Article by Cathryn Barnard – Director at Working the future
7th January 2022
The long tail of COVID-19 continues to disrupt and transform commercial life in the 2020s.
Despite all prior predictions about the future of work, few could have foreseen that protracted weeks and months of lockdown and remote working would have such a profound effect on the labour market.
We’re currently witnessing the most turbulent job market in decades. So many people switched jobs in 2021 that Professor Anthony Klotz of the Mays Business School in the US has dubbed it ‘The Great Resignation’.
By November 2021, the UK’s Recruitment and Employment Confederation recorded an all-time high of 2.68 million live job postings[i]. While employer confidence may have been temporarily knocked by the Omicron variant, job market analysts predict an ongoing swathe of resignations well into 2022.
Recruitment and retention are now key priorities for most business leaders.
But what’s driving so many people to change jobs? Various influences are at play here.
First and foremost, in good old-fashioned supply-and-demand economics, skills shortages are driving up salaries and, with substantial increases in the cost of living, people are naturally tempted by the offer of increased remuneration elsewhere.
Second, the concept of remote work has been irrevocably proven for those whose work is not tied to space and place. Since demand for flexible/hybrid working was on the rise well before COVID, those employers reluctant to embrace alternatives to a standardised office-based workweek are now firmly on the backfoot. Employees are voting with their feet to get the work patterns that best fit their lifestyle.
Finally, the pandemic has caused us all to reflect on the fragility of life and ponder more deeply the kind of lives we want to lead. This has inevitably triggered a widespread realisation that mediocre work experiences don’t make for a life well lived.
In such a turbulent job market, understanding how to recruit, engage, motivate and retain the right staff for business continuity has never been more important.
But what do modern workers want? We tackled this thorny topic in our recent webinar.
It’s important to acknowledge that today’s workers are more discerning than ever before. Global analytics firm Gallup has tracked employee engagement since 2000 and in that time, global engagement has ranged between 12-20%. That’s dismally low, by any measure.
While disengagement remains a global issue, it’s compounded by the potent transparency of the Internet. Today, jobseekers have more access to alternative job opportunities and career pathways than ever previously imaginable. With increased options, attitudes towards work have naturally shifted in the past decade.
Another key point to make is that the 2007-2008 financial crisis dispelled any notion of job security, giving rise to a whole new category of precarious working arrangements. With employment contracts increasingly favouring the employer, it’s no wonder that length of tenure has tracked steadily downwards in the last decade.
By 2017, KPMG had reported the average length of time a millennial stayed in a role to have reduced to three years [ii]. Given that millennials and centennials make up 59% of today’s workforce [iii], that’s a huge proportion of the global labour market never to have known or expected job security.
With little expectation of a psychological contract, workers in the early 2020s have a much more consumerist attitude towards work. They prioritise their own needs over and above anything else. So, for a business, understanding its internal audience has never been more important.
Continuous learning, purpose and meaning at work, world-class facilities, hybrid/flexible ways of working and authentic leadership – these are just some of the things modern workers want.
Yet in parallel, it’s no longer possible to generalise. In the same way as marketing has had to adapt to embrace more complex, nuanced and micro-segmented audiences, today’s HR teams are challenged by the requirement to ensure that employee expectations are met throughout the entire employment lifecycle.
Modern workers expect progressive career pathways that reflect the heavy price paid for a university education. They want and expect continuous learning at work to reflect the rapidly changing external environment.
They want to work for authentic leaders who are willing to stand as a force for good in the world. In a recent study 65% of surveyed employees said they would be more likely to work for a company with robust environmental policies.
They’re typically far more vocal than previous generations and will happily speak up if they don’t like what they’re seeing. Having a clearly defined purpose at work is paramount, regardless of the pressures this creates within the C-suite to have a well-communicated clarity of vision.
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