In the discussions about factors driving the Great Resignation, there are many suggestions around a desire for higher pay or more flexibility. However, new research suggests that one key factor driving employees to quit in overwhelming numbers is toxic work culture.
While compensation and a desire for flexibility may contribute to an individual’s decision to leave a company, those are not the driving factors behind why the Great Resignation is happening. An analysis of 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews revealed that “toxic work culture” was the top predictor of workplace attrition—10.4 times more likely than compensation to lead to resignations. Other factors that outpaced wages include job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation, failure to recognize employee performance, and poor response to COVID-19.
What does it mean to have a “toxic work culture,” though? As the researchers explain in a follow-up article, several elements drive employee perception of company culture. Among the most critical predictors of culture score are:
- Employees feel respected
- Leadership is supportive
- Leaders live the core values of the company
- Job security
The researchers note that these factors are not industry-specific; in fact, looking at companies in the same industry that have high or low attrition rates is revealing. Companies such as Southwest Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car have a reputation for healthy company culture and lower attrition rates than companies in their industries that have not emphasized culture as a strategic advantage.
All of this research points to challenges that can’t simply be “fixed” with across-the-board salary increases, new benefit offerings, or hybrid work arrangements. While these factors may be necessary, the key driving factor in keeping employees satisfied is company culture.
Leaders are ultimately responsible for creating cultural change within the company. However, company culture doesn’t shift on a dime, and it’s something that leaders must drive from the top down. When old ways of behaving are deeply entrenched within an organization, it takes dedication and patience to transition to a newer, healthier culture.
For leaders who are concerned about shifting culture within the company, here are several behaviors that can help create a more positive culture:
Demonstrate alignment with core company values
If one of your core company values is “Integrity,” but leaders do not act with integrity even in their personal lives, employees will notice. Remember that people are watching large and small actions, and acting with hypocrisy tells employees that leaders don’t believe or care about core company values.
Conduct regular anonymous employee surveys that include cultural questions
If employees have an assurance of anonymity, they will answer honestly. Ask about company culture. Do leaders seem aligned with values? Are leaders supportive? How secure do you feel in your job? Do you have positive connections with co-workers? Zero in on those responses that show the perception of toxicity, and evaluate how to address them.
Hold team or company gatherings
As teams grow increasingly dispersed across geographies and time zones, in-person gatherings may become challenging at best, impossible at worst. However, creating time for people to connect personally without the pressure of work-related tasks or conversations can go a long way toward crafting a culture that humanizes everyone and makes room for diverse voices. Even encouraging casual video calls with multiple team members can help create non-work connections.
Upskill your internal people
More than just developing your leadership bench, companies should be upskilling their current teams as well, especially on the technical side. “I was familiar with a company who basically said they didn’t help their IT people stay current, so they had to let them all go and hire new people who had the right skills,” says Taura Prosek, Director, Business Development and Executive Coach. “They didn’t like it, but it was too little, too late.” Make sure your technical teams get the training and education they need to stay current on necessary skills.
Create more career pathways internally and externally
Showing that leaders care about career growth is one aspect of culture that organizations can easily overlook, but it matters a great deal to employees. Whether in one-on-one settings or company-wide, encourage career growth and exploration.
Turning around a toxic work culture is a complicated process, and it requires a lot more than “happy talk” from leaders. When a poisonous work culture is rooted in systemic problems, turning it around may require a considerable reorganization or reset of leadership. But for companies that want to hire good people and encourage long tenures, addressing cultural issues may be the key to thriving on the other side of the Great Resignation.