More than 15 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs since April 2021.

Companies are responding with well-intentioned quick fixes, such as increasing pay or financial benefits or offering retention or “thank you” bonuses. However, employees are still leaving.

If your employees are breaking up with you, the first step is to understand why.

In a recent McKinsey study, employers were asked why their team members had quit. They cited compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health. These issues did matter to employees, just not as employers thought they did. The top three reasons employees cited in the study for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent), or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent). Employees were more likely to prioritize relational factors, whereas employers were more likely to focus on transactional ones.

If the past 18 months of pandemic life have taught us anything, it’s that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work. They want to know that their work matters. They want social and interpersonal connections with their manager and colleagues and to be valued by their managers and organizations. They want a fulfilling, engaging employee experience with autonomy and flexibility.

A “thank you” bonus reminds your employees that their real needs aren’t being met. This isn’t a gesture of appreciation; it’s a transaction.

To retain your talent, it’s imperative that you focus on the relational aspects of work — connection and fulfillment.

Promote and Support Social Well-Being and Connection

Human beings are social animals with a fundamental need for connection. Social needs are treated the same way in the brain as the need for food and water. This is why positive relationships and interactions are considered primal needs. We need each other for encouragement, development and support.

One in four Americans reports experiencing loneliness during most of their day, according to Gallup. Social isolation and chronic loneliness have a devastating effect on physical and mental health. Lisa Berkman, a Gallup senior scientist and Harvard professor, and her colleagues studied the relationship between social and community ties and mortality rates across nine years. People who lacked community and social ties had mortality risks two times greater than people with many social contacts.

Social time is vital for your team members’ mental and physical health. However, social needs and preferences vary. Some people thrive with constant connectivity, interaction, parties, events, in meeting new people, and participating in group discussions. Others prefer smaller groups, need periods of isolation to get work done, and thrive on one-on-one conversations.

To determine the best way to support your team members’ social well-being, discuss the following questions with your team:

  • How can we celebrate each other’s personal and professional success in our work environment? What does this look like in person and remotely?
  • How can we show our support for each other and support each other’s social and emotional well-being? What does this look like in person and remotely?
  • How can we create regular opportunities for us to socialize as a team both in person and virtually?
  • How can we support each other’s need for personal time to socialize and connect with friends and family?

In-person, on-site work offers your team multiple formal and informal opportunities for interpersonal interaction and socialization. However, the challenge with hybrid work is that it requires you to be intentional in helping your team maximize relational return whether they’re in the office or working remotely.

Create an Environment That Encourages Connection

  • Plan social events at the office so your team can engage with each other. One of our clients, an investment management firm, has instituted a Friday office breakfast gathering. Breakfast is brought into the office and everyone gathers in the breakroom to enjoy coffee, bagels and catching up with each other.
  • Improve connectivity and help employees expand their networks by offering coffee gift cards to team members who sign up for one-on-one virtual “coffee chats” with employees they don’t know.
  • Send out themed “staycation” packages to employees. For example, a movie night with popcorn and a gift card; a game night with family-oriented games, chips and salsa; or a virtual “spa day” with face masks, chocolate and tea.
  • Re-evaluate your team meetings. How can these provide opportunities for your team to connect, share, discuss work and topics unrelated to work and the office? Consider allocating time at each meeting for personal interaction or have meetings dedicated only to social- or project-related interactions.

Equip Employees to Clarify What They Need to Be Fulfilled

It takes two — an employer and an employee — to create a fulfilling, reciprocally constructive, and meaningful professional relationship. A team member’s engagement and satisfaction at work is a shared accountability between the employer and the employee. This isn’t possible if employees are unclear on what they need to be satisfied in their jobs.

Ask your team members to identify what they need in the each of the five essentials for professional fulfillment:

  • Admit: What do you need to admit your need for acknowledgment and praise? How do you want to be recognized and appreciated in exchange for your contributions?
  • Align: What are your strengths and unique skills? How can you align and leverage them to support the accomplishment of the company’s strategic goals?
  • Develop: What skills and knowledge do you want to develop that will motivate and inspire you and help you advance in your career and within the organization?
  • Cultivate: What relationships do you want to cultivate and develop with team members and leaders so you can advance your career and enjoy your work? What are your connection and social well-being needs? How can you get these met both professionally and personally?
  • Design: How do you define meaning? What aspects of your work are significant and purposeful for you? What do you want more or less of in your job so that it’s meaningful to you?

Once your employees have clarified what they need to be gratified at work, invite them to participate in a conversation about how to create a mutually beneficial way to work that supports both of you in achieving your goals, elevating the employee experience, and creating a culture where everyone can thrive.

The massive exodus of talent from companies is real. It will continue and it may get worse before it gets better. However, you have a powerful opportunity to re-recruit, re-engage, and re-energize your team members when you focus on the relational aspects of work.

We’re human beings, not human doings.