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    Nov 24, 2021    |   Camille Labrie

The Great Resignation – Leadership Matters

5 minute read

Written by Shawn Bakker, Psychologist

The Great Resignation. It sounds very ominous, and our analysis shows that if organizations are going to address it well, leadership is a critical area of focus.

The challenge facing organizations is that employees are quitting their jobs at higher rates than they have in the past. More employees are thinking about quitting too. In a recent survey (1), McKinsey & Company found that 40% of employees reported being at least somewhat likely to leave their current job in the next 3-6 months. Of the 60% who said they are not likely to quit, one of the primary reasons for staying with their current employer is that they like where they live. Not a ringing endorsement for employers.

So why are people quitting?

Over the course of the pandemic there has been a shift in the values, needs and desires of employees, and leaders are out-of-touch with this change. Using data from our Career Values Scale, below is the percentage of people who selected each career value as one of their most important drivers before the pandemic:

career values before covid-19

Career Values Scale Values pre Pandemic

During the pandemic, we noticed a significant shift. Below are the aggregate results from the last year and a half:

career values during covid-19

Career Values Scale Values During Pandemic

The number of people rating Career Development as a key value has increased significantly; it is endorsed by 50% more people than before the pandemic. This data shows that considerably more people are looking for opportunities to learn new skills, tackle new challenges, and move forward in their career rather than stick with the same-old-same-old.

This increased importance of development has come with a significant drop in the number of people who value Team Orientation. Twenty-five percent fewer people now list working closely with others as important. What previously was the second highest ranking career value has fallen all the way to fifth. As people have worked through the pandemic, their sense of teamwork and level of connection has decreased. At the same time, they are also exploring and pursuing new avenues of development in greater numbers. Employees are asking themselves “Is this all there is in this place?” Many are finding the answer to that question to be yes, and leaving as a result.

Along with the shifts in career values, we also see a misalignment between employees and employers in other areas. The survey from McKinsey & Company (1) asked employees and employers to rank 23 factors that influenced why people quit. The top 4 factors for employees were:


Top 4 Factors for Employees

Employees say they are leaving because they do not feel valued or have a sense of belonging. When working remotely, these can be more difficult to convey, and yet leaders need to do so if they are to address employee attrition. The big problem? Leaders are focusing on the wrong things.

When employers rate the reasons why employees quit, they list the following as the top 4 factors:


Top 4 Factors for Employers

Out of 23 possible factors, leaders are only aligned with employees on work-life balance. So while addressing the desires for better opportunities, compensation and health of employees is useful, it does not focus on what employees are saying is most important – being valued and having a sense of belonging. This is where leaders need to start, and it requires greater focus on the personal elements of work.

If organizations want to change their current attrition levels, leaders need to begin asking employees “What could make this better?” Then they need to implement changes based on what they hear. Leaders need to stay open-minded and be ready for responses that may not align with their assumptions. McKinsey & Company’s research shows that leaders do not have a great read on what is truly important to employees – so leaders need to shelve what they think might be the problem, and listen to what employees tell them instead.

For many leaders, this may require them to shift away from their natural, more analytical and task-focused approach. Leading people, especially those who are working remotely, requires greater effort on the part of leaders to initiate connections, involve others, and understand of the needs of employees. This shift to higher levels of consultation and collaboration allows leaders to target the real reason for attrition and resignations – the misalignment in needs, values and desires.

I would like to end with a few tips for both employees and leaders.

Tips for Employees

To more effectively explore new options

  • Clarify and articulate your values. It is tough to find satisfaction if you don’t know what you are looking for. The Career Values Scale is a nice starting point.
  • The organizational psychologist Adam Grant has said “Before you quit your job, it’s worth exploring ways to improve your job.”
  • Planned happenstance. It is important to have a strategy for pursuing new opportunities, but you also need to be ready and open to pivoting when necessary. Make sure you balance planned and emergent strategies.

Tips for Leaders

To more effectively value employees

  • Initiate and maintain connections. You can only make things better for employees by asking them.
  • Develop employees. What are you doing in this space? Employees want to learn, grow and expand their capabilities. If they don’t think they can do that in your organization, they will look elsewhere.
  • Develop self. Learning and growth are as important for leaders as they are for employees. Our Work Personality Index can help you identify your leadership strengths, potential derailers, and avenues for growth.
  • Learn and pivot. Take what you hear from employees and make changes.

In conclusion, employees are leaving jobs for positions that fit them better, and job change is influenced by some simple calculus: Increased job satisfaction + Fewer work-family conflicts = Less job change. (2)

If leaders can actively work with employees to find ways to increase job satisfaction (better alignment with values) and reduce work-family conflicts (better understanding of needs) they can make their organization a much better place to be.


  2. Sons M, Niessen C. Cross-lagged effects of voluntary job changes and well-being: A continuous time approach. J Appl Psychol. 2021 Oct 14. doi: 10.1037/apl0000940. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34647782.
Filed under: Leadership Development