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The Consequences of Employee Exodus and How Improving Leadership Can Help

behind interior design career growth employee management how to manage employees leadership leading a team leading interior designers managing interior designers personal development professional development Feb 02, 2022
How leadership affects employee satisfaction

Splashed across every news media outlet over the past 8 months, we see people leaving their jobs at record numbers. Referred to as the Great Resignation of 2021, employees are leaving what would be considered stable jobs to pursue new opportunities. Media outlets have discussed the many reasons, though I am not sure anyone has narrowed down the exact cause. Many are making assumptions.

Job migration is not a new occurrence within the design community. Nor is it new for other industries, so why is it being discussed so heavily, and how is it impacting our industry’s future. Is there a larger meaning that should be addressed?

In this article, we will conquer why designers leave their jobs, how this affects design businesses, and what needs to be addressed to stabilize the community.


Why Employees Leave Jobs

Obviously, there is a deep lack of satisfaction for employees as a record number of people have left their current jobs over the past year. But, why? Why is this come to light now, after such a shaky previous year where many people were laid off or unable to work. One would think people are happy to have jobs.

That is a big misconception. Rather, during 2020, many Americans began taking stock of their lives, including work. Workers realized that being unhappy at work impacts more than just their work life. It also affects their health and overall happiness. As a result, we have seen a shift in individuals wanting improved mental health and happiness over a paycheck.

But, it isn’t just unhappiness. It can also be directly connected to poor leadership. In 2019, it was determined that 57% of people quit a job specifically because of a manager. It wasn’t the company or its mission but rather a specific person.

I would suspect that number is even higher today. With the pandemic, employees recognize that working for someone or some company that treats them poorly isn’t worth the money they are getting paid.

Prior to the pandemic, the A & D industry saw a large movement of people leaving one job for another, often over pay. Now, the shift has changed to pay and job satisfaction. What does this mean for the design industry? More importantly, what does this mean to small businesses, and how can we flatten that curve?


How Employees Leaving Jobs Impacts Small Businesses


Small businesses are often hurt more significantly than larger companies for several reasons. Larger companies can often shoulder employee changes better than smaller companies. Some reasons include:

  • Increased Training Costs and Downtime
  • Further Competition
  • Thinning Talent Pool
  • Increase Salary Expenses
  • Client Migration Risk

Recognizing the costs of employee disengagement is often more than you may think. Not only are there costs associated with training a new person, but you also are losing someone who knows your current clients and projects. Downtime is inevitable to get the new person up to speed and get projects back on track. Additionally, you may need to rely on other employees to pick up the workload. This creates unnecessary stress on the remaining employees and the business.  

These employees leave with valuable insights that could help you grow your business. But, instead, they are becoming your competition. Clients often migrate with the employee because they have a stronger bond with that person rather than the business. This is not to say that the principal should be involved with day-to-day communications with the client. But it is important to understand the impact on a client when an employee leaves.

Another problem the industry is seeing is an increase in salary demands. However, project design costs remain the same and are sometimes being cut due to the increased construction and building materials cost. This leaves the small business owner in a pinch. You can’t necessarily go back to the client to ask for more money, yet you may not be able to hire the top talent to complete the projects. It is quite a problem.  


What Can Be Done to Reduce Employee Migration


Employees are choosing to leave jobs due to a lack of flexibility, quality of work, and leadership. Creating happier employees starts with leadership. Leadership directly impacts employees' satisfaction and loyalty. Being a good leader requires more than just knowing how to complete a job or project. It requires a high level of compassion, a desire to teach, and an enormous amount of patience, understanding, and honesty.

A manager isn’t just a title. I see and hear of many younger designers wanting a managerial position. This is often due to a pay increase, as well as an increase in power. However, these young professionals do not realize that it also comes with increased responsibility and stress.

Ironically, a strong leader has nothing to do with a title or pay raise. It also has nothing to do with power. If we know that leadership is the problem, it is important to recognize what employees actually want from leaders.


What Employees Want from Leadership


First and foremost, every employee wants and deserves a fair market salary or pay structure. The design industry is seeing a push for higher salaries that was needed at many firms, to be quite frank. Unfortunately, average salaries as an industry have not grown at the same rate as other industries, which is a problem for everyone.

When we pay a designer a fair and marketable salary, the motivations change drastically. Employees become less distracted by paying bills and become more attentive to their actual job.

Research and experience have shown that there are six primary things an employee wants:

  1. Honest Communication and Feedback
  2. Appreciate for a Job Well Done
  3. Clear Goals & Purposes
  4. Try, Fail, & Safe Learning Environment
  5. Empowerment and Trust
  6. Employee-Centric Culture

Unfortunately, we are doing a pretty insignificant job on developing our emerging professionals as an industry. Like me, many designers were thrown into the mix without much guidance. Management often assumes designers know what to do and will go about it. However, to be fully effective at a job, everyone needs guidance and moral support.

It is unfair to employees to not give them clear goals and guidelines and not give critical feedback. As we discussed in “The Biggest Secret to Employee Engagement is Consistent Feedback,” employees not only want but also need honest feedback to help them grow their careers. Nothing is worse than thinking you are doing a good job and then finding out you are fired for low-quality work.

It is unjustifiable to expect someone to know what they don’t know. This is why leadership is so crucial in helping grow careers. As an employee’s career grows, so do those around them, elevating the entire team's abilities.

Recently I started researching why designers choose to go out on their own. Not surprisingly, most said it was to have more control over designing. It seems the thought was that if I am on my own, I get to do all the designing. But, unfortunately, running a business isn't that simple.

Furthermore, this got me thinking that we are not trusting our employees to make good decisions. Employees want some level of autonomy. As an industry, if we improve leadership and professional development for employees, then many interior designers may be perfectly satisfied with their current roles. Giving over some or all of the design decisions allows you, the principal, to grow the firm. Growing the firm with loyal employees means increased profitability.

Ironically, many independent designers I spoke with said business ownership was much more time-consuming than they had thought. An argument could be made that if they had better growth opportunities and worked for a great leader, they may have been happier where they were. But, as you know, being a small business owner is hard work.  


Are Leaders are Born or Developed?

Over dinner a few weeks ago, my husband and I got it to a debate on whether leaders are born or developed. I have known him since I was 15 years old. I can tell you that he was a born leader. However, I truly believe being a Marine, a leader at work, and just pure personal growth has made him an even better leader. His argument was that we are either born leaders or not.

With that said, there are leadership traits in all of us. Even though leadership traits may be inherent, great leaders are developed. Having a better understanding of how leaders impact employee engagement is critical to success.

The biggest thing managers can do to become better leaders is to drop the superiority attitude. Unfortunately, many managers feel they are above those they lead. That is a falsehood that needs to be dropped immediately. As mentioned above, leaders are there to give guidance and help younger designers grow their careers. As those you lead grow, it pushes managers to grow as well.

Next, getting to know our employees personally will help you give them the guidance they need. That relationship also helps when hard conversations are needed. It no longer becomes a personal attack; rather, it is a conversation between two people who respect each other. This doesn’t mean that you need to be best friends, but you definitely should understand how that employee thinks and feels. When you have this information, it allows you to be a better leader.

Opportunities to get to know your employees don’t have to be difficult. Simply asking someone how they are feeling or asking about their children goes a long way. It is also good to see your employees in a more social setting. That should include social gatherings outside of work, where we leave the work behind. I have heard of small business owners inviting employees and their spouses over for dinner on occasion so they could get to know both parties better. We spend an enormous amount of time with employees that it seems silly not to know a little about them as individuals.

Finally, employees need a safe zone to try new ideas and sometimes fail without fear of being chastised or fired. To be a great designer, you have to take risks. Employees need to take calculated risks as well. Providing employees with an environment that encourages risk-taking and supports the occasional failure will increase loyalty and engagement.

Final Thoughts

Leadership and managing people can be incredibly hard. We are not perfect people, nor are our employees. By actively growing our leadership skills, it allows all of us to be better. Unfortunately, we don’t teach leadership and management in design school. Therefore, we have several free articles on leadership and professional development on our website.

I encourage you to join our community of interior designers. Every week, we send our community educational information to help them grow their design careers and businesses. Join today.

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