Something insidious is happening in the cubicles and hallways of America’s big and midsized companies.

Employees who have attained a chunk of the America dream — a steady paycheck, benefits and a rung on the upwardly mobile ladder — are risking an uncertain job market and quitting their jobs in astonishing numbers (more than 2 million a month). Why?

On the surface, they will tell you that they are in search of personal and professional fulfillment they can’t find in their current positions. Underneath this trend, however, is a deeper motivation. Employees are discovering that their values are misaligned with the companies they work for and that one of their highest values, a deepening appreciation for themselves as integrated human beings, has almost no value to their employers.

Over the last five years, this schism has grown so much that the number of people intending to quit and start their own business has grown by 50%.

Women are the canary in the coal mine

Perhaps the most telling demographic trend indicating a values schism between employees and their employers can be found among women, who begin as more than half the entry-level workforce but are less than 20% of the leadership in corporate America. Most analysts view this exodus of high-potential women as a slam into the traditional glass ceiling, but that explanation misses a more important reality: Many women today don’t experience the glass ceiling as something “done to them” but as a choice. They know they are talented, but they believe their employers don’t value their skills and strengths.

The persistence of the 23% gender pay gap would be reason enough for them to feel undervalued, but there are other barriers to contend with, so they choose to go where they will be valued. The best place to do this is in their own companies, which is why women are starting more new businesses than men and represent the fastest-growing segment of $10 million+ entrepreneurs in the country.

Talking to these women makes it clear: When an employee values herself more than she feels valued by her employer, then leaving to put that value to work for herself is a no-brainer.

Despite the dramatic numbers of women jumping ship, it turns out that this is not a gender-specific trend. The growth among female entrepreneurs who seek to live and work where their value is appreciated is exceeded only by the entrepreneurial intentions of many of the children these women have raised. 54% of millennials are or hope to go out on their own, compared with 21% of their boomer parents, according to a 2011 study.

If you run these numbers on your company, today and into the future, I hope it gives you some concern and a desire to better understand why employees want to leave you with the expense of replacing them. In my post next month, we’ll look more deeply at what’s going on and give you some clues as to what you can do about it.

Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Consulting, reframing leadership to integrate the emotional intelligence lessons learned from studying women leaders. She is also a personal brand coach and a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.

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One Response to “The values schism and how it’s draining the brains from corporate America”

  1. Cathy Haustein says:

    Feeling respected is an important part of happiness.