Last modified on December 15th, 2021
By Paul Bergeron
By focusing on today’s workers’ changed mindsets, companies can succeed through employee engagement, training, and a personal touch.
To survive and prosper, companies must manage people through the ongoing instability that they are seeing and feeling everywhere in their daily lives and the workplace.
Workers have had enough life-changing events come at them during just the past 18 months on top of COVID-19 health concerns for themselves and their families. These have included their adjustments to work-from-home and remote learning, intense technological training and adoption, and ongoing digital transformation.
These unprecedented circumstances have created changed attitudes in workers and how they think about their companies, their supervisors, and their careers. It’s no longer about job security, it’s career security.
It has led to what many are calling “The Great Resignation.”
Understanding the root of the revolutionary changes in young and older workers’ mindsets is where to start, according to Steve Cadigan, Future of Work Expert, Cadigan Talent Ventures and former Chief Human Resources Officer of LinkedIn, and fellow panelist Lisa Wise, Founder and CEO of Flock DC, a family of real estate management companies that overseeing two billion dollars in property in Washington, DC property. The pair presented during a session on Nov. 9 at National Multifamily Housing Council’s OpTech Conference moderated by Stacy Holden, Senior Director & Industry Principal, AppFolio.
It’s Been Anything but Stable
Employers offering “stable” work environments and the comforts of predictability are going to lose in the war on talent, Cadigan suggested. And that battle is only getting harder.
In September, the number of workers who quit their jobs rose to a record high for the third month in a row, the U.S. government announced this month, making it harder for companies to maintain staff levels during the worst labor shortage in decades.
Some 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September. By contrast, just half as many had quit during the early stages of the pandemic. Put another way, 3 percent of the labor force quit in September. That’s also the highest level since the government began keeping track in 2000.
“We’re recognizing macro trends in talent that far exceed what the pandemic is giving us,” Cadigan said. “We’re in a dark forest because we don’t know what’s coming and that makes us uncomfortable. We need to account for this and we’re struggling with it.”
There is no sign of that letting up in the near future.
When told that the workplace is undergoing a digital transformation, Cadigan said many workers, at first, equate that to a cold, heartless, robotic environment.
“This is what they are thinking because they are hearing it all day long from media,” he said. “The priorities seem to be ‘tech first; people second.’ That scares them. Technology is terrifying the workplace even though it’s really here to make their jobs better.”
Cadigan said today’s job candidates are constantly asking themselves, “What skills do I need to study to get ahead?” But it probably doesn’t matter, Cadigan said, “because the skills that are necessary will change, anyway – and will change quickly.”
Dealing with ‘What’s Next?’
It’s up to executive leadership and their HR departments to figure out how to handle what’s at the top of so many peoples’ minds: “What’s Next?”
Doubling down on today’s workplace model – which in most cases is designed for a slower, more gradual time – is not what can solve this, Cadigan said.
“Companies for so long have worked to create a workplace culture that represents stability and predictability,” Cadigan said. “Today is different. You need to build for instability. You must incorporate a culture that is ready for rapid change, and not a culture that rejects change. This is a hard concept for older workers who are more comfortable with stability to wrap their heads around.”
How do you build for instability? Much of it is through employee engagement, a chronic challenge for so many companies.
Gallup surveys consistently show low employee engagement, currently staying steady at around only 30 percent.
Given that resources for candidates and hiring managers going about job placement has never been higher, the result one could assume would be strong matches and engaged employees.
But it’s not. Too many employees say that they are not able to sense the purpose of their jobs and they become disengaged. The result: “The grass has never been greener,” as they like to say.
“Today, workers see so much more choice in the world and in everything, and that temptation makes it more difficult for workers to stay engaged and instead look elsewhere,” he said. “[As a people], we haven’t reconciled this. We have faster job turnover than any major country.”
The average tenure is 4.2 years for those workers ages 50 to 65; it’s just 2.8 years for those ages 25 to 35.
Cadigan said it has reached the point that workers today believe that staying in one place makes them feel vulnerable.
“These workers are thinking, ‘I’m not learning as much as I can so I need to move along to companies that are further along. Because the more I move on, the bigger my network becomes, the more people I meet, the more new skills I can develop, and the more challenges and learning opportunities I can find in new industries. This way, I’m more vital for the unpredictable future I’m seeing.”
He said there have been more start-up companies launched than ever. It’s a sign that more are wanting their independence and the ability to take control of their destiny, starting with their careers, he said.
They Won’t Stay Forever
Supervisors who scoff at younger workers who don’t seem to stick around — calling them flaky, unreliable, and disloyal — couldn’t be more wrong. These employees are just living and working in this new culture of instability.
To cope with employee exodus, Cadigan said companies should think about moving people around to other jobs or departments in the company to keep them enthusiastic and engaged.
“Create an experience and not just a job for these workers,” he said. “Every company has a story. You need to tell it to show others what you’re about and what working there means within their culture and mission. Give them a ‘whiteboard environment. Tell them they can write all over it as they wish. Offer them that freedom.”
Employers and employees realize that the most excitement and energy about a job typically comes from a new one. In this case, turnover can work in a company’s favor because “employees who have spent most of their careers with one company are now playing, ‘career defense,’” he said. “They are tired. They’ve been through it all.”
When you bring in employees today, “Let them know that you care about them more than just because they work for you,” Cadigan said. “You care about them and want to support them for their whole career, even though you know and they know they aren’t going to stay there forever.”
Lisa Wise said companies might bring someone in who is young, in their 20s, full of energy, she said. “Teach them empathy and equity. Eventually, they will slow down and want to be with their families. You have to recognize this. You should see them as ‘whole’ people with full lives.”
A case in point is Flock’s successful annual holiday party tradition. There, all supervisors present each of their staff members with a personalized gift. It must be something that shows that the supervisor has truly gotten to know their employees and what things they like in life.
“Think of your staff as a person, and a friend, who needs to enjoy all of life, not just the part the supervisor is responsible for, which is work,” Wise said.
Wise said when an employee at her company chooses to leave, she considers it a success. “We were able to lead them to their next point in life.”
Offering to further their education is a good idea, Cadigan said. Companies are offering to pay tuition for their employees who wish to earn a degree or advance their studies.
Research firm workforce planning and analytics firm Visier recently found that 32 percent of employees left their jobs within the past year due to a desire to learn new skills. The findings also indicate that younger generations are most at risk for skills-based attrition as they aim to climb the career ladder: 83% of Gen Zers and 81% of millennials said they would absolutely or probably leave their current job for another job that paid the same but offered better or more skills training opportunities, compared to 73% of employees overall.
Before growing skeptical, thinking that paying for an employee’s college degree means as soon as they get it, they will leave — think again. Tuition is a way to support employees, and it’s something they won’t forget.
Chipotle launched a recruitment campaign with the message, “We know we aren’t your dream job. We’re still going to make it the best experience for you.” It paid for employees who stayed on the job for a certain length of time, as well as the tuition for that employee’s family members.
Company alumni are a powerful group. Chipotle leaned on them for a TikTok campaign where it invited former employees to talk about the company.
Successful companies will soon learn, it can be better to “retain your relationships, not your employees,” the panel agreed.