You don’t quit your job, you quit your boss – or so the saying goes. We’ve heard it so often; we just assume it must be true.
Well it isn’t – in fact the opposite is true. The truth is, people blame leaders when they should be blaming workplace factors. In fact, plenty of people put up with poor workplace factors because of a good leader. Let’s take a look at a few of the top factors contributing to the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2022:
- Unsustainable workload. Most of us think of this as simply too much work. But Hart and Staveland’s research identified five other levers that determine ‘load’ – which are triggered when the work is pointless, dull, expectations are unrealistic, we feel disempowered or don’t have the appropriate skills.
- Lack of career progression. Research by Culture Amp proves that in companies with below-average career opportunities, the difference in commitment between people with good managers, and those with bad is…. Zero.
- Flexible working. Almost all companies now have a policy around flexible working which involves both where and when an individual can work. And those policies are usually driven from the top.
It would be truer to say that good managers retain people despite the workplace factors that drive them away. So another cliché bites the dust. Or does it?
Lynda Grattan says “the average employee is operating with a higher sense of personal agency.” And they are expecting their leaders to exhibit that same agency. However, many leaders feel that their hands are tied, and they can’t make the kinds of decisions that their team is looking for. For frontline leaders, these issues are largely out of their control. And for executive leaders, the individual circumstances are largely beneath their notice. But B-Suite leaders are uniquely positioned to play a role in retention through the discrete application of corporate policy combined with personal autonomy.
B-Suite leaders are mid-level leaders; they are too junior to be ‘in the tent’ – after all, they didn’t make those policies. But they are too senior to simple obey without question – after all, they have a significant amount of day-to-day responsibility. B-Suite leaders have a powerful opportunity to apply these policies in their own way, in their own domain by specifically choosing how they allocate work, generate career progression and lead a hybrid team.
Chose how to combat workload in your team
The first area where a B-Suite leader can make a difference is addressing the sense of workload. This can be done by allocating work based on individual interest, by providing context to make it purposeful, briefing it out to ensure expectations are reasonable, and providing coaching to ensure teams feel stretched rather than overwhelmed. And if there is simply too much work – to negotiate outcomes on behalf of your team.
Chose how to approach career progression
While you may not have the power to create new roles or open up new pathways for your team, you do have the power to let them stand in for you, the ability to expose them to more senior executives, and the ability to promote them to other areas of the business.
Chose how to lead flexibly
Exactly what does that mean for your team, and for the individuals within it.
- On the days when they are in the office, are you earning their commute? Are their contact days deliberately rich with connection and collaboration, or are you just expecting them to do what they do at home, plus a commute?
- When they are at home, are you trusting them to get on with it or are you interfering and micro-managing? Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not working hard. In fact, research shows that remote workers are just as productive as office workers, and possibly more so. If you don’t trust them, they won’t trust you.
- What are core hours, and what’s completely up to them? If your team is operational from 0600 to midnight, have you had conversations about how to protect and respect non-work time? And have you set your own boundaries to make sure you’re not expected to be available to everyone right across that timezone?
A disempowered leader is often the brunt of workforce dissatisfaction – blamed for the failings of the system as a whole and blamed for their part in perpetuating or even exacerbating those failings. It’s part of the reason that B-Suite leaders are the most likely to leave their jobs post-pandemic, are the most likely to leave leadership entirely and are the most burned out of all workforce cohorts.
But a B-Suite leader who makes themselves accountable for applying discretion, autonomy and consistent principles to their leadership is uniquely positioned to not only retain their people but to attract additional ones.
Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’, is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level.
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