Around the world, employees are having more of a say in what they want from work. According to recent surveys, what employees value most is ‘caring leaders’. They want to work with and for people who understand their needs and make tangible steps to help them live and work with self-determination and confidence.

The Great Attrition was a not just the story for 2021 – it is continuing to reshape the job market in 2022. According to the Willis Watson Towers Global Benefits Attitude survey, 44% of employees consider themselves as job seekers. These are not people who have lost their job due to the pandemic – they are people who are already in roles, whose employers are likely not aware of their keenness to leave.

As businesses navigate the Great Attrition, their leaders are trying to adapt their workplace offering to attract and retain staff. Many are creating incentives including hybrid work policies and higher salaries, but they may be failing to understand the root of the cause. A McKinsey survey found that 44% of people who recently left the workforce altogether do not want to return to a traditional job in the next six months at least. It is crucial that, during a time when employees are being selective about who they work for, leaders learn more about their colleagues and what they really need from their role and responsibilities.

The main reason why people are leaving their roles

In a recent McKinsey survey on the Great Attrition, employees ranked ‘uncaring leaders’ as their top motivation for leaving their organisation. There are many reasons why an employee might find their employer ‘uncaring’. Dissatisfied employees talk about their experiences during Covid-19, in which colleagues were furloughed or lost their jobs. In short, many felt that their needs were set aside to protect the business.

Now that companies are emerging from the pandemic, the actions of their leaders are under the spotlight. The McKinsey survey shows that employees will leave a company if they feel its leaders are insensitive. Businesses need to take a more compassionate approach to retain talent and keep them engaged at work.

Burnout: a key driver for post-pandemic attrition

Surveys reveal that burnout is a key driver for employees to leave. Closely following ‘uncaring leaders’, the second top reason why employees say they are leaving their roles is because of ‘unsustainable work performance expectations’.

During the pandemic, many employees were asked (or expected) to take on more tasks and work longer hours to help the business stay afloat. Employees generally accepted the situation as it was perceived as short term, but that is no longer the case, leaving many feeling disgruntled.

Interestingly, those who have recently returned to the workplace cited reasonable expectations about performance as one of their main reasons for choosing their new employer. This finding demonstrates the need for leaders to address burnout in their teams. Not only will doing so help to retain staff but creating an experience where people have breathing space during their working day can also attract new talent.

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By giving employees more flexibility in how they manage their work, home and social commitments, businesses can make both reduce burnout among their employees and raise their profile as a supportive employer.

Compensation that addresses real needs

People are becoming increasingly aware of the detrimental impact that a stressful workplace can have on their wellbeing. A ‘lack of health and wellbeing support’ came in as the number six (out of 12) reason that employees left the workforce recently.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen a renewed focus on addressing health at work, but discussions continue about the best way to offer support. A Deloitte article explains how health provisions can become more aligned with people’s needs: “Healthcare can be an inherently political topic. Health should not be, and health-savvy CEOs appreciate that… They recognise that how people achieve optimal health may be open to debate, and they are willing to participate in that debate, but they are resolute in their pursuit of health equity”. We agree that people should have more of an influence over how they manage their own wellbeing.

Health support is often delivered as a single insurance policy, but this standardised approach risks missing which support is needed most. McKinsey offers a suggestion for how health benefits can be more holistic: “What if you subsidised cleaning services instead of gym memberships? Or what if you invested in on-site childcare services that would allow employees to eat lunch with their children?”.

Fundamentally, employees need more choice over which health and wellbeing support they receive. Everyone’s lives and stress points are unique. When people have more flexibility in their benefits packages, they can alleviate pressure in their lives where it is most keenly felt.

The role of pay in compassionate leadership

In this article, we have so far focused on additional support that leaders can provide to show more compassion, but another compelling way to show care for employees is through decent compensation.

Deloitte found that for 46% of millennials, long-term financial concerns contribute ‘a lot’ to their stress. Everyone in the business – from junior to senior members of staff – need suitable pay to help them plan their futures. Employees further on in their careers will also need compensation that is targeted towards their retirement, so that they feel they are working towards the future they want.

Employers can be more caring by offering pay that enables all employees to feel comfortable in their current situation as well as career development plans that give people confidence in their financial progress.

The image of a caring leader

Employees are calling for leaders to be more caring, but it can be difficult for leaders to know what caring really looks like. We believe that being caring comes down to being more respectful of people’s time and choice. A caring leader gives their colleagues the freedom and flexibility to manage their workloads, wellbeing and benefits in a way that works best for them to live the self-determined life they deserve.

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