Voluntary Attrition: Why Are People Leaving?

Voluntary Attrition: Why Are People Leaving?
The locus of power shifted from Employer to Employee. Today, it’s no longer about who to let go but, rather, how best to attract and retain your top talent.

Voluntary Attrition: Why Are People Leaving?

When the pandemic began almost eighteen months ago, the corporate grapevine quickly became infected with news about furloughs and job losses. As industries adapted to a digital way of working, the pendulum gradually began to swing the other way. 

The locus of power shifted from Employer to Employee. Today, it’s no longer about who to let go but, rather, how best to attract and retain your top talent. 

How to counter voluntary attrition has become a priority. Many companies are reacting by throwing money at the problem: higher salaries, bonuses, stock options, and the like. But dangling carrots is a short-term and reactive solution, at best.  

We need to respond versus react.  We need to better understand what triggers voluntary attrition in the first place.  

From an employee’s point of view, there are Push and Pull factors that drive attrition. Push factors are those that make me uncomfortable or unhappy to work in the current organization. Pull factors are those that entice me to explore an alternative, potentially better position.

When a strong Push from within is combined with Pull from without, then I am motivated to leave my current employ.  My manager or supervisor is a powerful filter to the way in which I experience both Push and Pull. 

Gallup’s poll of more than a million employees concluded that “Employees join companies but leave managers.”  My manager especially influences three factors that Daniel Pink identified as key motivators, namely, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  Let’s look at each of these in turn.  

Autonomy, according to Pink, is the desire to direct our own lives. A micro-manager who not only tells me what to do but also continually breathes down my neck to direct me on how to do it, exemplifies a threat to my autonomy.  Ideally, my manager ought to give me the freedom/autonomy to figure out the ‘how’, with some guidance as needed. 

Depending upon my level of experience, my manager may also enhance my autonomy by partnering with me on the ‘what’.  And in case there are aspects of my job that must be done only a certain way, then those aspects are probably ripe for automation. 

Mastery, explains Pink, is the desire to continually improve at something that matters. My manager’s openness, encouragement, and support (monetary or otherwise) for my continuous learning & development is one way to satisfy this need. 

If my manager keeps me busy week after week fighting fires on the job, allowing no space for learning and reflection, then I begin to feel like I am trying to cut down a tree without sharpening my saw. Not only does my productivity suffer but I begin to feel stuck in what appears to be a dead-end job. 

Finally, Purpose also drives motivation. I am excited to give my best when the work I am doing has a larger, more meaningful impact.  Yes, organizations make profits but if I was working for profits alone, I’d be engaged only up to a point.  What creates a sustainable, intrinsic motivation is a belief in something larger than me. Here again, my manager plays a role in helping me see the linkage between my organization’s purpose and the work that I do.

A good manager can reduce, if not eliminate, the Push factors that drive me to seek alternative employment. Even if another company tries to entice me by Pulling me toward its seemingly greener pastures, I will resist the temptation because I am engaged and motivated to continue to contribute within my current environment. 

While the manager is at the centre of the Push and Pull factors that drive voluntary attrition, it wouldn’t be fair to place the responsibility solely on his/her shoulders, however. 

After all, the manager is working in an organization with a certain reputation, a history, a set of beliefs – in short, an organizational culture that has systems and processes to either reinforce or negate the Push and Pull factors at play.  Also, the pandemic has underlined Pink’s three motivators in very specific ways and addressing these requires organizational intervention:

  • Autonomy now includes the autonomy to choose where I work – companies need to figure out a post covid hybrid model that takes a new- flexible working normal – into account.
  • The value we place on Mastery in a VUCA world (one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and increasingly gig economy has been enhanced as we all recognize skills as the new currency.  What resources do companies offer employees to enable continuous learning?
  • Purpose has become redefined in terms of not only the organisations’s objectives but also the individual’s life goals and concern for creating a sustainable environment.

Bottom line: stemming voluntary attrition is not a quick fix.  It’s a slow and steady process of nurturing a culture of trust, meaning, learning, growth, and engagement. 

Make a start today by actively listening to your people. Schedule exit interviews with departing employees; institute pulse surveys, focus group conversations with existing personnel, and demonstrate personal interest with your team members. 

Then, visibly act on what you learn from your people.  You’ll be surprised at the transformation you can achieve in employee engagement by adopting an employee-centric approach.  And that is how you will succeed in stemming voluntary attrition. 

Note- Views are personal.


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