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Sturt & Nordstrom: Talent crisis? Solved!

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Here are some sobering facts about the state of the American workforce. Only about one-third of employees are happy at work, according to Gallup. Nearly half (43 percent) of employees cite a “lack of recognition” as the reason they want to leave — and 74 percent of people would consider finding a new job (half of them are already actively looking). A recent study found that half of employees who quit did so in order to “get away from their manager.” Reading all the research and headlines on the topic, it’s clear that we have a talent crisis.

What becomes even clearer, however, is that the talent crisis isn’t due to a lack of smart, ambitious or innovative people. It’s not rooted in a mismatch of employee skills and employer opportunities. In fact, it’s a crisis that we, as leaders, could solve ourselves, because the crisis stems from organizations and their cultures, not from individual contributors.

Of course, the talent crisis isn’t uniquely American. It is a global problem. Recent research presented in HR Magazine shows that 48 percent of U.K. employees will be looking for new jobs in 2016. Apparently no matter what side of the big pond you’re on, the reasons remain largely the same: 43 percent of employees blame poor management and 39 percent say they do not feel valued. The India Times reports nearly half of employees in India feel excessive pressure at work — and employees are more likely to quit when they lack strong relationships with their team and leader. A survey of 9,700 employees from eight of the world’s largest economies (the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China and Japan) shows that employees leave their jobs because supervisors don’t allow flexible work (65 percent) and the culture doesn’t encourage teamwork (71 percent).

All this research points to one conclusion: when employees want to leave, it’s because they’re not being taken care of. They don’t feel like they’re a part of something bigger. They don’t know that they’re delivering a difference someone values. They don’t understand their role in the team and they don’t feel like their contributions matter.

But there’s a simple way to address those problems. It’s the biggest step you can take to solving the talent crisis within your organization: empower your leaders, teams and individuals to recognize one another’s work and accomplishments.

Supply them with tools to make appreciation easy, intuitive and fun. Teach them how to deliver a meaningful recognition experience, and why it matters. Research shows that across industries, borders and generations, employees around the world value recognition — and need more of it. Build a culture of appreciation and you’ll see the top reasons for employee turnover fall off the table.

But that’s not all that appreciation delivers. When you have leaders and teams committed to praising effort and celebrating results, you gain more trust and loyalty from your employees. Your teams grow stronger and your employees are more engaged and innovative. Our research shows that the majority of employees are motivated by recognition, not pay raises or perks. And employees say genuine recognition is the best motivator for them to deliver breathtaking, groundbreaking differences for your customers and your organization.

So make it a resolution — whether you’re based in Munich, Manhattan or Mumbai — to commit to recognition. Start by learning the basics, and read up on the difference meaningful appreciation can make. Make it a priority and a commitment from your executive team to your individual contributors. You’ll be investing in your employees, your teams and your company’s bottom line. And you’ll be well on your way to solving the global talent crisis, one team at a time.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times best-seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at