A lot of people wanted to sound off after I wrote a story last month suggesting that bad bosses might be one big reason businesses are struggling to find and keep workers. Here’s a quick sampling:
“Worked for a company for 21 years before I quit this last September. Lack of advancement and the constant cycling of under-qualified, poorly trained upper management left me with no other options.”
“I left my job in March 2021 because I didn’t like it, was tired of the belligerence of the owner and was ready to do something more meaningful.”
“I decided not to go into work one day and sought mental health support instead. The bad bosses demanded I return to work immediately. I insisted I needed to take care of myself first, and was asked to resign. What a blessing that turned out to be!”
“The people in positions of authority were very poor at supporting their employees. Sometimes I felt very mistreated and ignored. So, I left at the beginning of COVID for a wonderful job tutoring children for the same pay! I was never so appreciated and rewarded for my service.”
There are several explanations for the “Great Resignation” and the difficulty businesses have filling a near-record 10.6 million job openings: Ongoing fear of COVID, parental demands, inflexible work schedules, unfulfilling work. There’s also growing evidence companies themselves are driving workers away. New research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review finds that “toxic culture is driving the Great Resignation.” Many workers complain about low pay or stingy benefits, but the MIT researchers found that toxic culture was 10 times more likely to drive workers away than low pay. We found the same thing in dozens of anecdotal reports from recent job quitters. Hardly any said they quit because of low pay. Most cited cultural factors such as corporate penny-pinching, self-interested bosses and managerial incompetence.
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Matthew Storey of Oneonta, New York quit his job as a part-time technician at an electronics company last April because “I was frustrated by their odd indifference to my effort to develop new ideas and products. Management was squeezing every penny out of sales. It was poorly run. Nepotism. Then the pandemic.” While looking for new work, he noted that job listings are often “an employer’s perfect wish list,” with requirements as complicated as a legal contract. At age 70, Storey also feels “age discrimination is rampant.” He has used the time off to develop ad-blocking technology for streaming audio that he thinks will be a moneymaker.
'More fundamental things at play here'
Some workers hear their companies complain about the labor shortage and wonder why they don’t try to do something about it. FedEx (FDX), for instance, said in its latest earning report that difficult labor conditions shaved $470 million off its quarterly profit. Yet a former FedEx driver named Dave told us, “When I read about their staffing problems, it makes me chuckle. They don’t do anything to make new employees want to stay. No initial reviews, no coaching or opportunity to tell them what you want from the job. Just zombie land. There are some really good people there. The frontline guys bust their a**es. But the managers are overburdened and don’t have enough time to connect with their staff.”
Dave left FedEx last year and now delivers tractor-trailer loads to Whole Foods (AMZN), and says he enjoys the job. FedEx, in a statement, said the company is "dedicated to providing the best possible service to our customers during these uncertain times. The culture at FedEx is one with a focus on people, and we welcome and encourage our team members to share any concerns or feedback with leadership.”
Some corporate leaders acknowledge flagging morale, while pointing out that businesses have been preoccupied with navigating the COVID pandemic.
“Many of us leading companies have been very focused on getting through the pandemic, and maybe we haven’t been taking as much time and care around our employees and our talent and their development,” Rob Falzon, vice chair of Prudential Financial, told Yahoo Finance in December. “Compensation always motivates people, but I think there are more fundamental things at play here.”
Corporate ghosting of job applicants
Job applicants have some grievances, too. Last October, Erik Schuman of southern California applied for a job as an operations manager with rental-car firm Hertz (HTZ) in Las Vegas, where he has a sister and wouldn't mind working. He says he didn't hear anything afterward, so about three weeks later he emailed the human-resources staffer who had arranged the interview. No response.
“My gripe is not that I did not get hired,” Schuman said in an email. “My gripe is companies ghosting me. How a company treats potential employees is how they treat actual employees, and how they treat potential or actual customers.”
Hertz told us their records show somebody did reach out to Schuman, yet corporate ghosting has become so commonplace that it now warrants research cited in Harvard Business Review.
Some workers who grow roots at one company are surprised to learn there are much better opportunities elsewhere. A tech worker in the South told us he stuck with one job he didn’t like for several years because of generous benefits.
“I also had a manager,” he says, “who just didn't seem to be satisfied with anything. His perception of my work was that I wasn’t doing well because I wasn't perfect.” The tech worker got depressed and sought treatment. As he recovered, he says, “I realized, why am I putting up with this crap?”
He reached out to a company that supplied software to his employer, and they were interested in hiring him. “They were impressed with my skill set and recognized that what I did was important,” he said. So he quit and took the new job—for 20% more money.
“A lot of people have left that company in the last year for similar reasons,” the tech worker says. “And all of us have gotten pay increases.”
Robert Bonilla of Gilbert, AZ, has advice for people thinking about leaving a lousy job. “Don’t allow someone else to dictate your worth,” he says. “Keep your head on a swivel in an industry where there is no loyalty from a corporate perspective. There are plenty of places that will value what you offer.”
Bonilla worked for a mortgage lender involved in a recent merger, and as a sales manager he felt obligated to help his team make the transition. The company seemed less concerned, however, so late last year, he quit. “I resigned due to work-life balance and management only caring about numbers,” he says. Bonilla took a new job with Ethos Home Loans, which he says “has been a great move with better pay. I’m learning daily, and I already got a raise.” Maybe some bosses get it, after all.
Rick Newman is a columnist and author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.