Four million resignations in the US in July 2021 and 10.9 million jobs unfilled. One leader of an international US business says 55% of his workers refusing to come back to work. Similar problems have appeared in Ireland and the UK.

If you’re a leader sitting there wondering about why people are resigning or leaving your organization, consider these three things. Check in with yourself.

Your issues with control

Why are so many leaders insisting people come back to the office? Why so much resistance to allowing the continuation of remote work? A leader who insists on an unnecessary office return has issues with trust. In some cases, it’s a practical requirement of getting the work done, but there are many cases where the pandemic has proved that remote work is workable and yet these people are being asked to return to the office. That’s adding back the necessity and stress for child-care and of course the horror of the commute.

When your people know that they can get their job done as well as or even better than they used to while in the office, and you continue to insist that they return full time to the office, this makes no sense to them. So it’s a control issue, with presenteeism your focus, do these people feel that you trust them? Do you?

I have worked with leaders who nearly faint at the idea of being out of control. And funnily enough it’s really only the illusion of control. Leaders who get to grip with the idea that being out of control is not the end of the world, succeed as they allow agility and flexibility and innovation to prosper in their organization. But many leaders are not aware that they need control to feel safe. How do you feel about control?

Your assumption people should be happy to have a job

It wasn’t so long ago that there was a celebration when somebody got a job in a bank or a similar large institution. They were set for life. In the modern environment the idea of spending 25 years working for one company is often seen as a “boomer” thing. Certainly the later generations with their high tech skills and their ability to work very well in groups and remotely, realize that loyalty to organizations is a thing of the past. They consider this truth to be self-evident having watched the layoffs, corruption, and environmental terrorism taking place over the last two decades.

Success in this modern world and in the future relies on winning the war for talent. That talent resides in the hands of the people that actually do the work for the organization, and is a key organizational capability. A harsh truth is that without the ability to attract and retain the available talent your organization will not survive. So, the idea that people should be happy to have a job, particularly the key talent in your organization, is long past its sell-by-date. Leaders need to stop thinking like that and so stop acting like that.

Whether the leadership style you use is current or inherited from a different world.

So where did you learn your leadership? Did you learn it over the last 20 years and base it on a model which was developed and used in the last century, or are you up to speed with the fast moving, ever changing environment we all now operate in. In this environment leadership is always leadership of change. Here we are stuck in the middle of a huge change driven by global events. Some are trying to go back to the way things were. To put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Innovation, agility, flexibility and adaptability are words that have been in free flow in management and leadership theory for the last 10 years. So now here we all are, and when all of those capabilities are needed our tendency to is to resist change, to go to the old ways of doing things or to go with what we know. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

There’s a lot going on, and many of us feel like we’re trying to right the boat and get it up and sailing again and then get it moving. But the boat has changed and the wind is coming from a different direction. You need to recognize this and deal with the ambiguity, while being agile enough to try new things as you feel your way forward in this new environment.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA
Leadership and Teamwork Specialist and
Founder and Director at Adeo Consulting Ltd
Author of Lead From You