The 3 worst mistakes bosses can make during a recession that lead employees to quit

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In regular times, good bosses can be hard to find. Turbulent economic conditions — like a potentially looming recession — can make it so much worse.

Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at management consulting company Robert Half, has a few thoughts about it. He's a frequent speaker and writer on hiring, workplace and career management topics, and has spent 35 years in the recruiting field advising thousands of business leaders and job seekers.

McDonald says good bosses are more important during rocky economic times than any other moment, because their ability to lead through uncertainty helps retain valuable employees. Similarly, bad bosses are most problematic during recession-like conditions because their actions can push colleagues out the door.

Right now, this isn't a hypothetical: Americans are leaving the U.S. workforce in large swaths amid recession fears, burnout and job dissatisfaction with their jobs.

"If leaders want to retain the services of their employees, they have to understand that it's still a good market for employees to go look for a job. Employees are still leaving," McDonald tells CNBC Make It.

More than half of Americans appear to agree. In a July survey from Momentive and The New York Times, 52% of respondents said "now is a good time to look for a new job."

During times like these, here are the three biggest mistakes bosses make that lead employees to quit, according to McDonald:

1. Not praising employees enough

Employees want to feel like they're a valued part of their organization during tough economic times, when stress-levels are high and workplace morale is low, McDonald says.

Bosses who fail to praise and recognize their employees will leave them wondering "What more do I have to do? What am I doing wrong?" says McDonald. They'll feel increasingly disconnected from the organization, which is one of the last things you want at a time when productivity and engagement is crucial, he adds.

Data backs up McDonald's stance: Research from Gallup in 2016 shows that workers who feel under-recognized or praised are twice as likely to quit their organization over the next 12 months.

2. Not being an honest communicator

A lot of Americans are probably feeling confused and fearful about their employment status right about now. A good boss can help by honestly communicating the state of their organization, and what they're doing to move forward through obstacles like falling revenue or high expenses.

Otherwise, McDonald says, employees will ask: "Where are we? Am I going to be laid off? Are we seeing a revenue decline?" The longer those emotions stew, the harder it'll be for anyone to work at a high level.

Research suggests that poor communication can push employees to quit: A 2019 survey by business communication company Dynamic Signal found that 63% of more than 1,000 U.S. employees wanted to quit their jobs because of ineffective company communication.

"Being in constant communication with employees is No. 1. Leaders need to remember how important that is when facing economic headwinds," McDonald says.

3. Only focusing on what's going wrong

Honesty matters — but it's a mistake to only focus on what's going wrong and not what's going right, McDonald says: "When you're always talking about the negative, that's not what's going to create hope."

Bosses that zero in on the bad will only stoke more fear, stress and worry across their organization. McDonald says a workplace environment with too much fear can make employees "jumpy, and then they start running."

In other words, just another reason for people to join the Great Resignation. 

Check out:

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