The Big Quit

The Big Quit: How to Stop Your Employees from Walking Out

In the mid-19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” which called on oppressed workers everywhere to unite and rise up against the chains of capitalism. In school, we all learned about this as one of the most powerful and enduring political doctrines in the world, one that gave rise to a form of government still followed by dozens of nations.

But maybe Marx and Engels were just two dudes who were fed up with their jobs.

The worker revolt they predicted nearly 170 years ago is arguably happening right now. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps a detailed tally of employees who quit their jobs, and the numbers are telling. Despite a still-uncertain economy, people are quitting on their employers at a rate of more than 2 million each month. Sure, plenty of those people are moving on to other positions. But a decent chunk of them are quitting because they are mad as hell and just can’t take it anymore, to paraphrase the famous movie line from the popular 1970’s movie Network.


The reasons behind this rising tide of dissatisfaction are numerous and very personal, yet they weave together in a common theme. Employees are tired of dealing with horrible bosses, a crushing workload, a lack of work-life balance, poor job satisfaction and generally feeling like a cog in the wheel of a machine that would far too easily grind them up and replace them with cheaper, faster typing monkeys that won’t complain about having to work unscheduled double-shifts. Corporations have lost respect for their employees and take them for granted. They do not make them feel valued or accomplished or part of something bigger and better than themselves. The opportunities for promotion are few, the competition is fierce, the rewards are scarce and the paychecks are smaller than ever. It’s no wonder we’re seeing more people quit, sometimes without a plan.

That aching in the gut is especially prevalent among millennials. Research shows a greater number of quits among Gen X & Y because they have a growing lack of trust in corporations and are willing to give up more lucrative salaries for a greater quality of life. Contributing editor Alan Hall wrote about the quit epidemic in Forbes magazine, saying it’s definitely a cause for concern.

He wrote:

“Corporate employees are looking for a better working environment. Is this alarming? It should be to managers who need a talented team to accomplish corporate goals. The answer to employees saying, ‘I’m outta here!’ is for management to thoughtfully and sincerely establish an employee-focused culture.”

Chances are you know somebody who fits this “quitter” profile. In my life, it’s me. I was nicely employed in corporate America, putting my college education to good use and making enough money that my parents didn’t have to worry about me moving back in with them. I worked my butt off. And all I got for that was more work, and less and less job satisfaction. I created my own company because I believed that I had value to contribute to the world in a way that could not be done at my corporate job.

Now, I spend my days trying to make companies better in an effort to prevent the Big Quit. I want to help fix a broken system and stem the brain drain of really good people leaving their jobs. I believe workplaces can be innovative environments where employees can thrive. Can it happen overnight? Of course not. In some workplaces, a Marxist-style revolution truly does have to take place before things don’t suck. But I believe every manager has the ability to make a difference for their employees, and here are five simple steps to start:

  1. Empower employees to self-assemble and select their own teams to deliver a project. The benefits of this seem obvious, but let me spell it out: Employees who are empowered are employees who are invested. And those employees are happier.
  2. Reframe their work by presenting the challenge or problem you need solved, instead of the method by which to solve it. In other words, allow your employees to explore their own innovative ideas to solve challenges and bring them to the table.
  3. Learn the difference between coaching employees and dictating to them. Your relationship as a manager should be more of a peer role than a parental one.
  4. Simplify the approval process. Do what you can to abandon the labor-intensive, gatekeeper system by involving fewer steps — and fewer higher managers. Save time and aggravation with these words: pitch, present and progress forward.
  5. Eliminate meeting marathons by requiring an agenda and a focused, specific ask or outcome of the meeting. Try to remember that meetings are not sacred cows (see my May blog about the pitfalls of too much collaboration). Here’s my simple rule about meetings: If you can cover it in an email without any misunderstandings, hurt feelings or confusion, then you probably don’t need a meeting!

I plan on writing more about this topic in the near future. But for now, I’m going to share with you a brilliant quote I found in Inc. magazine from contributing editor Jeff Hayden, who extolled the virtues of quitting a crappy job:

“Life’s too short to go home every day feeling unfulfilled. Life’s too short to work for a terrible boss. Life’s too short to go home every day feeling taken for granted, feeling taken less than seriously, or feeling taken advantage of. Life’s too short not to be as happy as you can be.”

Amen to that.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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