Why your leaders will leave in 2022 — and what you can do about it
A leadership exodus is coming. Learn why senior leaders – and female senior leaders, in particular – are leaving and what actions your organization can take now to retain your leadership talent.
Before you finish writing your playbook for the year ahead, there’s something you should know about your leaders.
They’re burned out.
And many of them are planning to leave.
When we spoke to nearly 14,000 participants as part of our 2022 Employee Experience Trends report, leaders’ intention to leave emerged as the top employee experience trend for the year ahead.
In 2022, we expect this leadership exodus to not only influence business decisions (from top to bottom), but to completely reshape the employee experience.
Here’s what our research revealed about who’s most at risk for leaving, the reasons behind the leadership exodus, plus the actions your organization can take – today – to retain your leadership talent.
Expect an exodus of leaders
When the pandemic hit, leaders across the business – perhaps none more so than those in HR and IT – became a life raft of sorts, providing employees with steadfast emotional and technological support in an ocean of uncertainty.
But as the pandemic persisted, employees’ expectations shifted – and keeping up with employee demands is causing many leaders to burn out and leave.
According to our research, the length of time people intend to stay at their company has shortened year over year, especially among senior leadership:
- Executives’ intent to stay dropped 12 points
- Managers dropped 11 points
- Individual contributors dropped 7 points
Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t surprising as they lend to the phenomenon known as The Great Resignation happening right now.
Women will be the first out the door
Beneath the sheen of The Great Resignation are female senior leaders who are burned out from – and leaving after – two years of exhausting emotional work.
According to our research, overall women’s intent to stay dropped 8 percentage points since last year. Meanwhile, female leaders of leaders’ intent to stay dropped even more significantly – by 21 points – meaning they’re 3x more likely to leave than last year.
“Leaders are burnt out by trying to keep up with the hyper-communication, increased people focus, and demand for their time.
"The data shows us that female leader are the most likely to leave. It’s important that they’re given the right support. Work with leaders to reassess targets. Work with them to understand what kind of support they need, rather than piling on more pressure. Make sure they know it’s a collaborative process and that you’re hearing their concerns and will take action to help. Including the right training, talent, and technology.” - Tara Belliard, XM Scientist
Why are leaders burned out?
It’s no longer just about engagement and results.
Leaders are now expected to take on additional responsibilities, including:
- Driving diversity and equitable outcomes for all at work
- Fostering a sense of belonging
- Supporting social justice issues
- Understanding and supporting employees’ mental health
- Conducting tough conversations about inclusion and well-being
- Balancing achieving business results with creating a great employee experience to attract and retain talent
All of this work, while critical, is physically and emotionally exhausting. And as a result, many leaders are planning to leave (if they haven’t already).
“People have been digging deep over these past two years working at home. For many people, the things we have taken for granted such as good health and job stability are now under threat. Leaders are trying to get back to some sense of normality but struggling to get the balance right.” - Antonio Pangallo, Senior EX Product Scientist
But that’s not the only reason why: Leaders are also burned out from a workplace culture that doesn't support, sustain, or restore their well-being.
We know well-being and resilience have a huge impact on mental health, engagement, and productivity.
Unfortunately, many organizations are choosing to address burnout (and attrition) with benefits, while nice to have, aren’t doing the hard work at the root of the problem – addressing a toxic culture that rewards workplace martyrdom over self-care (and self-awareness).
What can organizations do to retain their senior leaders?
Organizations need to answer the question: How do we support our leaders to prevent the burnout – and ultimately attrition – of leaders in our organization?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leader retention, here are a few ways to take action – and better support your leaders:
- Give your leaders the resources – both the technology and talent – to better listen to and act on employee feedback.
- Provide training and toolkits about how to navigate being more inclusive in the workplace.
- Make it easier for leaders to access support materials. Be clear as to where leaders can go to access the tools they need.
- Work with leaders to reassess targets and productivity. They need time to regroup and the flexibility to give their team some breathing space.
In 2022, there needs to be a cultural shift in how organizations support leaders. Central to this will be organizations realizing that leaders need resources (time, talent, and technology) to balance achieving business results with creating a great employee experience to attract and retain talent – and the leaders of tomorrow.
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