It’s an employee-driven market now, and they’re looking for more authenticity, trust, and (despite what it seems) connection. Can you deliver?
We’re Not Gonna Take ItThe lyrics of Twisted Sister capture the sentiment of a quitting trend that was reported in the wake of the workforce’s collective 2020–2021 experience. Economists are warning that we’re entering a period called the Great Resignation , though perhaps this time may be better understood as the Great Reflection . After prolonged social distancing, masks, isolation, homeschooling, sickness, and trauma, we’re engaging in communal soul-searching. As people take stock of what’s working in their lives and what’s not, traditional workplace norms are simply not cutting it:
- Time magazine declared, “The pandemic revealed how much we hate our jobs.”
- The New York Times recently proclaimed, “Workers are gaining leverage over employers right before our eyes.”
- The Atlantic shared one theory behind this burst of quitting, which is that “we’re living through a fundamental shift in the relationships between employees and bosses that could have profound implications for the future.”
Demographic and economic realities make this talent flight possible, but the psychographic factors catch people’s attention. The pandemic has shifted your talent pool’s values, aspirations, and priorities, and this change is turning out to be a significant disruptor. They’re now seeking a radically different employee experience—one that offers more authenticity and trust, a place where their humanity is acknowledged. Although many employees report that they want to continue to have the choice to work at home, they are not asking for less connection; they are asking for more genuine connection.
The companies that pay attention to this, put their employee experience first, and transform will position themselves to keep and win talent. The status quo is being questioned, and what workers are really looking for requires deep, structural change.
We’ve Got the Right to Choose ItConsider what’s recently occurred to knowledge workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these associates proved—to themselves and their organizations—that they can be untethered from an office and still offer productive, creative, and highly valued performance. While it wasn’t always easy, they found a new appreciation for autonomy and agency as well as the nimble, responsive technology that supported them in doing their best work.
Frontline workers are changing too. From supply chain and grocery workers to the medical field, they were heralded as heroes but not always treated like it. They experienced both ends of the appreciation spectrum—what it’s like to be highly valued and devalued—and that shaped their needs.
Women identified with an especially difficult pandemic experience, according to experts. Studies show they shouldered most of the increased household and childcare needs, and it will have long-term effects. They exited the workforce in disproportionate numbers, and as they look to return, many have a heightened desire for flexibility, balance, and mental wellness at work. The last thing anyone wants is a workplace that causes additional stress and burnout.
Companies must be able to join the conversation about inclusion, equity, and access for all. Workers are more aware and less tolerant of traditional power dynamics in which power and information are hoarded and traded, based on position and hierarchy. Exclusion of this kind, and the many ways that organizational systems, norms, and practices have enabled them, is a nonstarter for the workforce of today.
They’re Not Gonna Take It AnymoreWe can’t unsee what we’ve already seen. It seems the old employment agreements, explicit or unspoken, will no longer do. The terms of employment are shifting because workers re-evaluated their priorities. When you listen carefully to their sentiments, you’ll find their common, underlying desire is for a deeper recognition of their humanity.
With what we all went through last year, it makes sense. Employees want to be people first: imperfect, strong, messy, talented, struggling, emotional, diverse, real individuals. They appreciate the importance of being real more than ever before. Genuine, human relationships based on mutual respect are a must-have, not a nice-to-have. And they’re not willing to subvert this basic need as easily as before.
Employees want to be seen, valued, and validated at work. They want to be part of a caring, trust-filled, safe place, where a sense of connection is forged, their mental health is supported, and burnout is prevented. Don’t worry—they also want to be challenged, accomplish tasks, work on big problems, feel connected to an organization’s purpose, and have the opportunity to shine. They want to do their best work, achieve results, and thrive. But they’re telling us it can only happen when they have the agency, choice, trust, and authenticity that allows them to have a full, balanced life.
Call it psychological safety, inclusion, or love at work, but at its heart, this is about an organization’s ability to communicate to every employee, “We, as a company, are here for you. You matter to us.” Humans need this from each other, from their leaders, and from their employer. Today’s workforce is sensing, testing, and looking around for evidence of this in their current employee experience—and leaving if it’s not there.
They’re less patient too. The labor market is putting power in the hands of performers, and they’re beginning to vote with their feet. They’re saying something at work is broken. Smart companies will understand that if they are going to make real change, organizational systems and structures need to be addressed.
Today, most workers feel constrained by a traditional, hierarchical corporate model that was built for the needs of a prior century. It’s time to innovate. But that starts with a mindset change: companies have to consider their employees as valuable as their customers—the people they strive to win, keep, and win back. Then they can apply a customer experience design approach to their employee experience. From there, the right transformation will reveal itself—though we must be ready to sense it, recognize that opportunity, seize the moment, and use this time of great reflection for positive change.
Want to learn more? Join me during the ATD 2021 International Conference & Exposition for the session Small Changes, Big Impact: Redesigning Moments for Authentic EVP.