The expensive link between leaders and employee retention

Mioara-Adriana Bolozan
 Coach, Trainer, Facilitator

State of the global workplace 2021 report by Gallup shows that 80% of the world working population is not “actively engaged” and is “disengaged” compared with the remaining 20% of population which is “thriving”. Same report indicates the cost of this disengagement amounts to US$8.1 trillion at the global scale, which is approximately 10% of accumulated GDP corresponding to the productivity lost. Of course these figures are global and at the country level there are different percentages of productivity loss, while inside each country the situation varies for each enterprise.

Burnout and disengagement often go together - both can be causing the other - which has been lately brought to public attention in the quest of raising the awareness for being a necessity, not luxury, of integrating life and work in a balanced manner. The long pandemic has put a special spotlight on this topic.

Unfortunately burnout is quite a widespread phenomena and frankly quite old.

Two recent studies, one on the US labor market and another on the Romanian market, show that well above 70% of the working population suffered at least one burnout episode during the past 5 years and 50% of these cases are rooted in just 2 causes: 

Bad corporate culture and toxic leadership. 

You would probably agree that these are the two faces of the same coin. The third cause is the high volume of work, which accounts for approximately 30%. One of the outcomes of this cause for disengagement leads to a massive job search (approx 50% of employees), and the outcome of THAT is very obvious: low quality and volume of work and cooperation that leads to lost productivity.

Let’s have  a simplified look at all three causes: toxic leadership, bad culture and high volume of work. One may say that it is an expectation mismatch in behaviours and demands between leaders and employees. Going further on this path, there is a solution at hand: communication and alignment between leaders and employees. 

The only problem - and the big real problem - is that making communication effective and efficient has one antecedent, which must be abundant: trust. 

Toxic leadership and bad culture are rarely intentional outcomes. I have never heard about, nor can  imagine anyone setting a goal each morning: “Today is my day! I will display the most toxic behaviour this company has ever seen and I am capable of it!” Still, often that is exactly the behaviour at display.

In the majority of cases, toxic leadership is the by-product of immature leadership when the company demands more than the leader is able (at his/her stage of leadership development) to offer. And some meet this challenge through an extra burst of ego, in order to compensate for their own insecurities.  

What is to be done?  

So our answer is trivially simple: the quality of leadership must be changed into a more positive and inclusive one, where any employee can contribute at their best. The place to start is personal leadership (leading oneself), as a consistent and disciplined journey of sense making and meaning-given for all our life experience. That is why reflection is such an important exercise in leadership. That is why, “me time” is not a nice to have item, but a must for each one of us. 

Another apparently simple step to take which prevents a long trial and error process in growing leadership “muscles” is to have the right coach and a strategic support network. People that hold you accountable for your own growth plan. 

It requires hard work and commitment. And leadership is a journey that lasts a lifetime. Therefore, learning never stops because a human being is imperfect and can always grow. 

But we are just starting to become aware of the alternative of this hard work on ourselves. It is huge and impacts too many people. I would say that 70% of employees experiencing burnout in the past 5 years is a strong call to action! From everyone.