Solutions Driven

Why Employees Leave, And Why Cold Brew Won’t Solve Employee Engagement With Brian Aquart

What’s scarier than interviewing a fellow podcaster? Leaving your job perhaps?

In episode 31 of The Talent Intelligence Podcast, we’re joined by host of the “Why I Left” podcast and VP of Workforce and Community Education at Northwell Health.

Brian’s own podcast started during the pandemic and focuses on why people leave their roles – so obviously, we discussed that during the episode. From diagnosing special needs through working from home and strengthening relationships with your family, this episode is full of interesting workplace tales.

Listen as host Alan McFadden and Brian discuss:

  • Why engagement issues can’t be solved with a ping pong table and some coffee
  • How the pandemic changed our workplace patterns
  • Why it’s hard to get out of the people space once you’re in it
  • And much more

Listen to the podcast:

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Watch the Podcast:


Alan Mcfadden: Hi! Good afternoon, everybody, and we’ll come along to the latest episode of the account. Diligent podcast. My name is Alan Mcfadden. I’ll be your host today and today i’m delighted to have Brian a quick with me. Who is the Vice President of community, and what false over at Northville Health based in the States, but he also hosts his own podcast cost. No pressure Brian, when you’ve got to interview somebody who does a podcast, we’ll see how I get on. How you doing? 

Brian Aquart: I’m doing very well. Thank you for having me on the show. 

Alan Mcfadden: Really really appreciate it, Brian. Obviously, I get a lot of people on in the HR/TA space that can be quite influential, and there’s been 2 or 3 people recommended me to speak to you. You know. I think that is key.But you’ve got a unique story, background, and experience. So, I’m super excited about interviewing you today, but I think the biggest thing I always start with this. Could you just give my listeners just a little bit of background in your career, and some of the roles you’ve had up to now. 

Brian Aquart: Yeah, absolutely. Well, one, Alan, thank you for having me on the show. I’m actually a big fan of Elena as we keep in touch, and so I’m glad she put me in touch with you. So, you know my background. I always like to joke around and say, look I took the scenic route to kind of get to where I’m at currently.  

Brian Aquart: I I came up as an attorney, right, and so I started out, you know. Went to undergrad law school, and really tried to figure it out in in the legal world. And so, what I did was I graduated and I looked for jobs. I’m originally from Michigan, and so I was looking for roles in that State. 

Brian Aquart: But the problem was the market crashed in in the States here in 2008. We’re always thought of as like the forgotten class I think. I didn’t have anything in Michigan at the time,  I didn’t have any type of opportunity, so I decided to, you know, come to New York and try to find opportunities. 

Brian Aquart: And so, what I did was, I started out truthfully volunteering at a lot of different places. I was in the Bankruptcy Court. I was at the Commercial Division in in New York, so the New York Courts here, and eventually I found my way into a small firm in New Jersey which really helped me start my career, and so I started in the labor and employment space, primarily employment, and I did that for about a year or 2, and then pivoted to a civil service work, right?  

Brian Aquart: So I was working at a large the fire department here in in New York, in an intern, an attorney capacity, and it was great did that for about 3 years, pivoted to another agency, overseen investigations in this employment realm, and then eventually made my way to health care, and I I’ve been in health care ever since I did the HR thing for a little bit. 

Brian Aquart: I was actually then kind of pivoted into more strategy and ops, and a chief of staff type of role. And now I’m in this workforce and community education space. It’s like a nice zigzag, you know. I read an article, probably a few weeks ago, where they talked about nonlinear career paths being the future, and I swear the woman who wrote it was like she touched my heart. Because that’s exactly my story, my, not a not a linear. Career path at all. 

Brian Aquart: But it’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a ton. 

Alan Mcfadden: I think it’s quite strange isn’t it? My background is football and soccer, and then fell into a job doing gym work because it was naturally just the thing that athletes did at the time and then fell into the world of recruitment somehow. And then I’ve been here for like the last 10/15 years. I think we’re all quite common, and you need to care about people in the type of jobs that we do, and you find that that once you get into them once it inspires you, it’s a job you never really leave. I think you do need to have that. I think it kind of nicely brings me to the first question I had. I know you started your own podcast called “Why I Left”.  

Alan McFadden: What inspired you to do so? Was that based off of just the experiences you’ve had over the years, pivoting through your career, or did you feel as open something that people had to hear about after the pandemic? 

Brian Aquart: Yeah, I think it’s a great question, you know, and obviously I get that a lot. And so for me it was, I think, a running theme throughout my career has been the people component right, and it may seem kind of cliche, but it truthfully it did. That’s what it is right, being in an employment space being in HR. Being in the investigative space.  

Brian Aquart: Always been curious about why people do the things they do on the job. How leaders lead! Why, people leave if like, is that? Is that something that we could have done better as an organization to help keep folks on the job? So that’s been a consistent theme throughout my career. And so, what I started to notice during the pandemic was working in health care, I was really heavily involved in some of the redeployment efforts of team members to help with the Covid surge. 

Brian Aquart: And so I was really head down, focused on all of that. I’m an article, Junkie. But you start seeing these things where all these mass exodus of folks leaving their jobs. I’m like, oh, wow! This is interesting, right? The world seems to be kind of burning around us, and people would leave seemingly stable employment for what. 

Brian Aquart: And so, I started to see all these articles that would talk about this, and you’re familiar with how they typically go. They have some stats, you know. They give some information, and then they have maybe one or 2 lines from somebody who may have left. And so I started reading all these articles, and felt really empty, that well, I think that person has a story to tell, and so eventually it became something. It was like, almost grew to like a fever pitch. I was like. Oh, wow! Like I wonder if people would want to tell this story.  

Brian Aquart: And one night I just couldn’t fall asleep and the idea just came to me, you know I was like. I wonder why these people ar moving. Well, I should start a podcast right? So truthfully, between like 3am and 5am I actually wrote down the intro and then it was, I’ll get my wife to ask a couple of friend – is this something?  

Brian Aquart: And they were like, yeah, I think I think you you should do it. And so, I had no intentions of starting a podcast. It was just, I kind of nerd it out on something, and I wanted to see if people would tell their story. Because I wasn’t seeing it elsewhere, and to be in such a moment that the pandemic was /is, why not have these people tell their stories because it’s so much more than just like what’s happening on the job. That’s one component.  

But then you start hearing some of the reasons behind it. And you know, obviously I’m biased because I host the show.  

Brian Aquart: But you hear these really rich stories of why people are making these moves, and so I’m happy that I did it. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a ton of information, but that’s really some of the reasons why I started it.  

Brian Aquart: I wanted to know more, and I wanted to hear directly from the people who actually left. 

Alan Mcfadden: It’s amazing how many good ideas come at 3 and 5 in the morning isn’t it. But I think that’s the thing it’s so refreshing about your podcast. It’s not only educational, like, I said. I tried to do that with this podcast as well, but I think at the time people needed their voice to be heard along doesn’t matter where they come from, the matter what jobs it is. You know those the pandemic has no doubt changed everything.  

Alan Mcfadden: What do you think has been a kind of main trend of what made people move roles after after the pandemic? 

Brian Aquart: Yeah, different people have their different roles, right? And I had a really great interview actually with the gentleman who actually coined the phrase, “the great resignation”.  

Brian Aquart: And he talks about these push and pull factors of why people leave. The pull factors are really around, you know money, or maybe another better location. Better pay. But the push factors were when people were given so much freedom, right? And granted everything was happening around us that it was, you know it was a little crazy. 

If you had small kids, that was a struggle. If you lost your job that that could have been a struggle if you didn’t know kind of how to fit in in this remote landscape, that could have been a struggle. But one theme that, I think, has been consistent throughout is that when you give people this time to themselves, this time to think, this time to process that people really start asking themselves, “Well, is this truly what I want to do?” and there are folks who are really enjoying the work that they were doing, but didn’t really recognize how much when heads were down they were in it.  

And so once they had this break in this opportunity to step back. Then they said to themselves, “Well, you know what…Maybe this isn’t something that I want to do, and I might maybe try something different?”. But think about folks who often have different things that they do on the side and that they’re then able to make money off of, people wanted to explore that, and they figured why not now than any other time. And so that’s what i’d love to see. 

Brian Aquart: The other thing to that. I guess a major theme for the show, and maybe not so much why people are leaving. But I think a theme for us, as a species is that I’m talking with people all over the world, different races, genders.  

Brian Aquart: We are all so connected in this human experience. It’s been beautiful to actually see and put out there in this space because, you know, we talk about, and there’s a lot of banter about the differences and all you know, there’s always one thing against another thing, but when you really hear some of the stories. I’m talking about from people that from Australia to England to Canada we’re all talking about the same stuff, right? We’re all impacted in the same way. 

Brian Aquart: And what I think is showing folks that, regardless of differences, and genders, whatever the case may be this thread of human experience is consistent to us all. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of. 

Alan Mcfadden: It’s interesting, because obviously in the job I do. We speak to thousands of businesses that we obviously represent from our recruitment point of view, and people always ask me the same question – Alan, do you think it’s been a good thing and a bad thing like remote working or getting people in the office. And well being.  

The answer to the question is honestly, that is what you said, the human experience. Everybody’s different a lot of times, you know. It’s like we see people who like you said, having young kids for talking sake. People no longer have that dash home from the office in rush hour traffic to get the kids from school.  

They can go and be able to get kidsand their well-being has automatically been affected by that. There was no blueprint for Covid, which I think is unusual. I also think that everybody experienced it, which is not something normally in day to day life. When people ask me that question, it’s always something I have difficulty articulating whether it was a good thing or a bad thing in, and all the people you speak to do. You see, obviously the pandemic is terrible. But do you think what’s happened over the all side of it is made is better as employers as leaders or managers of business?   

Brian Aquart: I’ll talk from the employee side first, and then go to the employer side, I think, as an employee, I mean I’m an employee, too, and so, speaking from that angle and hearing folks. 

Brian Aquart: I think the pandemic has been positive for people to start recognizing what it is that they truly want to do, you know, and because one of the things one of the premises of the show and I’m very clear about, you know. It’s not about bashing employers or anything like that. And you know people burning bridges. No, it’s when we think about people leaving.  

I really want people to make better decisions, so they get better workplace outcomes whatever that is for you. Whether that’s within your current job, like if you, if you’re looking for a promotion, I want you to feel comfortable in asking that. And here’s some folks who you can hear about how they went about that. But if it’s time for you to be a solo-preneur as an example.   

Brian Aquart: Well, now, I have some folks on there actually, the episode this week was about how you could go about that, and really getting real about what that looks like. So, from an employee point of view, I think it’s been great, because people are really recognizing what they truly want and or need. 

Brian Aquart: And they’re not afraid to either ask for it in their current places. 

Brian Aquart: and if they do ask for it and let’s say it’s not given after a certain amount of time, being comfortable and looking elsewhere for that, or doing something themselves to get whatever it is they’re looking for now the on the employer side. The pandemic has been, I think, a little interesting on that end, and the reason I’m kind of chuckling now is because what you’re seeing across the landscape is now.  

All the employers sent folks home during this time because we were obviously social distancing and all those things. And now you’re starting to see and hear about the rollbacks of the remote work policies. But the problem is, and regardless of whether it’s in the US or elsewhere. 

Brian Aquart: When people are given, you know a certain amount of freedom to do certain things and still produce right, you know, because, look. You have your outliers that that are that may take advantage of the remote work opportunities. But for the most part at least, some of the things that I’ve been seeing and hearing people are doing good work right, and they’re still producing, and some are producing more than what they did, because you don’t have to your point earlier around rushing home for the commute.  

If you don’t have that hour, commute on one, on both ends. That’s 2 extra hours that you in theory could work. And so what I think employers are doing now is, is It’s a bit heavy handed in the approach of rolling back some of these remote work policies, and you’re seeing this huge kind of buck in the system between employers and employees about that, because they’re like. Hey, Wait a minute.You want us to come back. 

Brian Aquart: Is this really about real estate? Costs right? Because you have all you have all this space now, and you need You need people to be in it to to justify us being there. And so you know I’ve read a lot of articles where and I’m truthfully. I think I commented on one a writer’s post where it was like I i’m just grabbing my popcorn because I’m waiting to see what happens. So I think employers across the board sometimes have been a little too heavy-handed in rolling back some of these remote work policies. 

Brian Aquart: and that could cause an issue. Because now what happens is when you roll up those back and are forcing people to come in.  

Brian Aquart: Now that people are saying, well Wait a minute. I’m gonna go somewhere else, like I don’t have to do this. I can make more or less, or go to an employer who recognises that we can actually do the work that we need. I may be able to make the same salary I’m making, and I’m gonna go there for this flexibility. 

Brian Aquart: And you’re going to see a lot of that 

Alan Mcfadden: It’s very common in a lot of roles we speak to people about. You know it’s like, and it is some companies, some candidates we speak to now purely say they will only work in remote environments. 

Alan Mcfadden: I don’t know what your thoughts are on that. But obviously my job is sales driven and what we can’t hide away from is sales targets.  

Whether I’m. Sitting in the office, sitting in the house, etc. I think when the pandemic first happened, and I was locked in a little one bedroom flat myself for 6, 7 months I would have bitten your hand off for you to go back to the office. Okay, once things start table opening up and I could go, play, golf, go to the gym, and I was working from home. 

Alan Mcfadden: I genuinely start to think, I don’t have that half hour trip into Glasgow from home before I even start my day. And then dreading the half hour drive home when I could probably spend that time being more productive. So every time I speak to candidates now, I think they took that same type of belief. You know, I think they think if I can do my job and have that, life balance that helps even the basic problems in life like traveling to the office, etc. but also see the value. 

My team here, we always make an effort because of where we are. We’re lucky enough to do it, and where we are in Scotland, that we can all reach the office. But I do see the benefits, having everybody in the office at the same time as well, because we can, especially maybe in a team with 4 or 5 people can ask me questions at once rather than trying to get me on a zoom call or a teams call. So I do. I see the benefits in both. Not so. I was quite interested in that question for you, because you must speak to people who 

Alan Mcfadden: I was quite interested in that question for you, because you must speak to people. I’ll genuinely now, probably even jobs because they don’t have that that remote aspect of life I would imagine. 

Brian Aquart: Yeah, you, you know. And even for me, like I’m a fan of the hybrid piece, right? And so I think there is huge value to being in person pressing palms, kissing babies right like being in there, and with other people. Right? This human connection piece is really important but I also think like if there is a time where you’re just like “Oh, I just got a bunch of meetings that I can do online. I don’t need to go sit in my office and be online all day,” you know.   

Brian Aquart: And so I think there’s a there’s a healthy balance that folks have to find, and truthfully, every person, every department organization is going to be different for the folks that I’ve been talking to. You know some of the remote work piece hasn’t necessarily come up. I think, what people are recognizing, especially in in the first season, you know. I’m in the second season now. But a lot of the first season conversations were about, you know, when we first kind of went remote. 

Brian Aquart: Everybody was figuring it out. Even employers like, what are we actually even doing now, right? And so folks had a lot of time on their hands to really think and consider what it is that I’m actually up to. And so, what you see in here now is, you have folks who were able to, whether they had kids or not right. But even they have significant others. 

Brian Aquart: Remote work gave them an opportunity to spend more time with them right. They’re not taking advantage of this, but it’s more like, let’s say you work 7 hours in a day. Nobody is working all 7 h in that day. You have lunch. Nobody is doing it right, and so as opposed to like going to the water cooler and having lunch and a little kitchen with people and take this 30/45 minutes, they’ll have lunch with their husband, wife, significant other.  

Brian Aquart: And how meaningful that is. You didn’t you don’t see them for like you see them from like when you start right from like 5 to 7 am. And you don’t see them again until, like, maybe after 5 or 6. But now, having that opportunity. You’ve seen, you know, some strengthening of relationships. Now. Granted there’s been some other opposite, too right too much time home has some other issues. Right? I won’t dig into that right. But you know you’ve had these opportunities for folks to really strengthen some of their connections with their significant others. And really, even kids. I’ve heard some really good stories. In season one, we had a woman who talked about if she didn’t have this time with her child, she wouldn’t have recognized some of the learning disabilities that her son was having. 

Brian Aquart: And I thought that was really beautiful, for her to mention.Because it allowed her to say, hey? 

Brian Aquart: Well, now, I need to get this this kid the services that they need, and I don’t know if I would have saw that if I was still doing my hustle and bustle. And so you know, when you hear stories like that, and I’m a parent as well. It’s beautiful, because the the pandemic then gave you that opportunity to recognize something for you to take better care of your son. 

Alan Mcfadden: I was about to ask you can, from your research and things, you’d be speaking to people what they should give employers. I suppose it’s more when you get it right. I suppose it’s a results based game we live in. If you have somebody who is completely committed, or they want to leave to go to another job you haven’t really lost anything. That employee would probably have left at some point. anyway, because you won’t be quite fulfilled. Do you think people are getting better results out of employees by giving hybrid options to what the you see from your experience is speaking to people. That is what you genuinely see at the moment. 

Brian Aquart: Personally. Yes, right. I think you know there’s a lot of funny articles out there that talk about like, hey? We don’t need 12 different flavors of cold brew and a ping pong table just to increase engagement, increase, productivity. What we want is more flexibility right?  

And so what I do think is that when employers are comfortable and able to provide that workforce flexibility that people really genuinely appreciate that like I mean, you know the news. 

You know we all know what sells right. It’s like 2 different ends of the spectrum. Obviously negativity really sells. And so you hear stories of people, you know, burning bridges, and doing all those things. And and granted. Yes that happens. 

Brian Aquart: But I think the vast majority of people who are given the opportunity to work in a hybrid model. 

Brian Aquart: They’re appreciative of that, and they don’t take advantage of it in the sense that they’re just, you know not, you know, doing whatever it is that they need to do. But they then say, hey, employers giving me this opportunity? I’m going to knock out what I need to knock out in the 2 or 3 h that it probably takes for me to do that, and then I’m able to do whatever it is afterwards. And you have. You have bosses who are much more flexible as well. I think that’s it. That that’s a piece that that is interesting, that you all may be interested in exploring as well is how our leaders now responding to this new hybrid workforce.  

Brian Aquart: Because I see a lot of things around the challenges of leading a remote team. Right. Someone’s, you know, on the West coast, or you know, northeast, or whatever even overseas right. How do they lead this remote team? And so what’s interesting to watch and just kind of see unfold is how leaders are now adapting to this. 

Brian Aquart: And not everyone’s doing a good job, right? Not everyone’s doing a good job. But you see, folks genuinely trying, and I commend those who are generally trying to like, Say, hey, we want to be flexible. We want to. We want to provide this to our team members. 

Brian Aquart: Here’s how we can do it. You know it may not be perfect. There’s gonna be some bumps along the way. But you see, folks, and you see organizations at least trying. 

Alan Mcfadden: So I think the communication with the employees is key, you know. I think, over the last 2 years I’ve been in, certainly in the role here. The communication part is absolutely key.  

Alan Mcfadden: members of your team, like they said. I think that you mentioned, they’ll bring most, no matter what job we do. Some sort of timeline target. 

Alan Mcfadden: What I’ve done is always something we can always be measured. I believe in the modern day world, some people need different things, and I think that you have for most people in our podcast is having that open communication with your teams to make sure that you understand what what’s working for them. What isn’t it, etc. But total agreements with you. I think that for me it’s been a positive thing, because there is so much good came from, and such a tragic thing that happened the other side of it. 

Alan Mcfadden: I remember before the pandemic. If you just said to me that I was giving 10 of my sales team a chance to go home, I’d have had a heart attack, I think. But when you actually see that that it works, you know, I think it’s been something it’s been it’s been a positive for a long time. 

I know I took up all about your time already, but I really appreciate it. I think it’s such a unique thing that you’re doing honestly. 

Alan Mcfadden: I love listening to the episode of it because, genuinely people need a voice similar to this podcast. I love having people like yourself on to educate the marketplace, but I love listening to your episodes. Before I let you go, I’ll have a little bit of fun. But if you could go back, and I know you’re similar to me, you’ve had different experiences through life. But what would be the one that if I should give yourself kind of leaving school, and thinking what would be the one that I should give yourself now if you could go back. 

Brian Aquart: Oh, that’s a good one. 

Brian Aquart: What I most people say keep it clean. I do have a vulgar piece of advice, but I’ll hold that hold on. Yeah. But I would. I would say to my younger self look. 

Brian Aquart: No matter what. Just keep going 

Brian Aquart: Yeah, that’s it. You come up with so many cliches, you sound like me, I we read a lot of books, but you learn more from your feelings, and you do this stuff you’re good at don’t you and things you want that so perfect answer Brian. Thank you again for your time, and thank you. Catch up soon. Take care, Thank you. You too. 

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