The Great What?
Much has been written about the Great Resignation, Big Quit, Big Attraction, Great Reshuffle, or <insert the catchphrase of your choice here>. The fact is millions of people voluntarily left their jobs beginning in 2021. The explanations are wide and varied. Many come back to the root of people who are not happy with their work arrangements.
Think about the nurse being overloaded with patients in the hospital, the fast-food worker not feeling they were earning a fair wage, and the knowledge worker wanting the flexibility to continue to work remotely. There are a wide variety of factors that impact satisfaction at work. This list includes company culture, quality of management, compensation levels, nature of the work, location, work hours, stress, etc. It might be a single item or situation that pushes a person to the point of resigning. Their level of un-happiness in their employment situation gets to a point where they seek a change.
About half-a-century ago Earl Nightingale already had this figured out! He was a renowned motivational speaker and human-character expert. He had this to say decades before “employee engagement” became part of management practice:
We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves.Earl Nightingale
Let’s take a deeper look at each part of his statement and how that applies to people and companies in 2022.
We often think about ‘employee engagement’ as a noun, a lagging outcome indicator. After all, the term ‘engagement’ is usually associated with a formal agreement to get married. It takes two parties to enter an engagement! The root of engagement is a verb, ‘engage’. It refers to participating or becoming involved in something and is a leading indicator of an outcome. An individual engages with energy, time, and skills. A company engages with the context of the work, a strategic vision, culture, employee experience, and some form of renumeration. Just as in personal relationships, the two parties don’t always agree. But if there are fundamental differences and not enough mutual respect, the engagement will not last. Being engaged is a necessity for happiness, but it is not sufficient by itself.
This is another element where examining the verb as well as the noun provides additional insights. Consider the difference between the phrases “I’m going to work” versus “I’m doing work”. The first usually refers to a company and physical location while the other is about the content of the work itself. Before the rise of virtual work, people sometimes had to choose between doing what they want OR being in the physical location they desire. The nature of the role sometimes mandates the physical location, such as for an emergency room nurse or a fast-food clerk. However, for many knowledge workers, the location can be independent of the work activity. Now there are more options where they can choose to be in the work they want in a setting they desire.
Being good at something is not always the same as enjoying it! As the great Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The word ‘job’ can relate to a specific role, or in the broader context to a vocation and associated activities. For me, I love helping develop teams while using project management, process improvement, and human dynamics approaches. I am not limited to specific roles or job titles. Rather, I can see what opportunities allow me to spend more time on the elements I enjoy. Many companies are embracing a broader range of employment options, from remote work to using gig workers. This makes it easier for people to find opportunities where they can do more of what they enjoy.
“On the journey”
Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the work a person does over time may adapt as their needs and desires change. That first job for some may be more about a paycheck to cover essential living expenses than about development opportunities. Others may be able to afford to take a low- or no-pay internship to explore options. There is no single right answer, and the chosen path may branch over time. One thing people can consider is how their current personal journey aligns with that of the company they are at. Where does an employee want to go and what opportunities does the company offer? The talent management practices of a company often link the employee journey and the company journey. This balance is a combination of aligning employee past performance with future potential and aspirations with the needs of the business.
The company may be in a stage of high growth giving employees the opportunity to do new things. Another company may be more well-established in a certain field where employees learn from advanced processes and experts. When people don’t see opportunities that support their own journey, they may seek them elsewhere. However, ‘elsewhere’ is not necessarily at a competitor! Entrepreneurship is surging as an option, as the number of new business applications in the summer of 2020 was the highest in 15 years!
“Toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves”
A journey typically has a goal behind it. Companies choose people they think will help them best meet their strategic and tactical goals. But what about the goals employees set for themselves? A person may be looking for some combination of specific position, renumeration level, flexibility, and/or ability to focus on specific areas of interest. In any case, the work they do should contribute to their own personal goals. The closer their personal goals support company goals and vice-versa, the better. I saw first-hand at Royal Philips the positive impact taking time to connect company strategy to the individual goals of people. When that is not the case, people may move to another situation that serves them and their goals better.
Bringing It All Together
The past few years have impacted each of the elements in Nightingale’s statement, creating more options for people to consider. People are taking the chance at a career move for a happier existence, utilizing one or more of these levers. The specific drivers differ for each person, but the component elements are the same. Companies who do not adapt will continue to face the Great Resignation. The Great Attraction awaits the companies that provide an avenue for people to take this happiness journey with them!
What choices have you made in the last year or two to increase your happiness?