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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Kemp

Burnout Work Culture

Scenario: You've hired a new employee to your team, and they resign within 30-90 days. Has this happened to you? The bigger question is: Why did this happen? There could be various reasons, ranging from ineffective hiring practices (i.e., not probing the right competencies around skill, culture, relationships, and mindset; ignoring red flags due to urgency to fill a role; the list can go on.) to harmful cultural behaviors. So how can you avoid this problem? 


Many organizations claim the recruiting process, training the interview committee, or the person they interviewed not being the person who was hired as the issue (the "trickery"). Though this may be valid, the real question is how transparent were you about your organizational norms, the great and not-so-great habits, to ensure alignment? These norms range from staff engagement (communications, leveraging the team's abilities and expertise) to leadership styles (micromanagement, dictatorship, democratic, laissez-faire, etc.). In addition to insight from exit interviews, which should be managed by an external partner for candor, honest reflections on internal practices hold organizations accountable for continuous improvement in the same way expected for employees' growth and self-awareness. 

To be clear, when we mention organizations, we're referring to leadership. Leaders set the tone for workplace culture and collective impact, and it's their responsibility to lead, champion, and develop their team effectively. Since the pandemic, people have been more intentional about choosing organizations that value their expertise, align with their philosophy, invest in their development, and make them feel psychologically safe, all influenced by engagements with their managers. If something off-kilter compromises productivity, health, identities, and integrity, be prepared to see that person walk or run away from the organization. 

So, outside of auditing hiring practices, how do you know if cultural norms or leadership are causing employee attrition? Here are our top 3 indicators with solutions. 

Sink or swim practices. This occurs when a person is thrown into a role or situation without resources, guidance, or knowledge to prepare them for success. This cultural norm is displayed when observing how an employee adjusts and responds to an issue to 'prove' their resilience and expertise, left to 'figure things out' due to leadership capacity, or viewed as a professional rite of passage. But would you trust someone who knows there is a hole in the pavement in your walking direction that you don't see, only to observe you fall? How does this act support that person to get acclimated and immerse themselves into the work culture to create value? If there are challenges an employee should be aware of that impact their experience and performance, the leadership role is to be a resource by providing context and guidance for their team to make informed decisions that will hopefully lead to a successful outcome. Discussing these nuances during onboarding and planning meetings helps to build a positive rapport that leads to trust and loyalty. While some roles may require agility and the ability to navigate ambiguity, front-loading information shows mutual investment for team success. 

Overworked and unhealthy boundaries. Ambitious organizational goals are great, but if there are expectations for employees to work relentlessly, it shows a lack of boundaries and respect for your team's time and indicates poor capacity planning. Practices like working during lunch or after work hours will cause staff burnout, low performance, and possibly health issues (stress, anxiety, etc.). There may be peak seasons within the role that requires more commitment, but this should be balanced out for team recovery and not be a daily practice. Leaders should reevaluate goals based on current team capacity and infrastructure to determine if they are realistic performance expectations, redefine priorities, and course correct milestones and timelines accordingly. If you are a leader motivated to work after work hours, schedule your emails for the following day so your team does not feel compelled to respond in the evening based on your work habits. 

Undervalued at the workplace. 54% of employees left organizations because they felt unappreciated, and this number increases for women and employees of color (McKinsey & Company, 2021). If employee contributions are undermined, there is no acknowledgment of accomplishments for motivation, or worse, leadership plagiary ("Hidden Figures" still exists), employees will disengage and explore other opportunities. It's essential for leaders to consistently pause and reflect on their team roles and performance to celebrate small and large wins within the organization and support them throughout their work journey with empathy and compassion. However, ethically, plagiarism is just wrong and toxic leadership.   

The reasons why people leave an organization should not assumed. It's a combination of understanding employee experiences and assessing cultural practices to illuminate and own the root cause. Then actively work toward improvements for collective change. Addressing these challenges can create a workplace culture that values and retains employees.

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