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Employee retention starts with managers

The difference between what employees want vs. what employers think they want is a problem. Managers must adapt their approach to keep their people during The Great Resignation by focusing on the human aspects of work.
5 min read

The Great Resignation that began in 2021 is still going strong. Employees around the world are leaving their jobs, at businesses both large and small, in record numbers.

The latest iteration of this trend is “quiet quitting,” what Harvard Business Review calls “a new name for an old behavior.” If employees are not engaged, their research shows, it’s likely more about “bad bosses, not bad employees.”

A 2022 Wiley study of quiet quitting introduces the concept like this:

“Originating on the social media platform TikTok, the concept of Quiet Quitting was that burned out employees declared that they were no longer going to go to above and beyond for organizations that have not prioritized people in the years since the pandemic and subsequently, The Great Resignation. Many employees who decide to Quiet Quit have been tasked with doing the jobs of multiple people and working extra hours with less communication from organizational leadership, often with no added compensation or benefits to match the increased workload and stress. In fact, Quiet Quitting is a bit of a misnomer, as individuals are not quitting their jobs, but instead are embracing more healthy boundaries around their work lives as a result of burnout.”

Why are so many people quitting their jobs?

For the study mentioned above, Wiley found some alarming results: 97 percent of people they surveyed are experiencing some level of work-related stress, and 86 percent report feelings of burnout.

As more studies come out about this movement, it’s clear that many people are making their decisions based on the human aspects of work more so than things like pay and benefits. The shift we’re experiencing is not simply about people resigning from jobs, but about “a radical rethinking of our relationship to work.”

McKinsey & Company research from September 2021 shows how much employees are craving a human investment in the workplace. They are specifically looking for purpose, social connection, and feeling valued.

The McKinsey & Company study surveyed people in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Forty percent of respondents said they were considering leaving their job in the next three to six months. Strikingly, 36 percent of people are quitting without having another job lined up.

A big takeaway from the McKinsey & Company research is the gap between why employers think people are leaving, and why people actually leave.

Employees report that the biggest factors informing their decision to leave are:

  1. whether they feel valued by the organization
  2. whether they feel valued by their manager
  3. whether they have a sense of belonging

But employers believe the biggest factors driving resignations at their companies are:

  1. people looking for a better job
  2. inadequate compensation
  3. poor health

In fact, employers listed “valued by manager” 18th out of the 23 possible factors.

As the report says, these responses highlight “how employees were far more likely to prioritize relational factors, whereas employers were more likely to focus on transactional ones.”

Managers matter

Statistics related to managers and their impact on the well-being of employees

Another recent survey, by Wiley, reveals the role managers play in retaining employees.

Wiley surveyed nearly 5,000 employees—from individual contributors to C-suite executives—to get a better understanding of the employee/manager relationship during this time of uncertainty. They present their findings in the ebook How to Stop The Great Resignation (PDF).

The survey responses show that managers are a key driver of the employee experience. Ninety-six percent of individual contributors agree that their manager has an impact on their well-being at work. Forty-two percent state they have left a job in the past because of their manager.

Of course, managers are also quitting in record numbers, and indeed 62 percent of respondents reported a change in their manager in the past two years.

The importance of managers to the employee experience, combined with the high turnover in management, calls for an emphasis on management training. This training must address the relational skills employees value.

Improving managers’ effectiveness with DiSC

An assessment like Everything DiSC Management can help managers uncover their preferences, strengths, and unconscious assumptions. Both new and long-standing managers need to understand how their behavioral styles affect their teams and when they might need to find a new approach.

Everything DiSC Management map showing priorities
Everything DiSC Management priorities

Self-awareness for D-style managers

Behavioral preferences of D-style managers: Direct, Firm, Strong-willedD-style managers tend to be direct, firm, and strong-willed. They may run into trouble when driven by unconscious assumptions like these:

  • I’m the manager, so people need to adapt to me.
  • People are getting paid—they don’t need morale building.
  • If we get results, that’s what matters.

When a D-style manager leans too hard on this mindset, it can have unintended consequences for their team, such as:

  • burnout
  • hiding mistakes
  • mistrust of the organization

Developing D-style managers involves helping them see the value of empathy in leadership. Once they see that not everyone shares their assumptions, they’ll get better results.

Self-awareness for i-style managers

Behavioral preferences of i-style managers: Outgoing, Enthusiastic, Optimistici-style managers are often outgoing and optimistic people. Like everyone, their actions are driven by unconscious assumptions that may cause tension on their team. These include thoughts like:

  • People who are quiet and reserved need to be brought out of their shells.
  • Most people are fine improvising, and everyone craves excitement.
  • If I give critical feedback, our relationship will never recover.

When an i-style manager is operating on these beliefs, the team may think:

  • Work feels chaotic.
  • Problems get glossed over.
  • There’s a lot of big talk that goes nowhere.

i-style managers will be more effective when they realize just how much more stability, predictability, and control others might need compared to them.

Self-awareness for S-style managers

Behaviors preferences of i-style managers: Even-tempered, Accommodating, Patient

S-style managers are likely even-tempered, patient, and accommodating. Unconscious assumptions that can cause trouble on the team include:

  • It’s my job to keep my team happy at all times.
  • I need buy-in from everyone before I finalize a decision.
  • It’s better to give people what they want than keep fighting.

This can lead to a team on which:

  • Problematic behavior doesn’t get called out.
  • There’s no sense of urgency.
  • Decisions take way too long.

To become better managers, S-style individuals usually need to get more comfortable with tension and risk-taking.

Self-awareness for C-style managers

C-style managers' behavioral preferences: Analytical, Reserved, Precise

C-style managers tend to be analytical, reserved, and precise. They can get into trouble when relying on unconscious assumptions like:

  • If I make a mistake, I’ll lose my credibility.
  • Emotions have no place in decision-making.
  • If people haven’t gotten negative feedback, they will assume they’re doing a good job.

If the C-style manager isn’t aware of these tendencies, their team may feel:

  • bogged down in overanalysis
  • a lack of shared excitement for their work
  • like their hard work isn’t appreciated

C-style managers can work on embracing the humanity of their direct reports on a deeper level. Praise, excitement, optimism, camaraderie, and risk-taking may not come naturally to a C-style manager, but these things all have a place on a healthy team.

Help managers adapt their approach and keep their people

cover of e-book: How to Stop the Great ResignationLearn more about the different management styles and how they affect employee retention in the ebook How to Stop The Great Resignation (PDF).

Everything DiSC Management is now available on the Catalyst™ learning platform, helping learners adapt their approach to each direct report, improving their management effectiveness in real time.


Avery Harris-Gray

SC style, NY based. Writing about Everything DiSC and The Five Behaviors since 2020. Leadership style: humble. EQ mindset: composed. I always have snacks to share.

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