(This article originally appeared in the Guardian)
Employers across the US have been dealing with a historic shift in labor thanks to the pandemic. We know it as the Great Resignation, and the pundits have been falling over themselves to explain to us why employers are at fault. Now it looks like the Great Resignation may be followed by the Great Regret.
There’s no doubt employers have a lot to learn from the unprecedented rate of job turnover. Researchers at the consulting firm McKinsey, for example, say that employees are tired, and many are grieving. “They want a renewed and revised sense of purpose in their work,” write its authors. “They want social and interpersonal connections with their colleagues and managers. They want to feel a sense of shared identity. They want meaningful — though not necessarily in-person — interactions, not just transactions.” Unfortunately, some of us are not sympathetic enough to these needs. So our employees leave.
Research firm Gartner says this week that more than 70% of information technology workers are looking to change jobs this year and urges employers to adopt a more “human-centric” work model that includes better working hours, more productive meetings and greater flexibility to reduce this turnover.
Then there’s the “low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work”, which are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year according to Pew Research in a new study. The study also found “those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility”.
But are they? Are all these workers leaving their jobs for new jobs finding that the new jobs are that much better than their old jobs? That their new employers are that much better than their existing employers? Or is it possible that Joe is taking a new job that’s replacing Susan, who left that job for the same reason that Joe is leaving his job?
Yes, there’s lots of turnover and lots of people changing jobs. But given the fact that most are likely just swapping these jobs, maybe the problem isn’t all with the employer. Perhaps employees are being a bit naive too.
That theory has been given credence by another study released this week by the job search site the Daily Muse. Its study of more than 2,500 workers found that almost three-quarters of them (72%) experienced either “surprise or regret” that the new position or new company they quit their job for turned out to be “very different” from what they were led to believe. Nearly half (48%) of these workers said they would try to get their old job back thanks to a phenomenon that The Daily Muse is calling “shift shock”.
“They’ll join a new company thinking it’s their dream job and then there’s a reality check,” the company’s CEO, Kathryn Minshew told FOX Business. “It’s this really damaging phenomenon where people are brand new in our role, and they suddenly realize it’s not at all as advertised.”
It’s a cliche but ask anyone who’s been in the workforce for a number of years and they’ll tell you that the grass is often the same color at the new job (and the coffee is just as bad).
Much of this confusion is being driven by Gen Z, those generally born after 1995 who make up more than a quarter of the workforce. According to a recent study by career counseling provider Zety, those workers report that the factors that are most appealing in a new job include, of course, a good benefits package (67%). But just as important to them is a company with “values that match their own” (62%), that has a purpose for being that “goes beyond merely making a profit” (61%), offers “plentiful career development and progression opportunities” (59%) and has a “strong brand reputation” (49%).
All of these are worthy goals. But right now how many businesses, particularly smaller firms, really offer this? The reality is that unless you’re working for a global giant like Amazon or Google — who, as we all know, have their own drawbacks — most businesses will struggle to meet all these demands. Working for a small business can be rewarding, fun and more flexible than at a larger organization. But in the end, we’re just a business.
Let’s admit that our products and services may be vital to the economy, but they’re not that exciting. Our brands are not very well known. Our advancement opportunities are usually limited. We’re offering a job with a paycheck at (hopefully) a nice place to work with (hopefully) nice owners and (hopefully) a good group of fellow workers. It’s quite likely that what we’re offering isn’t too far different from what a worker is getting at their current job.
Maybe we as employers aren’t transparent enough about this. Or maybe employees are a little delusional about what to expect from a new employer. Regardless, if this reality isn’t discussed, upfront, then it could lead to unhappiness and regret a few months down the line. And that’s going to be costly both for the worker and their employer.