Last year, America had a record number of job openings at over 10 million. This was great news in the aftermath of the pandemic when many experienced job loss and overall income shortages. But some companies are still complaining that they can’t find workers to fill roles.
In tandem with this, the Great Resignation is on the rise with no signs of stopping. Many now blame this mass exodus of workers on poor management and lack of flexibility in working conditions. Most workers simply aren’t willing to take jobs that don’t offer them something (aside from a paycheck) in return for their work. They’ve begun to understand what they want out of a job, and what they value. They want to spend time doing things that matter to them, not just going through the routine of going to work and getting a paycheck.
This was one of the reasons for what is now widely referred to as the Great Attrition. A lot of people went back to work at some point after pandemic lockdowns and realized their job was not bringing them as much happiness or a sense of fulfillment. When people say they aren’t happy at work, they don’t mean that they aren’t happily drinking champagne (as if work was a sort of vacation). They’ve realized the office treadmill, with no real path or promise toward upward mobility, doesn’t cultivate a sense of fulfillment or direction. Perhaps this is the reason so many people went back to work only to quit.
Business leaders cannot deny that their employees want and need to feel fulfilled, as this is part of human nature. While it may be a necessary evil to stop pursuing passions and things we love so we can make ends meet and put food on the table for our families, when everyone is on this same treadmill, it begins to feel like it’s inevitable to feel this way. Fortunately, the pandemic and our new work-from-anywhere model changed this mentality for many.
The Employee Supply & Demand Issue: What Workers Want
The issue here is a fundamental one: it all comes down to supply and demand. One survey indicates that the number one reason an employee will not take a job is that they feel the salary is too low. Of course, that is not the only reason, and we will address the other reasons below. And even though wages are increasing, with inflation growing at an even faster rate, it’s hard for companies to get ahead in offering competitive salaries.
So what are the issues aside from pay? While some jobs are simply unglamorous, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In fact, many of the most important jobs in our society include tasks that aren’t for the faint of heart (think caretakers, EMTs, nurses, and so on).
It is up to business leaders to find a way to make jobs “worth it” for their employees, and give them the incentive to not only take a job but to stay in the role long-term. This can look like many things—an increase in pay and benefits, or creating a direct path of upward mobility within the company, for example. It may seem challenging to compel someone to take a supposedly “undesirable” job, but it’s always possible for leaders to find solutions within their companies.
Think about how this plays out for those in individual contributor roles (for example, an entry-level job in an organization). If someone has been working in this same role for several years, with no opportunity to explore new sides of their career or receive further education, they will ultimately become stagnant and bored with the position. However, there are a lot of opportunities for people to move into strategic roles based on their extensive company knowledge, proof of organizational skills, and ability to successfully interface with clients.
Aside from inspiring employees with new opportunities, you can also inspire them by helping them understand the company’s vision, how they are a part of it, and why they are doing what they are doing in their day-to-day roles. This helps them feel like they are part of achieving a vision, not simply a cog in a wheel.
The key is to run a company that recognizes people’s unique strengths and finds out where they fit best. If your executive assistant shows a penchant for helping navigate difficult interpersonal interactions, or offers excellent ideas for how to close complex deals, consider expanding their role (and their salary) to handle some of these issues. This helps their position become more dynamic and interesting, therefore increasing their likelihood to stay with your company.
Why Upward Mobility Matters
Some people attributed the worker shortage to the fact that employees were afraid of contracting COVID-19 or were earning benefits from unemployment or stimulus checks. Others said it might be due to a lack of childcare or competitive benefits packages. Whichever of these concerns is the issue, the message is clear—employees aren’t willing to take jobs that won’t work for them. They recognize their value and are unwilling to accept anything less.
It is, of course, still very important to pay your workers fairly for the work they are doing. It is equally as important, as a leader, to give them a vision for what lies ahead—for a future with your company. No CEO wants to deal with constant turnover. If workers are leaving because they feel they aren’t being adequately paid, it is up to the decision-makers at the company to make it worthwhile for their employees to stay. Clear paths toward management roles and promotions are a helpful tool here.
How AI Comes Into Play
Some people attribute society’s current difficulty in filling job roles (or finding satisfactory ones) to emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, replacing people’s positions at companies. What those people don’t realize is that, more often than not, AI is simply filling in jobs most people don’t want to do. This frees up the time and mental capacity for roles only humans can fill and creates new opportunities to optimize the roles people want.
For instance, we have a massive Truck Driver shortage in this country. Supply Chain Logistics companies are working to find ways to optimize the whole supply chain, and that includes how many drivers are needed and when, and how long their drives are. Even with all of the advances AI brings to this industry, we are still short on drivers amidst a supply chain crisis. Tech can help fill in some of the gaps and, ideally, create a better work environment to better incentivize drivers to take on these roles.
With technology revolutionizing industries by reducing staffing needs (i.e., helping fill the gap in sectors where jobs are highly undesirable and staffing is a major issue), we are also identifying which jobs cannot ever be replaced by tech. The truly human jobs like those that require a human touch—teachers, nurses, caretakers—and the jobs that require human ingenuity—the ones where you have to be thoughtful and creative—are irreplaceable. This shift is paving the way for the development of the Creator Economy. We should be less worried about computers and machines taking our roles and more concerned about how we can become part of the creator economy.
Overall, we’re living in a pivotal moment where the tension between workers and leaders has never been clearer. To move forward into the future of business, leaders must realize how vital each employee is to the process. Communicating value through competitive salaries, adequate benefits, and clear paths toward upward mobility should not be novel but common for companies across industries.
To reconcile the issues of the Great Resignation, we must go beyond the “bare minimum” and realize that every hire is a value exchange. We aren’t doing employees a favor by giving them work; we are partaking in that value exchange—their labor for compensation, benefits, upward mobility, and a part in the larger company vision. They have options, and if your offering isn’t a fair trade, they will look elsewhere. Treat employees as valuable assets to your company, and watch your retention rates and overall productivity soar.