Why Are People Really Quitting Their Jobs? Burnout Tops the List, New Research Shows

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The Great Resignation shows no signs of stopping as employee resignations hit an all-time high in August, extending a five-month streak of record-breaking quit rates.

The pandemic changed everything, and for most employees, it deeply affected how they view and want to experience work. Employers can’t afford to sit back while losing more of their workforce because employee expectations have drastically changed.

Limeade, an organization dedicated to researching and improving employee well-being, has released its new study, “The Great Resignation Update,” to examine why the “Great Resigners” left. The study surveyed 1,000 U.S.-based employees who started a new job in 2021 and have been there for at least three months.

Here are three key findings from the report with guidance on how to apply these takeaways to become the organization employees are flocking to, not from.

1. The main reason employees quit was burnout.

The No. 1 reason job-changers left their previous employers was burnout, which was cited by 40 percent of survey respondents. Events outside the workplace, like the 2020 COVID-19 recession, have contributed to worsening burnout over the past 20 months.

Jessi Crast, researcher at Limeade says the first step to solving burnout in your organization is recognizing it’s happening in the first place. Signs of burnout include cynicism, stress, physical and emotional exhaustion, and apathy–and it usually happens to once highly engaged employees.

“Burnout is especially insidious for employers because it affects your most engaged, highest-performing employees,” said Crast. “You can’t burn out if you don’t care in the first place.”

Listening to employees, through one-on-one conversations and company-wide surveys, can uncover how widespread burnout is, what’s causing it, and how to mitigate it. From there, you can roll out measures to address burnout–like mental health days, burnout sabbaticals, or redistributing employees’ workloads.

2. Job changers left seeking flexibility.

When asked what attracted them to their current job, job-changers cited the ability to work remotely (40 percent) and other forms of flexibility (24 percent) like a non-traditional work schedule.

Flexible work arrangements can help employees achieve a better work-life balance and combat the effects of burnout. While in-office work can boost collaboration, innovation, and camaraderie, forcing employees to come into the office five days a week isn’t going to make you a competitive employer.

“Employees have just spent the past year and a half proving that remote work can be successful. Most aren’t willing to give it up completely,” said Crast.

Now is the time to figure out your long-term policy towards remote and hybrid work. If your workers need to be in the field, employers can offer flexibility in other ways–like making it easier to find substitutes for shifts.

3. The “Great Resigners” left for more caring cultures

When asked how their new employer compared to their previous employer, job-changers feel more comfortable disclosing a mental health condition and a greater sense that their new company cares about their well-being.

“Research from Limeade’s Science of Care report shows that when employees feel cared about, they’re more committed, engaged, have lower stress, and better well-being,” said Crast. The research also shows they’re more likely to recommend the organization as a great place to work and continue working for the employer longer.

Crast defines a caring culture as “providing organizational support for employee’s social, physical, occupational, and emotional well-being.” One way to achieve a caring culture is equipping managers with the right skills, like the ability to empathize with direct reports.

Other tips Crast recommends include fostering peer social networks, providing transparency from leadership, offering tools and resources, enabling two-way communication, and investing in employees’ development.

Rather than seeing the Great Resignation as an uncontrollable trend in the marketplace, Limeade’s research shows it can be an opportunity to change your workplace for the better.

While the report reveals important insights into the average job changer’s motivations, each organization’s areas for improvement will look different. By listening to employees and using their feedback to make meaningful change that supports their well-being, you can keep employees motivated, engaged, and in the fold.