Across the UK, workers are quitting in record-breaking numbers--and younger employees are leading the charge.
The so-called “Great Resignation” is a complex phenomenon with a number of causes, but in many ways it’s the long-due rebound of a particularly stretched pendulum. Gallup reported that 55% of millennials feel “actively disengaged” from their jobs, and the big picture shows why: promised that their hard work, expensive educations, and willingness to pay their dues would result in fulfilling and stable employment, thirty-something workers have instead had to weather two global economic recessions within a little over a decade of each other. Add to that stagnant wages and an “always-on” office culture that implicitly expects them to centre their lives around work, and “actively disengaged” may be putting it mildly.
A worker who feels disconnected from work is one likely to jump ship when a new opportunity presents itself--and that can be a major loss for teams that depend on their talent. How can businesses respond while still ensuring overall success?
The answer is surprisingly simple and deceptively challenging: make your employees feel valued.
One way to do that is to acknowledge and accommodate their responsibilities outside of work, and trust them with more choice in how and when they get their jobs done. Adobe’s Future of Time survey reported that while only 23% of workers have a flexible schedule, 51% would consider such a schedule ideal. These respondents want to be at work when they’re at their most productive--and have more autonomy in how they schedule time for their families and other parts of their lives.
This is about more than just WFH. Some companies are already adopting a contract system wherein employees agree to a certain number of work hours per week and fulfill them at their own convenience, coming to the office fewer days or shorter days as needed for less fatigue and more flow. Job shares--where two people may fill the same position on a flexible or part-time basis--are gaining popularity with working parents, people with disabilities, and others for whose career ambitions the ubiquity of the 9-to-5 would formerly have been a barrier.
Busywork is Dead
By now, it’s an old saw: Millennials have grown up with technology, and Gen Z came out of the womb with TikTok installed on their tiny little smartphones. But what does that actually mean on the job?
It means that busywork is dead. Vague and complex advice about “keeping technology up-to-date in the office to attract and retain the next generation” often boils down to this. Millennials expect either to have lengthy, repetitive, and tedious tasks automated, or to have the agency to automate those tasks themselves.
Doing a job they suspect a computer could do makes younger people feel their employers take their time and talent for granted. In light of this, streamlining the tasks your workforce does in a day isn’t just good for productivity--it’s essential for maintaining a positive relationship with them.
What specific technologies are needed will vary from industry to industry, but think from the bottom up. Does everyone have easy access to all the information needed to accomplish the goals of the business? Can organisational and administrative tasks be sped up by introducing or restructuring technology? Is communicating with HR a bureaucratic nightmare? Ask what would make it easier for your employees to get the important stuff done--and then invest there first.
Burnout: More Than Just Fatigue
Recent public conversations around career burnout have focused on the high demands of the modern office--and indeed (to cite the Adobe survey again), well over half of Millennial and Gen Z respondents reported feeling pressure to be available for work-related communications at all times. But burnout is more than just fatigue--for many, it’s rooted in a sense of organisational indifference.
There’s no sugarcoating this: it’s a job-seeker’s market right now because a prolonged, worldwide disaster left significant portions of the workforce dead, disabled, bereaved, or profoundly destabilised in some other way. You are hiring from a pool of lucky survivors who have realized life is short, nothing is certain, and there are employers out there who will assign you tasks that triple your risk of contracting a deadly virus without even offering hazard pay.
These are not people who are tired of working. They’re tired of not being cared about.
It is up to business leaders to reassess and understand the value of employees--not just as the moving parts of the business or as essential actors in the global supply chain but as human beings. Step back and ask what the sacrifices asked of workers in your company are worth, to company stakeholders and to the workers themselves.
Put your money where your mouth is. All the wellness initiatives in the world are no substitute for letting everyone who put work into a business success benefit from it. Can you offer bonuses? More vacation time? Stock options? Better insurance or retirement plans? How will the value of the talent you retain kick back to the people who contributed it?
Programmes promoting mental health, diversity and inclusion, and the addressing of silent workplace dangers (from sexual harassment to inadequate sleep) are part of the fruit of this attitude shift, but if these programs are mere damage control for a culture where employees--particularly younger and low-level ones--are seen as inexhaustible resources, they will not be effective.
Motivation comes from seeing effort pay off proportionally. In the wake of the Great Resignation, companies will get the employees they pay for.