March 3, 2021

The Impending Mass Exodus From Work

4 min read
By Khairunnisa Mohamedali PhD

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found, in their global survey of 30,000 people across 31 countries, that 40% of people are looking to leave their employer this year. That is 2 in every 5 people. In the United States, a study by Prudential found that 1 in 4 people expect to look for a new employer once the pandemic threat levels out. In two separate, smaller surveys—one covering all of North America and the other just the UK—1 in every 2 people surveyed said they were looking to switch employers in 2021.

This is a significant number that could be disruptive for organisations, if people carry out their stated intent, and if recruitment amps up in keeping with the demand for new employment.

More important than the numbers, however, are the reasons behind the possible exodus.

Why the spiking demand for changing employers post-pandemic?

There are a few theories as to why people are looking to shake up their work lives. First, this has not been a year in which companies have focused on people’s professional growth and development. Instead, many employers have had to focus on urgently adapting, pivoting or simply surviving the pandemic. As a result, people are more likely to feel stuck in their roles, and believe they need to change employers to grow and learn new skills. This is in line with the general languishing that is surfacing on our emotional landscape during the pandemic.

Many employers have had to focus on urgently adapting, pivoting or simply surviving the pandemic.

Second, with remote working, many people are feeling much less connected to their organisation and, importantly, their colleagues. And the research shows that your job satisfaction is closely connected to your relationship and connection with your colleagues. Whom you work with, in other words, matters more than what you do.

Third, due to the pandemic, many people are re-examining their lives, priorities, and the purpose they draw from their work. Compounding this, lockdown has narrowed our focus. Absent of our usual rich social lives and busy-ness, work is the one dominant thing we focus on and spend a lot of our time doing. As a result, work has become the area to ‘fix’ or ‘do something about’. All considered, it makes sense that people want to scan the horizon to seek out an employer that better matches their new priorities or purpose.

So, what can organisations do?

1: Invest in Growth and Progression

Now is a ripe time to invest in growth and development. We’ve written previously about how important upskilling and reskilling have been during the pandemic. This will continue to be true post-pandemic. And investing in development has been shown to improve retention: 94% of people report they would stay in a company for longer if it invested in their growth.

Draw a clear line connecting learning to development to career progression. Then build development programmes with that clear, connected line as their spine. And finally, communicate it consistently and clearly.

2: Build a Community

Many organisations have felt the absence of watercooler conversation, impromptu post-work rounds at the pub, or even simply having a chat over lunch in the canteen. It’s one of the areas we’re most asked about at TST: how can we help people meaningfully and randomly connect with their colleagues?

As many workplaces likely shift to hybrid working, it’s critical to build the systems, create spaces and foster a culture that enables connection through both virtual and face-to-face interactions.

3: Connect to Purpose

Purpose, the data shows, can be powerful when done well (no ‘trust washing’). It increases engagement, boosts innovation, and helps businesses grow on average three times more than their non-purpose driven competitors. Companies with strong purpose have 40% higher levels of retention, too.

The key to activating your purpose throughout your organisation is to allow people the space and opportunity to connect with purpose on their own terms. You can do this through how your purpose is launched, how it is communicated, and how it is brought to life within learning and development.

4: Think Internal Mobility

2021 may well be the year of internal mobility. COVID saw a 19% uplift in internal hires, compared to just the summer before the pandemic hit. As people may look for change, for new or different opportunities, openings within their existing employer can be a more appealing route than wholesale moving organisations.

As an additional benefit, companies with internal mobility also retain their talent for longer: people are around 50% more likely to stay for five years if they made an internal move within their organisation, whether a lateral move or a promotion, within three years of starting.

5: Shift to Workforce Ecosystems

Pre-pandemic, we were seeing a shift towards workforce ecosystems—which includes employees and contractors, gig-workers, professional service providers, etc. etc. The pandemic seems to be reinforcing the shift. First, by generating a push for flexible working. Second, by forcing companies to adopt technologies that enable more effective remote, collaborative working.

Embrace how your teams might be more effective by working differently. Importantly, whether full-time employees, contractors, gig workers or anything in between, invest in ensuring everyone is aligned on shared values, ways of working, and core skills.

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