“Whether or not business owners want to accept it, money is still not the reason (in most cases) why people quit.”
- Laura Sukorokoff
chief engagement officer
Take Charge Learning

As a chief engagement officer, I can’t help but be drawn into conversations about employee engagement and retention. I guess it’s in my DNA now, but it’s long been a subject I’m super passionate about.

I had one such conversation the other day. The people involved in the conversation were talking about why technicians quit. I said it’s not just the money, which ended up getting quite a bit of pushback from the others.

Their side: Inflation is making life so difficult to afford that field service technicians will cross the street to work for the competition for a wage increase as small as $1 per hour.

My side: Nope. There are other factors at work.

Whether or not business owners want to accept it, money is still not the reason (in most cases) why people quit.

My friend in the conversation told me I was wrong and that her husband quit his job to make $3 per hour more working for a competitor. I questioned that. After all, I had heard many times that her husband, who works as a plumber, hated his boss and couldn’t wait to get another job. Making a few dollars more per hour might be the story he told for why he quit, but it’s not what drove him to look for another job.

All the things you’ve heard of (the great resignation, quiet quitting, or work to rule, etc.) lead to the same place. All over the world, employees are seeking respect. Respect is the most important thing to their work. Yet, more than half of employees are not getting it from their leaders.

Respect outranks the things leaders tell themselves employees want from them: recognition and appreciation, communicating inspiring corporate visions, feedback, even opportunities for growth and development. It has a clear impact on employee engagement. Those who feel respected at work are 55% more engaged. What does this mean in terms of key performance indicators (KPIs)? Well, engagement leads to better health and well-being, less absenteeism, lower incidences of burnout, increased trust, fewer safety incidents, greater focus and prioritization, improved productivity, higher quality of work, and increased care for customers. All of this — resulting in increased customer satisfaction and revenue. Perhaps more importantly, in times like these, when it’s so hard to get enough technicians, those who feel respected by their leaders are 10% more likely to stay with their organizations. This may not seem like much but think of it this way. If you could improve your odds of getting and keeping technicians by 10%, what impact would that have on your organization?

I’ve worked in employee engagement for a long time and have heard story after story of why people quit their jobs. Every time, it’s come down to their managers and the lack of respect given. It’s a fundamental human need to feel heard and understood, yet most employees don’t feel their bosses listen to them or care anything about what they say. Why is this the case? What I hear from managers is they don’t have time to care.

In a recent survey, over 60% of employees say they don’t have time to be nice. Um… what? Seems to me it takes no more time to be nice than to be rude or indifferent. The real reason might come from what these people have experienced in organizations. There is no role model for respect in their organization — they’re just behaving as their bosses do.

Companies spend a lot of money doing engagement surveys and setting up recognition programs — and these are important things, that’s for sure — but they spend very few resources on developing managers’ soft skills so they can better connect with their reports. Given what we read above, smart organizational leaders should get their managers trained as soon as possible.

Treat your employees with respect. Here’s why:

  • Turnover — Average turnover across industries in 2021-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, was 47.2%. This is shocking. But it gets worse for the trades. Average turnover in trades-relates fields: construction, 56.9%; and trade, transportation, and utilities, 54.5%. Manufacturing fared a little better, 39.9%, but that’s nothing to crow about. Turnover comes with massive costs in terms of recruiting, hiring, and loss of productivity. The estimated cost of replacing an employee ranges from 50% to 200% of salary, depending on position. Yikes. If you’re losing half your people, you’re bleeding money.
  • Over half of employees who don’t feel respected, or feel they don’t have a healthy work-life balance, are planning to leave soon. Even if you think your people are happy at work, engagement statistics tell us about 65% are looking for another job. The biggest reason they’re looking is to get away from their manager.
  • Unhappy employees tend to take other employees away with them. If the workplace culture is one of a lack of respect, you can bet employees are talking about it and colluding on plans to find work elsewhere.
  • Remember what you read above about the benefits of engagement? The reverse holds true when employees are disengaged. They tend to be less productive, have more safety incidents and absenteeism, care less about customers, and are far less likely to take initiative or be creative problem-solvers. This has a direct impact on the bottom line.

What to do about it:

  • Begin by training your managers. They need to understand how important soft skills, like communication, interpersonal skills, teamwork and collaboration, change management, and others, are to performing as leaders. There are really good course options available as well as great management books.
  • Coach managers regularly and provide support to them as they learn to be good leaders. If you’re not sure about how to do this, register yourself in a course to learn.
  • Create a culture of respect in the organization from the top down. Senior organizational leaders have managers reporting to them, and those managers deserve the same attitude of care and respect from their bosses as they’re expected to give to their reports.
  • Institute a policy of regular, consistent, and frequent one-on-one conversations throughout the company. Establish a cadence for these conversations and hold any leaders accountable for having them.

And when you hire new employees:

  • Have a proper onboarding program in place. According to Brandon Hall Group, a strong onboarding process can improve employee retention by up to 82% and overall productivity by 70%. Imagine the impact of that on your revenue.
  • Coach your managers to begin connecting with new employees as soon as they start. Research carried out by Robert Half found that nine out of 10 employees are willing to walk out on their new jobs within the first three months and 28% do. The one-on-one conversation provides the opportunity for new employees to talk about concerns they have and for their manager to fix those things before it drives them out the door.
  • Focus on creating a corporate culture of respect. This doesn’t mean giving employees everything they want. Rather, it means listening to them and caring about their points of view. Communicate policies and decisions in a way that makes sense to employees rather than taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach. Remember, feeling like you’re heard, understood, and respected is so important to employees.

By focusing on creating a culture of respect in your workplace, you’ll make it the kind of place where people want to come to work, stay at work, and encourage others to join them. With the cost of turnover so very high, it’s worth making it an organizational priority.