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The Great Attrition: Same turnover, but the “why” differs by industry

In the Great Attrition, specific drivers of attrition vary by sector. Employers must address their industry’s unique circumstances to turn attrition into attraction.
Emily Field

Shapes organizational strategies to establish talent management as a distinctive advantage, preparing leaders to manage the workforce of tomorrow and create business value

David Mendelsohn

Builds and deploys organizational assessment tools and leads research on organizational culture, inclusion, leadership, and talent

Nicolette Rainone

Advises organizations with particular expertise regarding talent management, learning and development, and behavioral science

Bill Schaninger

Designs and manages large-scale organizational transformations, strengthening business performance through enhanced culture, values, leadership, and talent systems

Organizations are reporting unprecedented levels of turnover. Forty percent of employees report that they are likely to leave their job within the next 3-6 months. Our research shows that employees across industries are leaving because they do not feel valued and have poor work-life balance. However, in certain industries, the following specific drivers are pushing people to leave:

  1. Unmanageable workload. Employees in leisure and hospitality as well as healthcare and social assistance plan to leave because their workload is unmanageable, leading to poor health and well-being. Given the massive labor shortage, particularly in these industries, remaining employees have had to compensate for this talent gap. In the case of the healthcare and social assistance sector, essential workers have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, further exacerbating workload challenges.
  2. Lack of professional growth. This emerged as especially important among white collar workers; people in trade, transportation, and utilities; and individuals in goods-producing industries such as construction and manufacturing. Employees in these industries reported that they are leaving because their work is not meaningful, interesting, and challenging, and they do not have opportunities to learn new things at work.
  3. Not feeling supported by colleagues. Those working in education plan to leave because they do not feel supported by their colleagues. Employees in education reported leaving due to negative interactions with their colleagues and the people they serve, such as students or parents. As education institutions re-enter in-person classrooms, administrators will be well served to foster educator connectivity and relationship building to strengthen colleague bonds.

As employers take on the Great Attrition, they will need to address the unique circumstances facing their industry. We recommend these three actions to turn attrition into attraction:

  1. Empower and upskill your people, especially managers. Invest in their development through upskilling programs that help employees perform at a higher level in their existing roles. This strategy allows you to manage talent gaps that may be driving unmanageable workloads. Upskilling managers may be especially critical. Inspirational leaders that empower and support their people not only help employees perform better, but also become part of the employee value proposition that helps attract and retain talent. For example, a healthcare company is defining their leadership development strategy to develop the next generation of leaders, grounded in a leadership competency model.
  2. Connect their work to the organization’s purpose. Employees want to experience more purpose and meaning at work. One way to do this is to show employees how their work fits into the larger strategy of the organization. For example, as part of its annual goal-setting process, a bank emphasized how each employee contributes to the organization’s strategy and purpose statement through manager and employee discussions. Drawing that connection pays off—companies that connect their strategy to the work of their employees have achieved a 63 percent increase in total return to shareholders.
  3. Leverage a flexible working model emphasizing connection. This might involve elements of in-person connection while still providing flexibility, as nearly three-quarters of employees want to work from home two or more days per week. As the workforce returns to the office, leaders must empathize with their people and avoid handing down unbending mandates. For example, a pharmaceutical company is emphasizing remote work as “a right” not a perk and allows teams to determine when to collaborate in person, focusing on the quality—not quantity—of interactions.

Employees are leaving for a wide variety of personal and professional reasons. As organizations adapt to the changing talent landscape, leaders must recognize the common drivers of the Great Attrition but tailor their response to the specific needs of employees in their industry and organization.

The authors would like to thank Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi for his meaningful contributions to this post.

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This blog post is part of a series on the Great Attrition, exploring the immediate actions leaders can take to retain and attract talent at a time when employees are leaving their jobs in droves. Topics include how to keep top-performing talent, the nuances emerging in different industries, adaptability as an antidote to burnout, the implications for the labor shortage and what to do about it, how to build a sense of community in the new employee landscape, the complex relationship between DE&I and attrition, the importance of employee experience, socioemotional support as the organization’s social glue, the need to reimagine and personalize flexibility at work, and competition from the gig economy and entrepreneurism.

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