Focus-Grouping the Great Resignation

Written by Jennifer

The well-known pollster Frank Luntz recently teamed up with Conversate Labs to have a conversation with a group of professionals who’d left their jobs during the “Great Resignation,” which Conversate Labs argues should be called, “the Great Disconnect.”

There’s much to unpack from the interview, but I thought a number of insights were worth highlighting in particular.

Anyone who’s been reading our blog will recognize some themes we’ve been hammering on for months.


Employee-Employer Relations

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the focus group was that lack of engagement and poor communication – more than money – drove the wave of resignations. That’s why Conversate Labs is calling it, “the Great Disconnect.” Employers were blindsided, but they shouldn’t have been.

It turned out that professional after professional identified problems in their relations with managers and bosses as the source of the problem. These quitters weren’t “entitled.” They were fed up and burned out.

Luntz put it well in a tweet: “Every CEO you see now talks about being “inclusive” and treating their employees better – but people don’t believe most of them.”

It’s hard to put it better than that. It’s not enough to talk about employee activation. (NOTE: When Employee Activation Post comes out, link to that here.) You have to walk the walk.

People who quit their jobs last year knew their employers weren’t walking the walk.


Why They Quit

When asked to explain their reasons for leaving, each of the individuals in the focus group identified problems in their former work environments. They talked about lack of respect from managers, zero communication from up top, and being forced to work with people who’d tested positive for COVID – and then being punished if they spoke up or tried to do anything about it.

One woman actually said, “People aren’t quitting for money.” She went on to explain that employees want to feel like they matter.

Another member of the group talked about having time to put the kids to bed at night. Others spoke of unrealistic expectations from managers, and not getting the support they needed from their bosses.

When the moderator asked for a show of hands from those who had a good relationship with their manager prior to quitting, very few people raised theirs.


What They’re Looking for in a Better Job

In another tweet, Luntz highlighted his takeaways about what people who resigned are looking for in a better job.

Yes, they’re looking for better pay. Lunch isn’t free in life. But they’re also looking for flexibility. Especially those with families.

Most importantly, they say they want future employers to “treat me like a human being.” “Not a robot.”


What Does that Mean?

They wanted “real-time feedback” from managers. And listening. Listening is perhaps one of the most important parts of “treating employees like human beings.” Listening is a sign of respect. Which is at the core of “treating people like human beings.”

Respect doesn’t mean unearned praise or “everybody-gets-a-star” appreciation days. It’s not about giving every employee a participation trophy.

It’s about treating them with a little bit of dignity, instead of as a cog in a machine.

One thing respect is definitely about is taking employees’ COVID concerns seriously. It’s been a difficult two years for a large number of people. Workers are struggling with fear, loss, getting sick, burnout, stress, and worrying about loved ones.

Treating people like human beings means taking seriously their need for time off to grieve a lost family member. It means letting them sleep at night instead of pestering them with emails. It means affording them the respect of hearing out their legitimate concerns about contracting COVID, especially if they have elderly or immunocompromised relatives. It means listening to what they’re saying when they say, “I can’t take this anymore,” or “I can’t deal with it,” or “I feel like I’m losing any lines between work and home-life.” It means giving them some space.

We don’t live to work; we work to live.


Big Takeaway

The pressure is on employers now, not on employees. Oftentimes, hiring managers have the upper hand in negotiations, but right now the momentum is on the job-seekers’ side. So, if you don’t want to lose any employees, you need to treat them right.

If you want your employees to be engaged, you need to engage with them. The onus is not the other way around.

This isn’t some entitled, anti-capitalist claptrap about how work sucks and young people want bosses who can “understand their feelings.” Instead, it’s a call to action for employers to create the kinds of work environments where people actually want to work. Or forget even one where people want to work – it’s about creating the kinds of environments where they’re not destroying their physical and mental health every day just to keep up with the rat race.

It’s not about being your employees’ nanny. It’s about being a human.


Show the Human Side of Your Company

(The first step is having a human side.)

Assuming you’re good on the first step, here’s what you can do.

1. Follow Through on Your Commitments: Don’t just talk about diversity, or employee engagement, or equity, or environmental responsibility. Take actions that demonstrate the depth of your commitment.

2. Take a Look at this Focus Group: In particular, watch their reaction to GM’s CEO, whom they said actually came off as “genuine,” unlike their former employers.

3. Try Something New: Give your workers a stake in your company – stocks, a stake in decision-making, a seat at the table, etc. Maybe even try our employee advocacy idea.

4. Listen to Your People: Actually listen. Respectfully. Then maybe you’ll understand what they need and how you can serve them better – so that they serve you better.