Company Culture: Why Employees Stay -- and Why They Go
By: Jesse Sostrin, author of Beyond the Job Description: How Managers and Employees Can Navigate the True Demands of the Job (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.)
People do not leave organizations to seek out other opportunities because of communication, leadership, or culture. They leave because of what communication, leadership, and culture make or do not make in their experience at work.
The primary lens through which most people seem to evaluate their ability to remain in a job with their organization is the quality of their direct relationship with their supervisor. If the patterns are productive and reasonably conducive to a satisfactory working life, then people typically stay. When they get past the point of tolerable, people who have a choice will often leave that organization.
Moving beyond the fundamental supervisor-employee relationship, another prominent area that people evaluate is the character and impact of the company’s culture.
In other words, what do those ongoing patterns of communication and interaction produce in their everyday experiences?
Are these outcomes consistent with their values? Do they bring out the best in them, or do they foster qualities that do not match their expectations for how work gets done and people are treated?
In exit interviews -- those final conversations between an employee who is leaving an organization and the human resources department -- a new level of truth telling often occurs.
With the mind-set of “what can they really do to me, I’ve already quit!” people often provide honest assessments about communication, leadership, and culture including the real reasons for the resignations. When they are candid people may say things like:
- “I don’t agree with how things are done here, the company culture of this organization doesn’t match my values.”
- I don’t feel supported here; I’m asked to do the job of three people and that just isn’t sustainable.”
- “I love our mission and the people that I work with . . . but the way decisions are made and the amount of procedural ‘stuff’ we have to go through is just too much.”
- “It doesn’t seem like the left-hand knows what the right-hand is doing. There is just no effective communication about the big picture.”
- “ I don’t feel like I can trust people here and so I need to move on to a healthier place to work.”
- “The culture here is just too toxic; I can’t stay here any longer.”
While some of these statements may seem extreme, I have heard them many times in my experience as a manager and human resources executive.
When it really comes down to it, this vast thing that we call culture is just a reflection of the stories we tell about our experience on the job. Too often these experiences and challenges are described using the language of “them” vs. “us.” Any realistic effort to change a culture requires the dissolution of the line between “us” and “them.”
As individuals, we are the culture of our organizations. One of the fundamental mandates of a leader is to help people on their teams to embrace the fact that they are partners in the process of creating and sustaining culture.
And, if we want better organizations and organizational cultures that create the conditions where the mutual agenda can be achieved, then we have to make them by first changing our own experience.
Excerpted from Beyond the Job Description by Jesse Sostrin, published 2014 and reproduced with the permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
Jesse Sostrin is author of Beyond the Job Description: How Managers and Employees Can Navigate the True Demands of the Job (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.) He is a sought after consultant, writer and speaker working in the intersection of individual and organizational success. He is the Founder and President of Sostrin Consulting, a leadership and organization development firm that maintains a diverse portfolio of clients and partners, including the University of Arizona, Hyatt and Walmart. He is the author of Re-Making Communication at Work.