insight magazine

Leadership Matters | Fall 2021

Three Ways to Combat the Big Quit

As employees resign in record numbers, these leadership skills can help you stem the tide of turnover.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, CSP, PCC Leadership Coach, Your Best Leadership LLC

Earlier this year, Texas A&M University management professor Anthony Klotz warned that “the great resignation” was coming as the pandemic subsided. Klotz told Bloomberg Businessweek, “When there’s uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year.” Concerns about returning to the office, work-life tensions, and new perspectives on work elevate the risk of turnover.

Klotz’s words proved prescient as 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone. Another 3.6 million people resigned in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Turnover remained high heading into the summer as employers posted record-high numbers of job openings. Despite offering more incentives to new employees, organizations are finding it challenging to backfill the positions of their departing team members, let alone expand teams with new ones.

What are you doing to combat the elevated risk of turnover in a job market that’s almost begging for workers to jump ship? Here are three leadership behaviors that enhance employee engagement and retain top talent. Consider this an opportunity to spritz your team with turnover repellent.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening may be the most overlooked and underrated leadership skill. The United States Institute of Peace defines active listening as “a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding.”

While it’s always been a crucial aspect of communication, active listening is even more vital during this season of dramatic change, shifts in the workplace, and lingering concerns about COVID-19 and its emerging variants. You may not be able to resolve all of your team members’ concerns—nor will they expect you to—but you can listen and let them know they’ve been heard. Here are seven tips to improve your active listening skills:

  • Intend to listen. Like nearly all leadership skills, active listening is hard work. Effective listening starts with the intent to listen before the conversation even starts.
  • Minimize distractions. Give your full attention to the people you’re meeting with. Clear away your cell phone and anything else that tempts you to multitask.
  • Watch and listen for nonverbal cues. Body language, eye contact, and the tone, volume, and pace of a person’s voice offer clues to the emotions behind their words.
  • Observe themes and patterns. Notice the type of questions and concerns that are shared—they may indicate that a team member is struggling.
  • Listen for what isn’t being said. What someone doesn’t say can be even more informative than what they do say.
  • Clarify the message. Repeating and paraphrasing what others say ensures that all parties to the conversation gain the same meaning and understanding from it.
  • Ask, “What else?” Avoid the tendency to hurry through the conversation. Pause long enough to invite team members to express concerns, ask questions, and seek clarity.

Express Appreciation and Gratitude

There’s a significant appreciation deficit in the workplace. In one survey, about three-fourths of workers said they feel undervalued at work. Another study indicated that only one of every three workers had received praise or recognition for their work in the preceding week. Ultimately, these deficiencies increase employee turnover: Almost two-thirds of workers said they would likely leave their current jobs if they didn’t feel appreciated.

Don’t let a lack of appreciation spur your team members to look for other jobs. Instead, make it a regular practice to express gratitude for their efforts and recognize their accomplishments. You may have good intentions to do so, but don’t allow those intentions to fall by the wayside as your day-to-day work buries you in other projects.

If expressing appreciation doesn’t come naturally to you, find ways to build a habit of recognition into your routines. One health care CFO walks through his department near the end of each business day, thanking his team members for their work. A manager in the car rental business puts 10 coins in one of his pockets each morning. Every time he shares a word of appreciation with a team member, he moves a coin to the other pocket. His goal is to move all 10 coins to the other pocket by the end of each day.

Adapt Your Leadership Style to Each Team Member

Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. The best leaders adapt their leadership style to the situation at hand. They recognize that leadership is a role to play and, like Tom Hanks in his best film roles, they match their approach to what’s needed from their leadership at the moment. They consider the unique needs of each team member and respond accordingly. Otherwise, team members may get frustrated by feeling micromanaged on one extreme or abandoned on the other extreme.

In the 1990s, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created what’s now called the situational leadership model. Using this model, you can adapt your leadership approach to meet the developmental needs of your team members. These needs vary from the enthusiastic beginner who’s eager to get the job done but lacks the knowledge and skills to do so to the experienced team member ready to take the ball and run with it.

Assess the competence, commitment, and confidence levels of each of your team members. As they improve in these areas, you can shift your leadership style from a directing style to a coaching style, then to a supporting style, and finally to a delegating style. By meeting each team member where they are, you equip them to be more effective in their current roles and develop them as future leaders.

Although these strategies aren’t expensive, they do take time. Thankfully, the time you spend on these practices will pay off in the time you’ll gain when you don’t need to replace valuable employees. Now’s the time to step up your leadership game and stem the tide of turnover.

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