recruitment organization Robert Half in Ragan Communications, 31% would prefer to work for an organization that better aligns with their personal values. And quite shocking (at least to me) is that 71% would leave a company whose values don’t align with their own.

So ask yourself how many of your employees are 22-33? Do they feel your organization has a sense of purpose and is it one that aligns with theirs? And if it doesn’t and you lost several of them, what would the impact be on your organization? 

Is it time to review your organization’s purpose?

And what’s this got to do with organizational culture? Everything! 

According to Jenni Catron, Founder & CEO of The 4Sight Group, “the entire point of culture is the stewardship of people in pursuit of mission. Culture is the lynchpin that ties your purpose and strategy together.” 

Further, she encourages leaders to build a culture “in which purpose is clear, and team members can find meaning in their contributions”

Now’s the time to do an inventory to assure that you’ve articulated your organization’s purpose, that it aligns with the purpose of your teams, and that you’ve created a culture in which your team members find meaning. 

If you’re not prepared to do this, understand the impact this will have on your ability to retain your best team members and attract new talent. 

And know the importance of building consensus. Not every decision needs the approval of the entire team, but in an era that favors the talent “sellers,” seeking consensus more frequently on the issues of greatest importance to your team is well worth exploring. 

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been A Toxic Leader? 

I’ve known leaders over the years who actually celebrated their toxic leadership style. “It’s my agency. It’s my way or the highway”. “I’m Type A, deal with it!” “I always tell it like it is, and if that hurts’ my employees’ feelings, they’ll just have to get over it.”

If you have even an inkling of the above, your time is over. 

People tolerated toxic leaders when they had to, as in the downturn of 2008-09. More recently, they certainly put up with toxic leaders from March of 2020 until earlier this year, because they didn’t want to leave their companies, and risk becoming “Last hired, first fired”.

Those days are over.

As of this writing, the PR, integrated communications, marketing, and advertising industries are booming. The economy is robust, and clients more than ever understand the value our industries bring to them. And they’re willing to pay.  

If your business is on the rise, that means you need to retain your staff (at least the talented ones who contribute to client delight and to organizational culture) and, most likely, attract similar talent that matches that description. 

And team members simply won’t put up with toxic cultures and leaders. They no longer have to. And if this is you, trust me, they’ve been biding their time to leave. 

If your team feedback (assuming you seek it, which you should) or your instincts tell you that you might be a little toxic or a lot toxic, you must turn this around. Get a therapist or get a leadership coach. (Some have both.) But if you continue your toxic ways, you’re putting your organization’s success at risk. 

The Benefits That Will Help Drive Retention

I was giving a leadership workshop the other day around this topic, and one of the attendees said, “This feels like the DotCom Rush of 1999. We need to provide foosball tables and Happy Hour.”

If it were only that easy.

In a talent sellers’ market, you’ve got to provide what the talent wants, no?

Competitive pay is a given. So are competitive benefits. You may need to consider a signing bonus. And some organizations are offering a “staying” bonus. 

And while “fun” benefits are, well, fun, many of them tend to be available mostly when people are together in the office. And who knows when that will be?

Here’s what many of today’s employees say that they want: 

  • According to Marketing Brew, 100% of those surveyed said they wanted the option to work remotely. Now you may not want to offer all employees the chance to work remotely. But you must consider how important this may be to your teams.
    • 40% said that they want more flexible hours. Do you know what that means for your team members? If not, how can you honor that request?
    • According to global HR-talent firm Robert Half, 49% want a hybrid work engagement. Nearly half!  You need to determine what “hybrid” means for your team members: I’ve seen many studies where employers want them back four days a week, and employees want to be in the office two to three days…That’s a gap.
  • 29% said they want higher wages.
  • Also according to Robert Half, 70% want employee wellness programs, and 47% want DE&I programs. 

You may not be able to offer all of the above to your employees. But if you want to hold on to your best and your brightest, and attract more of them, you need to at least consider how many of the above you possibly can offer, and on a scale that’s right for your organization. 

Yes, “The Big Quit” will affect you, but I believe if you implement many of these steps, you can reduce its effect on your organization. 

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs, PCC, CPC, ELI-MP, a certified executive coach, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. His company helps leaders, CEOs, agency owners, senior executives, and managers in the communications space achieve their organizational, career, and personal goals by becoming effective, inspired, and inspired leaders.

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