Why Your Employees Want to Leave


Psychologist Thema Davis summed up the results of the difficult choice of standing up for something important: “Some people don’t like you just because your strength reminds them of their weakness. Don’t let the hate slow you down.”

Map over Davis’s quote to leadership and the nuances bear an important reminder: leadership isn’t a position but action with the intention to motivate and inspire people to achieve something of value. And it’s this reminder that one of our League of Extraordinary Thinkers had us chew on recently. Dana Theus wrote an important mini-series, The Values Revolution, that dared leaders and managers to look into why employees want to leave their jobs.

Why Employees Want To Leave Your Company

What I enjoyed about Dana’s mini-series is she didn’t regurgitate the same logic to conclude why your employees want to or are leaving your company.

Values Misalignment Trend
The trends that lead to employees going one direction with the organization the other reflect the outdated lens through which most managers and leaders look at the employment contract. The unwillingness to update how we ask employees to compartmentalize their personal from their professional lives is antiquated and ridiculous. With the proliferation of mobile technology, employees are constantly stepping in and out of both worlds. It’s lazy leadership to not recognize the influence this has on workplace realities.

Unwillingness to update how we ask employees to compartmentalize their personal from their professional lives is antiquated and ridiculous

Dana expands on the trend of values misalignment in a way that gets us to really see what trends are shaping the workplace and why we need to see and respond quickly if we want to keep employees from bolting out the door.

Macho Leadership is Outdated
The skills leaders need to rely on for business in the 21st century are more feminine in nature. In their phenomenal book, Athena Doctrine, authors John Gerzema and Michael D’ Antonio expound that “emphasizing cooperation, communication, and sharing,” are leadership actions that lead to prosperity in today’s hyper connected workplaces. These are, in many cases, the antithesis of what we see in business environments today.

Employees are exhausted by the cut-throat, grab what you can, self-centered leadership and management actions that have dominated 20th century business and have too often characterized the path to which results were achieved.

Employees are exhausted by the cut-throat, grab what you can, self-centered leadership

Employees are leaving seeking workplaces that value people and outcomes grounded in purpose and meaning.

Shift in Values Needed
Dana presents a compelling list of values suitable for the 21st century that move beyond the ambiguous words of integrity, teamwork and excellence. Their overuse and absence in their underwhelming appearance in too many organizations has unfortunately removed all meaning from such important values.

What’s to say the same won’t happen for the the values included in Dana’s list? It’s possible their meaning becomes empty, too. However, the argument Dana makes about a Values Revolution places responsibility on the individual leader to own their response to the abysmal work environment that is suffocating our workplaces. The values serve as a north star to navigating life-sucking workplaces to discover joy, optimism and possibility at work. It’s no longer up to the organization to indoctrinate its values onto its employees. It really never was. Values come to life in the daily interactions between a company’s employees. And the greatest influence over this is a team’s manager. Imagine if more managers took on the responsibility to educate, model and hold and create a space for a company’s values to align with our personal values. Such a vision would transform relationships and spread across teams throughout an organization in an organic manner. Forget about assimilation. It’s about inspiration: Inspiring how we relate and work together based wholly on how we are wired as human beings through connection and relationship-building.

Leaders must own their response to the abysmal work environment that is suffocating our workplaces

In the end, Dana’s Value Revolution series is a call to action for all of us to reverse the unfortunate effects of outdated leadership on the relationships and the results needed for a business to thrive in today’s dynamic workplace. Employees are leaving your workplace because it is not suitable for people.

The nuggets Dana presents need to be chewed on and then acted on. It’s important reading for all leaders who want more from their role and from their positive influence on those with whom they work.

Image credit: defun / 123RF Stock Photo

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Pingback: Sunday Sampler: Ideas that shaped management in 2013, Charlene Li on 2014, Dana Theus on Why Employees Want To Leave — Gigaom Research()

  • Interesting Shawn, but methinks slightly off- base.

    Up until we began trying to systematize management and leadership starting with Taylor and then accelerating in the 1960s, leaders were doing fine. This is what we understood about leading people before the big changes.

    “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” George Patton

    “If you treat an individual as if he were what he should be and could be then he will become what he should be and could be.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832

    “You Should Value People Most,
    Yourself As Leader The Least.”
    Mencius 400BC

    “The consummate leader cultivates the moral law and strictly adheres to its methods and discipline. The moral law causes people to be in complete accord with their ruler so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”
    –Sun Tzu 544-496 BC The Art Of War

    “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. “Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.” But of a good leader, who talks little, When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did this ourselves.””
    Lao Tzu, 6th cent. B.C., Chinese philosopher and reputed founder of Taoism

    After WWII, in the US we began placing lawyers and accountants at the top of companies, people who had no clue as to what the working level was doing or needed in order to succeed. What the hell! We had destroyed our foreign competition so we could charge anything we wanted for our products and could afford extensive bureaucracies to control a workforce that executives had no knowledge of. Staffs became superior to line management because top leaders did not understand what the line had to do. So management consultants and educators taught them how to direct and control their companies through goals, targets, orders, visions, directives, corporate value statements, mission statements, rewards, and the like with a bureaucracy designed to force compliance. All of these only serve to demoralize, demotivate, and disengage employees.

    We got our comeuppance when the rest of the world started catching up in the mid 70s. Companies were forced to reduce their costs dramatically in order to compete. But we have continued to use the management processes used when times were fat, processes that essentially treat the working level with the utmost disrespect.

    Our problem today is not that the people have changed, but that they are less willing to put up with being treated with disrespect, with being directed and controlled. They want management to go back to doing what it did for thousands of years. In other words, values have changed very little and any manager who lives by those very human values everyone shares will have great success, will be able to achieve the 500% performance gain Stephen Covey senior said was possible.

  • ruthschwartz

    I’m not sure that the ’60’s are known as the heyday of management, however I do believe that most people , then and now, when asked, will tell you that their job sucks because of a manager or boss.
    They don’t see congruent values. They don’t understand the impact they have on the business. They don’t see how their goals integrate with the greater organization and they believe that the boss is a fat cat and they are getting ripped off.
    In leadership circles we talk of organizational design and vision but in layman’s terms, we just need to be vulnerable and bring everyone to the table. That is not coddling or entitlement, that is a step up in respect and the ability to raise the bar even higher than any individual can.
    The Fountainhead, this isn’t but the future lies here. Dana is more right than not. Just sayin.

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