How to win the war on talent is the million dollar+ question that many leaders are trying to answer right now.

We’ve been talking about the Great Resignation for months. Many are still convinced it’s a myth rather than reality. But myth or not, the fear of its fallout is certainly very real.

Recently, 100 CEOs met at the Harvard Business School and shared the things that keep them awake at night… 1/3 of them said that the retention and attraction of talent is the biggest challenge they’re currently facing (The Rise of the “Corporate Nomad” ( And given the huge cost of turnover (in more ways than just money), there may be good reason why this worry is occupying leaders’ minds.

The concern is certainly warranted for the organisations, who don’t have a well-defined and executed employee value proposition (EVP) that meets the needs and desires of their workers. Yet for those that are offering and delivering their employers what they want, there shouldn’t be a need to fear. In fact, these are the groups that we should see benefiting the most from the talent war!

If you don’t know what your workers want then finding out is the first step in creating a culture that retains and attracts the best talent. This is something that I’ve been supporting a lot of businesses with lately and will be discussing at my next webinar

Are people really leaving their employers?

Yes based on the conversations I’ve been having with leaders. They’re telling me they’re losing good talent and they have vacancies they can’t fill.

But when it comes to these sorts of questions, I always consider it best to look at the facts.

Although a whole range of numbers have been thrown around suggesting how many people intend to leave their roles, the Great Resignation has been slow to gain pace here in Australia. In fact, many workers were reluctant to change jobs during the early stages of the pandemic because they wanted the security of their work whilst so much uncertainty prevailed. 

Yet recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that an extra 100,000 people are currently looking to switch jobs compared to this time three years ago. What’s more, unemployment rates are low so more people are in work these days. This has caused a labour shortage, which is giving employees more leverage in looking for promotions or pay rises perhaps internal or external to their current workplace.

So perhaps the trend with the catchy name has finally arrived on our shores… But we have to question whether it’s here for the long-term? Or are any future increases in quit-rates that we may see just making up for lost time?

Why are people leaving?

There are a number of different reasons.

A recent article in the Weekend Australian highlighted the top five factors contributing to a person’s decision to leave, including:

  1. Retirement – older workers have left their jobs at a faster rate than normal
  2. Relocation – people are reluctant to move locations for roles
  3. Reconsideration – the pandemic has caused many to rethink the role of work in their lives particularly those feeling burntout, and women, some of whom have had to leave their professions for care-giving obligations
  4. Reshuffling – people are moving to open roles in the same organisation or industry
  5. Reluctance – some workers are uncomfortable about returning to the office for fear of being exposed to illness.

And there’s no doubt that the list goes on…

The reasons will vary depending on the person, and typically they would have been evident long before the resignation occurs.

Don’t we know what our workers want?

As humans, we think we’re pretty good mind readers. So there will be plenty of people out there that think they know what it is that their people desire.

Interestingly however, there’s often some discrepancy between what leaders think their employees want and what they actually want.

According to a recent report by PwC, leaders believed that the number one thing that their workers wanted was an alignment of values between themselves as an individual and the organisation. Yet employees ranked this 16th on their list of wants. The number one desire they actually had was to work with good people. Yet the leaders ranked this as 13th on the list.

So what are workers looking for from their employers?

Despite the vast changes that have occurred over the past two years, what has remained consistent is an employee’s want to be engaged with their work and their organisation.

Additionally, workers are seeking:

  • Connection with peers – in safe and positive working environments so they feel as though they belong, and have leaders that care. 
  • Training and development – people want to grow so they can do well in their roles, and development opportunities have long been a driver of employee retention. 
  • Autonomy – being able and empowered to do their jobs how they want. This includes flexibility to meet personal and organisational needs.
  • Wellbeing – stress and burnout are on the rise. Workers want organisations that adopt strategies to support them to feel good and function well.
  • Purpose – having a sense of meaning at work and feeling as though the work matters. This often occurs when the purpose of the individual and organisation overlap.

Salary will be a driver for some but more as a means to achieve the above.

Have these priorities changed?

I’d say no.

I see each of the above relating to our basic psychological needs that we’ve long known (and some have been striving to satisfy). 

Back in the 1980s, the Self-Determination Theory was developed by Ryan and Deci, two American psychologists. Their theory suggests that there are certain factors necessary for our psychological wellbeing, just as Maslow suggested that food, water and shelter are important for our physiological needs.

These elements include:

  • Competence – we want to build our knowledge and develop our skills relating to certain tasks
  • Autonomy – we want to feel we have control and choice over our actions and direction in life
  • Relatedness – we want to belong and feel good connections with others.

In my experience, when leaders can satisfy these three needs of their workers, they have teams that are more self-determined, motivated, engaged, they perform better and have greater wellbeing.

What action needs to be taken?

Great Resignation or not, organisations need to be thinking about what their workers want. And perhaps the fear that this trend is finally here will give employers a sense of urgency to take action.

Consideration needs to be given to the redesign or design of EVPs to ensure they’re meeting the needs of workers. This task is no longer the responsibility of HR (well it never was), this is something that all leaders must manage.

The organisations that have an appealing EVP will be the ones that win the talent war as their best people won’t want to leave and others will want to join too!