Should I Go or Should I Stay?


Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a medium size IT company’s 10th anniversary celebration. When I met with the company owners to discuss objectives and possible messaging, they shared frankly their biggest desire was to convince their employees not to leave the company just to make a little bit more money with other IT companies. While that sounded like encouraging people to work harder for less money, they wanted me to help reinforce the message that the company owners cared about the staff and believed they could best reach their potential by staying. Most of the staff were young professionals who could easily perceive other opportunities as being more attractive.


Interestingly, the company owners didn’t see the solution as matching the higher pay rates being offered or only tying bonuses to higher performance levels. They genuinely wanted to lead a company full of employees who enjoyed working for an organization with a great culture. They wisely recognized that simply trying to match compensation levels would not provide a long-term competitive advantage.


Recent research also suggests that culture may be the most important element in reducing turnover. Korn Ferry, the global placement agency, in response to the unprecedented numbers of employees leaving companies, which has been termed “The Great Resignation” in the US, surveyed professionals to discover the biggest reason. Only 22% said salary and benefits drove their decision, while a third said the biggest reason to leave was company culture. 28% cited “a bad boss” as the cause.


The survey also highlighted that once employees start looking for a new job, companies face an uphill climb to retain them. According to the survey, only 22% said their boss convinced them to stay by promising to address an unpleasant work environment. Offering more money, even a lot more money, did little to persuade staff members to stay. 35% said no amount of money would convince them to stay while nearly a quarter of respondents said they would only stay if their salary increased by at least 50%.


Obviously, compensation matters but it is helpful to remember that job dissatisfaction is almost always broader than that. We also must face the reality that motivation must continually be fueled. Pay increases typically provide a short term burst but don’t address, or can’t really solve, poor relationships with managers or a lack of purpose and progress. The Great Resignation happening in the US is also driven by a desire for improved flexibility and work-life balance. Companies have been challenged to consider how technology has enabled increased options for remote work while altering traditional ways to reinforce a strong sense of community.


How we interact with our colleagues also shapes our satisfaction with the organization’s culture. Higher levels of positive interactions typically lead to a stronger sense of belonging. Oracle’s research revealed 42% of employees said their peers had the strongest influence on their level of engagement. Leaders must consider how to create high levels of meaningful interaction when team members may not have the same opportunities for small talk before and after meetings or random encounters in the break rooms and hallways.


It has never been more challenging to create and maintain an organizational culture that reflects the right values and results in a flourishing work environment. Organizational leaders can be forgiven for looking for compensation packages or productivity solutions that persuade valuable team members to stay with the company at least a little bit longer. However, it is the investment in the organizational culture that can preemptively lay the foundation for a desirable workplace and lower turnover. In a volatile environment, policies and tools will come and go as companies grapple with the best way to meet the latest challenge. In the absence of the right culture, each change will provide a new opportunity to ask the question, “Is it better somewhere else?” A commitment to the right culture enables everyone to take responsibility to meet the next challenge, not start looking for the next job.


My presentation for the IT company highlighted the founders’ vision, the progress that had been achieved, and the opportunities to be a part of something special. I challenged the audience to consider what mattered most in pursuing a meaningful career. In similar speaking engagements over the years, I have also found myself sharing a comparable message that unfortunately everyone in the audience recognized as sharply contrasting with their reality. Fortunately, in this case, the audience recognized that while the leadership team had work to do to create the desired environment, they genuinely wanted to build the right culture. Five years later, the company was voted one of the twenty best businesses to work for in the country and ten years later they had tripled in staff size. The company’s leadership has consistently invested in an organizational culture that emphasizes relationships and results.