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Fickle employees or troubled employers? Playing the 'Blame Game' in the Great Resignation (1/2)

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer May 20, 2022
The Seinfeld character George Costanza had a way of ending a romantic relationship. He’d tell the lady “It’s not you, it’s me”. Employers and employees/jobseekers are playing a similar game today and it’s hard to tell who’s actually doing the breaking up and who really is at fault. Regardless, customers are paying the price for these unfilled positions.


I went to four restaurants late last week. Three of them were unexpectedly closed as they lacked staffing. It’s gotten so bad, I’m back to cooking all my meals again.

Business publications are also full of stories of employers complaining about job vacancies and talent shortages. In these stories, employees are often painted as:

  • Mercenary
  • Lacking loyalty
  • Prone to ghost employers during and after the hiring process
  • Open to changing employers at the drop of a hat
  • Etc.

This characterization is rarely pretty (or entirely fair as I discuss below).

There definitely is a lack of stickiness within today’s workforce though. Fortune reported that:

In an April survey by Lattice, an employee management software platform, more than half (52%) of respondents who have been at their job for three months or less said they are actively trying to leave. For folks in a job for between three and six months, that figure jumped to 59%.

Across the board, of the 2,000 U.S.-based respondents, nearly three-quarters (74%) said they would be open to leaving their current role—regardless of how long they’ve been there—in the next six to 12 months. In last year’s installment of the survey, only 47% said the same.

Are employees really this flighty? Rarely are things so simple and we really should dig into the underlying causal factors and devise better (not more superficial) strategies to solving the problem. That’s right, we should solve the issue not slap another layer of bandages on this gaping wound.

The causal factors

Every employer who complains about talent losses and/or difficulty in recruiting new talent should take some time to self-assess their firm. Truthfully ask yourself:

  • Do we give people a livable wage?
  • Do we respect them, their concerns and their family commitments?
  • Do we honor employee’s vacation requests?
  • Do we cancel employee’s training?
  • Do we offer jobs instead of careers?
  • What is it that people find so objectionable here?

What I hear employers often say are tired euphemisms like:

  • “We offer competitive pay”
  • “We want everyone to feel like a valuable part of XYZ company”
  • “If people work hard, they can progress their career at this company”
  • “We respect the individual”
  • Etc.

All of those phrases are commonplace, not unique to any employer, don’t differentiate employers and are essentially meaningless to most jobseekers. Just like every big box retailer touts 'Value',  'Selection', 'Service' and 'Quality', those characteristics have simply lost their usefulness due to their overuse, overhyping and repetition.

Sorry employers, but you need to tell jobseekers and employees something DIFFERENT about your firm! If your firm’s employment brand is about the sameness of it compared to other employers, you’ve lost the war for talent. This is a failure of management and HR.

Maybe employers/recruiters need to start with something more basic and innate to the human experience: romantic relationships between humans. Two people will or will not develop a long-standing relationship based on a number of factors: some of which parallel employment.  For example, people will stick with employers who:

  • Respect the other parties (i.e., employees)
  • Listen to employees not just order them around
  • Honor commitments made to the employees
  • Personally (and frequently) thank them for doing a great job
  • Foster lots of (2-way) communication
  • Etc.

But in the battle to save every little nickel and dime, employers do some pretty stupid things that adversely impact their employment brand.  Here are some the Worst (not Best) practices out there:

  • Reduce an hourly worker’s hours to a bare minimum (One major retailer cut an employee’s scheduled work week to 2 hours/week. How is that a livable wage?)
  • Reduce an hourly worker’s hours so that they cannot qualify for either benefits or overtime (or both)
  • Show no flexibility in scheduling work thus adversely impacting a worker’s dependent care situation
  • Etc.

Many employees are looking around today due to some combination of the above plus a fair sprinkling of the following:

  • Companies are waffling on what their work from home (WFH) policy would be or have a manager who has reintroduced work from the office again although there’s little real reason to do so
  • Companies are not listening to or acting on the health concerns of employees especially since the threat of the COVID virus (and its variants to come) is not settled
  • Companies that adhere to old-fashioned promotion processes based on time-served and not skills attained/results delivered
  • Managers who can’t plan are exasperating employees with overly numerous fire drills and other ‘emergencies
  • Firms who offer a market wage but expect people to work large amounts of uncompensated overtime
  • Employers requiring employees to use obsolete or aged technology that won’t help their career
  • Employers requiring employees perform repetitive, unoriginal and voluminous tasks with no opportunity to break this up with more creative or interesting assignments
  • Companies that offer career paths but these paths only see glacial movement
  • Etc.

And, of course, there’s the number one reason people leave firms: bad managers.

So, if you don’t know why people won’t stay with your firm, then how can you be sure your hiring and ‘retention’ strategies will work?


In part 2 of this article, I'll propose some new strategies that organizations need to consider in today's climate. 

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