A staggering 47.4 million Americans quit their job in 2021. In November, 4.5 million quit, the highest number ever recorded since the government began tracking it 20 years ago. “It’s not the great resignation,” says pollster Frank Luntz. “It’s the great rethink. We are reexamining who we are. What our priorities are. What we want for the future.”
“Telling workers they have to go back to work, when they have decided that they don’t want to work at work is a mistake,” warns Luntz.
What is Driving This Shift?
Abbey Eisenlauer of Conversate Labs and Luntz conducted focus groups with people who had quit their jobs. Their goal was to gain a deeper understanding of what’s driving this widespread phenomenon. They uncovered three key findings:
1. Senior leaders are not listening to employees’ anxieties and concerns. Leaders want to go back to a pre-pandemic normal. But it’s not normal for employees anymore.
3. Workers are rethinking their personal priorities and thinking about their families.
“Corporate America doesn’t get it,” says Luntz. “The CEO, CIO and CFO doesn’t understand the hopes, dreams and, most importantly, the anxiety and fears of the average worker — and it’s going to come back to bite them.”
People are quitting when they don’t have a say in their work arrangements, or their values conflict with the company culture.
A survey of 3,000 employees at top tier companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, JPMorgan and Microsoft by the app Blind, asked workers if they would prefer to permanently work from home or get a $30,000-a-year raise. The results were surprising — 64% said they wanted to continue working at home.
In a Bankrate Job Seeker study, 56% of U.S. workers said flexible working hours and remote work are a priority. And more than half of respondents believe their lifestyle and work life balance needs to change.
Many companies are ordering people to come back to the office but employees have become accustomed to working from home. If a company forces this group to return to the office, 50% will immediately get another job or begin looking for one, research shows.
Before the pandemic, the average American employee spent five work weeks a year commuting — a staggering 200 hours a year stuck in traffic or on transit. Is there nothing better that we can do with our time?
“There are people who want to work at home and there are people who want to work in the office,” notes Eisenlauer. “But most important is they want to have a say in what their work environment, schedule and location is going to be.”
Gaping Empathy Deficit
People want to be heard. To retain people, managers must have a two-way dialogue with employees. Companies need to focus on communication and training for managers according to Eisenlauer.
Reject One Size Fits All: Many employees want to return to work. But for those, for example, who are immune system compromised or need the flexibility to look after a family member, working remotely is the best solution.
Recognize Demographic Differences: Baby Boomers dominate the c-suite of large firms. By contrast, 50% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of millennials and Gen Zs. These demographics have profoundly different outlooks on work, life and work-life balance.
We’re living in a new, fundamentally transformed work world but many corporate leaders are stuck using an old pre-pandemic play book. They need to adopt a new philosophy — one that is as flexible and agile as the workforce leaders say they want.