4 Potential Concerns Causing High Employee Turnover in 2021 according to Gallup and others

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Do you know what your team's biggest concerns are right now? Are they telling you about issues with enough time to do something about them? 

We've analyzed four 2021 reports from Gallup, the MHA, Achievers and Emtrain on the biggest challenges likely to cause high employee turnover in the United States right now. They all show strikingly similar patterns that could be bothering your team, too.

Even if your team isn't reaching out to you for help, you should definitely pay attention to the four areas discussed below. All of them pose long-term risks that may lead your people to quit unless you address them head on. 

Today's post will give you concrete suggestions on how to overcome them and keep your team happy and motivated as we enter the post-COVID era.

The 4 Biggest Warning Signs That Could be Affecting Your Team (And What to Do About Them)

The data from Gallup, the MHA, Achievers and Emtrain shows that the following topics are on the mind of the majority of the workforce in the United States:

Let's dive deeper into the stats and what you need to do to stop these issues from snowballing.

high employee turnover is a big issue

1. Pay close attention to workplace stress and burnout

According to Gallup, workers in the U.S. reported the highest rate of daily stress in the world during 2020. This was also confirmed in the Mind the Workplace Report from Mental Health America.

The biggest issues? Burnout, not being able to unplug, and mental exhaustion.

being emotionally drained is likely to contribute to high employee turnover in 2021

According to MHA's report, most employees are experiencing the early signs of burnout. Nearly 83 percent of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work, with over 40 percent stating they strongly agreed with this statement.

The report adds that nearly 1 in 4 employees experienced the more severe signs of burnout. This includes reduced productivity and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs. 

If we compare that to Gallup's findings, we can see there's a trend of building up daily negative emotions during work:

these emotions can lead to high employee turnover in 2021

Feeling a bit of stress at work is normal, but when you combine it with daily worries, anger and sadness, you're getting dangerously close to learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is a term coined by psychology researcher Martin Seligman. Seligman showed that animals (including humans) were prone to giving up all hope when put in an environment where negative outcomes were beyond their control.

Learned Helplessness helps us understand that if you put a person in an environment where bad things happen to them, and they have no control to stop them, depression and disengagement will inevitably follow.

The helplessness created by the pandemic is very likely the reason behind employees in the US feeling mentally drained and demoralized. Despite COVID's imminent end, some of the causes of burnout are still there. Here's what you can do to help your team avoid it.

Helping your team gain more control over their lives

Engaged employees don't necessarily mean happy employees. Gallup has shown that to avoid burnout, your team members have to thrive in their lives as well.

high employee turnover is likely to happen if your team is not thriving

Their findings show that the lowest amounts of daily stress were reported by employees feeling both engaged and happy with their lives.

Of course, finding this balance becomes complicated when you factor in the challenges brought on by remote work. Data from Qualtrics and SAP shows that:

"Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated, 67% of people report higher stress, 57% are feeling greater anxiety, and 53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted.”

There are plenty of things you can do to help people avoid burnout and find more balance in their lives. The most obvious one is to ensure they're taking breaks regularly.

Teach them to block off time on their calendar so they don't don't spend entire days working. Encourage them to work on both the physical and mental aspects of their health. This includes activities such as:

  • Exercising or taking walks
  • Talking to their friends
  • Mindfulness exercises, and others.

By teaching your team to decompress, and talking about how to overcome the challenges unique to their situation in your 1:1s, you can help them avoid burnout for the long term.

If you want more detailed recommendations on how to help your people unplug, check out the following links:

a lack of support is a reason for high employee turnover

2. No support from managers, irregular and unstructured meetings are causing people to feel underappreciated

It's hard to quantify the value of good one on ones. Yet, any good leader can recognize how crucial they are. Effective, intentional 1:1 meetings are the best way of ensuring your team's well-being and easing their concerns.

Despite that, the MHA, Achievers and Emtrain reports have all confirmed managers don't have 1 on 1s with their teams on a regular basis and usually don't have agendas for them. 

not checking in with your team can lead to high employee turnover

MHA's study has confirmed that regularly talking to a manager to change stressful things about work was strongly correlated with the healthiest overall workplaces. Unfortunately, their numbers show that less than 50% of managers consistently check in on their team members

These findings match with Emtrain's report - only 5 out of 10 managers show enough empathy to their people and are curious about their lives.

show empathy and understanding or you'll suffer from high employee turnover

Emtrain's data also shows that only 40% of managers consistently use agendas for meetings. All of this can lead your team to feel unsupported, isolated, and purposeless. 

And since these issues can't be fixed overnight, the danger of people becoming completely alienated and deciding to leave is very real.

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Provide support through regular, meaningful 1:1s

It's unrealistic to expect 1:1 meetings to solve all your team's problems. However, they can lead to improvements in a number of problem areas, including:

  • Poor communication
  • Lack of feedback
  • Career growth and development stalling
  • Unclear purpose of work
  • Lack of trust and confidence in you
  • Bottled up frustrations
  • Interpersonal and inter-team conflicts

If you can set aside a bit of time before each meeting and prepare an agenda, you'll see improvements in each of these areas over time. You'll also be able to build momentum and continuity with your team, as well as get them to be more engaged.

Agendas will let them know what to expect of you and vice versa. They will also help you drive accountability from meeting to meeting.

However, the support you give your team as a manager shouldn't end there.

You also need to work on building rapport

One of the most underrated, but most important aspects of management is taking the time to build rapport and trust with each person on your team. When you build rapport, it helps you in less obvious, but equally important ways. 

Building rapport will make your team more motivated, more likely to listen to feedback, and more loyal to you. To build rapport, talk to them regularly and show them you genuinely care about their lives beyond work. 

Write things down so you remember the most important things about them like their birthdays, anniversaries, children's names, and other details. Listen to their concerns and offer your guidance when they open up to you.

For more benefits of building rapport and ways of building it, you can check out the following links:

Camille Fournier knows how important Rapport is with your team and you should ask questions in your skip level meeting

3. Employee engagement is still shockingly low

According to Gallup and the Achievers report, employee engagement is still very low among employees in the United States, and it dropped during the pandemic.

The main reasons behind this are:

high employee turnover is likely caused by low employee engagement

The challenges of remote management have added a new wrinkle to an already difficult situation. Work and life are more blended than ever. Physical distance makes it more difficult to turn around a disengaged employee.

Unfortunately, those problems aren't going away after COVID ends. With so many companies planning to go at least partially remote, there's a sea of challenges to address to make sure teams are more motivated.

engagement affects high employee turnover

We know how important engagement is for people's performance from Gallup's previous reports. If the worrying trend of low engagement has affected your company, you can expect much higher turnover rates, lower productivity, and worse performances.

Here's what you can do to counter that regardless of whether you're leading in-office, hybrid, or fully remote teams.

The keys to turning around disengaged employees

According to Gallup's report, more than 75% of employees in the United States are disengaged. Now, they can't all be bad employees. In fact, Gallup has found that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is caused by a person's manager.

As a leader, you have a responsibility to motivate your team in one on ones. The best way to do that is to:

  1. Make a list of what's not working, find recurring patterns, and address them in your upcoming 1:1s. Do this instead of having a special meeting to address the issue (which often puts pressure on people). Make engagement issues a part of your ongoing conversations and it'll feel less awkward for them.
  1. Start the 1 on 1 with what they want to discuss. Don't coach people before you hear them out. Someone's poor performance could be due to problems you know nothing about. Keep that in mind before you give them feedback. If they don't open up to you on their own, ask questions to uncover what's really bothering them.
  1. Transition to your feedback and coaching. When you hear them out and understand the context, you can transition to talking about the area that they need to improve in. Then, create concrete next steps. Talking about an issue is not enough to overcome it. Help them understand why their work was below standards and what they need to change going forward.

It's not easy to turn around an underperforming employee on your team, but these steps can increase your chance of doing so. And want a more detailed guide for improving your struggling team members, check out these links:

high employee turnover can happen in waves

4. Why you should worry about the ‘turnover tsunami'

According to reports from Achievers and the MHA, more than half of employees in the United States plan to look for a new job in 2021 - up from 35% last year. Just think about how big that is for a second... 

high employee turnover is likely to happen in 2021

People gave a variety of reasons for wanting to move on to new opportunities, and the most common ones include:

  • Disengagement and burnout
  • Wanting a promotion or raise
  • More recognition for their work
more than 50% of people are looking for new jobs in 2021 and high employee turnover is a problem

The Achievers study also found that 46 percent of respondents feel less connected to their company, which is a logical consequence of the pandemic. 42 percent say company culture has a significantly less important role than it did before COVID-19.

Unless you put much more thought into handling these challenges, you could be affected by the so called ‘turnover tsunami' as well. 

With people feeling less connected to their companies than ever, experiencing burnout, and not receiving praise regularly, it's no wonder they're actively seeking other opportunities. 

The consequences of someone from your team leaving could be costly. According to a study published by the Society for Human Resource Management, when an employee leaves, it costs an average of 6-9 months of your former employee's salary to identify and onboard their replacement. And that's just for 1 employee, let alone if you were to lose a wave of them.

Prevent the ‘turnover tsunami' on your team

A wave of employee turnover can set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention delay critical projects for you. To convince your team members to stay at your company if you fear a wave is coming (or already have one), you need to start with changing your mindset.

Here's how you can do that:

  • Assume everyone is leaving and interviewing - this will help you prepare for that scenario as well as encourage you to think about preventing it.
  • Accept that what you're doing now isn't necessarily right and be open to suggestions on how you can improve as a manager.
  • Have open, honest, lengthy one-on-ones and be more intentional about uncovering your people's concerns.
  • Listen and show empathy and try to build rapport and a mutual understanding with your team.
  • Follow through on your promises and take action on their feedback as often as possible.

The key to stopping departures in your company from happening is to understand why waves happen in the first place. Use your one on ones to uncover the root cause of your team's concerns and consistently act on what you learn. It's the only way to fight the turnover tsunami in the long term.

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Avoid the following pitfalls of managing distributed teams

Be especially careful when managing remote or hybrid teams, as you need to put in a lot of effort to keep everyone engaged under different circumstances. Avoid the following mistakes:

  • Information Inequality - Your distributed people can't overhear conversations across the office. Keep them in the loop by talking about the things they may have missed in your 1:1s with each of them. 
  • Social Disconnect - Put yourself in your remote workers' shoes: how would you feel if everyone went out for drinks or a meal without you? Try to have at least one team activity you can all do together per month (we've written about them here).
  • No Growth - Remote staff can often be overlooked for a promotion due to their lack of visibility. Multiple studies have shown that a lack of growth is the #1 reason for people leaving their company, so be sure you discuss career goals with them as much as you do anyone who has returned to your offices.

Retaining your team requires you to successfully juggle the challenges of remote management, acknowledge things can happen beyond your control, and detect issues as early as you can.

There are a lot of mistakes you need to avoid to this. We've prepared these links to help you avoid them:


As a manager, you're in a position to greatly improve the lives of your people. This doesn't just mean increasing their engagement at work, but thinking about their well-being, too.

The best way to ensure your team's happiness and improve your relationship with them is to start having regular 1:1s. This is the case regardless of whether you're fully remote, partially remote, or office based.

Talk to your team regularly and you'll start to understand their concerns and how to react to them before it's too late.

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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