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How to re-engage a dissatisfied employee

May 21, 2022
Borderless Leadership

Your best employee knocks on your door and hands you their resignation letter. What’s your first move? Conventional wisdom says that bigger paychecks and better perks are the way to an employee’s heart. But six months later, you may hear another knock — and in they’ll walk, waving a similar letter.

In 2021 and 2022, workers have been quitting their jobs in droves, sometimes without even having another job lined up. The number is particularly pernicious amongst mid-career employees, 30 to 45 year olds, where the average resignation rate was 20% higher in 2021 than it was in 2020.

But the problem isn’t just confined to this age group or pandemic dissatisfaction. In surveying more than 5,600 respondents from various industries between January 2019 and December 2021, we found that worker dissatisfaction started as early as age 25 — and it’s been here since before our worlds turned upside down.

If managers want to keep employees from leaving, throwing money at the problem is a band-aid solution at best. Our data revealed that just 38.2% of workers aged 25 to 45 assign pay as the most important factor in their job satisfaction — even though we found that it was the most common managerial response to the news that an employee is leaving.

More than anything, these employees told us that they crave work that inspires them and creates harmony between who they are and what they do. This makes them more engaged, more productive, and more loyal. They want to feel like they’re working toward something larger than themselves — and understand how their day-to-day job makes that happen — with autonomy to shape their role in it all.

Leaders who are interested in re-engaging these workers might consider giving them more of what they want and need — alignment, inspiration, agency, and insight — and not just more money. Here are four ways to do that.

Aim for work-life alignment, not work-life balance.
Employees in the 25 to 45 age range are in the fastest trajectory of their careers, while also experiencing a rapid expansion of personal responsibilities. It’s difficult to achieve the ephemeral work-life balance when you are getting married, having children, taking care of aging parents, attending networking events and professional development conferences, and serving on community, nonprofit, or school committees.

Rather than looking for work-life balance, these workers are looking for work-life alignment. It’s not just about the time they spend at work, but about how this work augments or detracts from the time that they spend away from it, too.

For example, we found that 65% of our respondents wanted to have more control over the teams to which they were assigned, the projects on which they worked, and their ability to influence their hours or earning through their side hustle. While one would expect to see that workers gain more control as they rise through the ranks, in fact the opposite was true for women in particular, leading them to leave the workforce at higher numbers than their male counterparts.

Ask your employees how the work they do each day allows them to achieve the career advancement they seek, nurture the families they are growing, or manifest their values on a daily basis so that you can work together to address their pain points where it doesn’t.

Find out what drives them — and reshape their jobs together.­
In our survey, the biggest deficit we saw was in employees’ relationships with their leaders. Almost all workers said that they wanted to work for a leader who inspired them, but only 36% of them say that they actually do. Investing in your relationship with your employees is one way to bridge that divide — and unlock their motivation.

To understand what drives your employees, ask them what brought them to this job, cause, team, organization, or paycheck — and whether that still energizes them. Be open to their answers. What you hear might surprise, excite, or confuse you, but it will help you to understand your team better. As you learn more, you can assign them to projects that are meaningful to them and reshape their daily, weekly, and quarterly goals accordingly. You’ll also deepen your understanding of what inspires them so that you, in turn, can better draw a direct line (for them) towards the company’s work and their personal needs in the future. READ MORE

by Laura Gassner Otting


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