This blog is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially reshaped the workplace, especially in terms of working remotely. This reshaping has induced many changes. For instance, employee shortage is prevalent: more than 47 million employees in the U.S. quit their jobs in 2021. This situation (known as the Great Resignation) is unprecedented.

Recent studies have found the main reasons for the Great Resignation to be employees feeling dissatisfied or facing problematic situations in the workplace. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the top three reasons that approximately 60% of respondents gave for leaving their jobs were: feeling disrespected; having no opportunities for advancement; and low pay. Furthermore, other researchers, analyzing more than 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews, revealed that toxic corporate culture (including failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion and workers feeling disrespected) was the strongest predictor of the Great Resignation. Thus, employees are likely to have left their jobs due to dissatisfying or problematic situations at work.

It is worth noting that ‘dissatisfying or problematic situations’ are not limited to dissatisfaction with wages and could also include things that employees commonly face in their daily work routines. Employees could feel dissatisfied with different types of conflicts related to tasks (e.g., disagreeing about strategies), relationships with coworkers and managers (e.g., differences in values), and procedural and administrative aspects of their work (e.g., disputes over responsibilities). Since many companies—including several tech behemoths—have asked their employees to return to the office, workplace conflicts have escalated, as employees report that they are not yet ready to return and are dissatisfied with such requests. Consequently, the Great Resignation could continue for a while.

My recent study (“Understanding the influence of authentic leadership and employee-organization relationships on employee voice behaviors in response to dissatisfying events at work”) provides tips for leaders struggling to find solutions to employee retention. My colleagues and I conducted a nationwide survey of 644 full-time employees in the U.S. to discover how important leadership is to managing employees’ behavioral reactions to dissatisfying events in their organizations. We found that leadership is critical, as it can help employees develop favorable relationships with their companies, which leads employees to react positively to the dissatisfying situation. To foster this, the leaders should act in a way that is consistent with their personal values and beliefs and encourage their employees to provide diverse viewpoints. Employees then trust and deeply respect their leaders because the leaders are recognized as authentic. In other words, our study confirmed that authentic leaders could facilitate favorable relationships between employees and the company and, in turn, empower employees to offer constructive ideas and opinions to management and to believe in the company’s ability to solve the problems of dissatisfying situations. More importantly, employees who develop favorable relationships with their company through authentic leaders consider neither changing their jobs nor leaving the company—only staying and continuing to work there.

This study indicates that leaders should understand and demonstrate authentic leadership. For instance, leaders can: monitor and be aware of their behavior and its impacts on others; openly share information with employees and clearly express their ideas and thoughts to them; show consistency between their beliefs and actions; and encourage employees and others to provide different or opposing points of view. Such efforts will help leaders and their organizations weather the Great Resignation by increasing employees’ positive behavioral reactions (and reducing their negative ones) to dissatisfying situations in the workplace.

Young Kim (Ph.D., Louisiana State University) is an assistant professor and teaches courses in strategic communication in the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University. His research focuses on how organizations can benefit from the empowering work of strategic communication, from achieving short-term problem-solving effects (effective crisis management) to building long-term high-quality relationships (relationship management) in the internal and external contexts of the organization. He has published works in the leading academic journals, including Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Management Communication Quarterly, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, and Journal of Communication Management. One of his works was named “2016 Top Downloaded Article” in Journal of Public Relations Research. Also, Dr. Kim has been a recipient of “the 2019 Emerald Literati Awards (the 2019 Outstanding Paper in Journal of Communication Management)” and more than 10 Top Paper awards at national and international conferences.

Fuller, J., & Kerr, W. (2022, March 22). The great resignation didn’t start with the pandemic. Harvard Business Review.

Goldberg, E. (2022, June 9). A Full Return to the Office? Does ‘Never’ Work for You? The New York Time.

Kim, Y., Lee, E., Kang, M., & Yang, S.-U. (2022). Understanding the influence of authentic leadership and employee-organization relationships on employee voice behaviors in response to dissatisfying events at work. Management Communication Quarterly. Advance online publication. 1-35.

Parker, K., & Horowitz, J. M. (2022, March 9). Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. Pew Research Center.

Sull, D., Sull, C., & Zweig, B. (2022, January 11). Toxic culture is driving the great resignation. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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