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The Fog of So-Much-Happening-All-at-Once
What the hell is going on in the jobs market?
Quote of the Moment
It is the aim of public life to arrange that all forms of power are entrusted, so far as possible, to people who effectively consent to be bound by the obligation towards all human beings which lies upon everyone, and who understand the obligation.
| Simone Weil, Draft for a Statement of Human Obligation
I propose that we redirect Weil’s statement to leadership in the workplace, and the Retransformation that is going on in the economy, in view but shrouded by the fog of so-much-happening-all-at-once. Josh Bersin’s argument (discussed in Confusion Reigns, below) lines up with that assessment.
In The Confusing Job Market: CEOs and CHROs Seem Baffled, Josh Bersin has an answer to a key question: what the hell is going on in the job market?
We have entered one of the most confusing job markets in decades. While the unemployment rate continues to drop (3.5% here, 2.4% in Japan), companies are also worried about the slowdown. So they’re “hiring” and “laying off” simultaneously. What a confusing time.
He shares the findings of a PWC study:
First, the job market is in crisis. 81% of workers are burned out, people are taking a vacation, and employees just want a break.
That could explain why people are quitting their jobs, but it doesn’t deal with companies hiring and firing at the same time. Bersin offers this great insight:
Every industry is transforming into something else. And this shift, which we call The Big Reset, is creating demand for jobs, people, and new business models. So demand, while shifting, is not going away.
Actually, I would restate the last statement: So demand is not going away, it is shifting, as part of the Retransformation.
Retailers are becoming healthcare companies (Amazon Care will become bigger than Amazon Prime, as the company just acquired OneMedical and announced partnerships with Ginger and others). Auto companies are becoming electric manufacturers (Ford’s layoff is more of an engineering transition from internal combustion technology to electronic technology). Chemical and Oil companies are moving into Hydrogen and Batteries. And healthcare companies are struggling to become more efficient.
Prior to the pandemic, companies had been deferring or slow-rolling necessary adaptations to changes in the economy and their particular industries. The pandemic arrives, and as Mike Tyson famously said,
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
Of course, you can also get punched in the mouth when lacking a plan, too.
But now, companies have been punched in the mouth, and whether they had or did not have a plan, it’s time for a new one. And not just a plan to deal with this or other viruses, but a completely reconsidered society.
Since the term quiet quitting — where people do the bare minimum at work instead of leaving a job they couldn’t care less about (or where the job couldn’t care less about them) — has come into common usage, let’s designate plain-vanilla quitting as loud.
A group of McKinseyites, led by Aaron De Smet, make an interesting argument: even though demand for talent is high, companies can’t seem to find candidates. Why?
What we are seeing is a fundamental mismatch between companies’ demand for talent and the number of workers willing to supply it. Employers continue to rely on traditional levers to attract and retain people, including compensation, titles, and advancement opportunities. Those factors are important, particularly for a large reservoir of workers we call “traditionalists.” However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led more and more people to reevaluate what they want from a job—and from life—which is creating a large pool of active and potential workers who are shunning the traditionalist path.
As a result, there is now a structural gap in the labor supply because there simply aren’t enough traditional employees to fill all the openings.
They suggest companies need to cast a wider net to pull in non-traditionalists. One form of tradition-breaking is workers moving across industries:
Vitally, companies can no longer assume that they can fill empty slots with workers similar to the ones who just left. Globally, just 35 percent of those who quit in the past two years took a new job in the same industry. In finance and insurance, for instance, 65 percent of workers changed industries or did not return to the workforce. In the public and social sector, the exodus was even greater, at 72 percent.
Bad bosses are apparently the culprits in many defections:
To navigate this new playing field successfully, hiring managers can look beyond the current imbalance in labor supply and demand and consider what different segments of workers want and how best to engage them.
To do this, employers should understand the common themes that reveal what people most value, or most dislike, about a job. For instance, it cannot be overstated just how influential a bad boss can be in causing people to leave. And while in the past an attractive salary could keep people in a job despite a bad boss, that is much less true now than it was before the pandemic.
There’s a great deal of evidence that the ‘bad boss effect’ hits women especially hard.
Our survey shows that uncaring and uninspiring leaders are a big part of why people left their jobs, along with a lack of career development.
In an era when people-centered wellbeing, learning, and flexibility have become paramount for workers, leaders will have to step up and do more than just mouth the words. They have to put concrete actions in place.
The authors offer five personas to segment the sentiments in the workplace:
Traditionalists — ‘Traditionalists are career-oriented people who care about work–life balance but are willing to make trade-offs for the sake of their jobs. They are motivated to work full-time for large companies in return for a competitive compensation package and perks, a good job title, status at the company, and career advancement.’
Traditionalists are easy to find through traditional recruitment and are attracted by the standard inducements. Non-traditionalists are less so (note flexibility and wellbeing skews).
Non-traditionalists — These are not a homogeneous group, but make up four personas: do-it-youselfers, idealists, caregivers, and relaxers.
Do-it-youselfers: Anything for autonomy — ‘This persona, comprising the largest share of respondents, values workplace flexibility, meaningful work, and compensation as the top motivators for potentially returning to the traditional workforce. They tend to be 25 to 45 years old and run the gamut from self-employed to full-time employed in nontraditional roles to gig and part-time workers. This group wants flexibility above all else.’
The authors argue that Do-it-yourselfers may be hard to lure, because they have to be convinced that the company can beat what they can do on their own.
Idealists — ‘Those in our idealist persona tend to be younger, aged 18 to 24, and many are students or part-time workers. Mostly unencumbered by dependents, mortgages, and other responsibilities, this group emphasizes flexibility, career development and advancement potential, meaningful work, and a community of reliable and supportive people, with compensation far lower on the list.’
‘To woo them, companies have to offer flexibility, of course, but also demonstrate a willingness to invest in this group’s development and create a strong organizational culture that emphasizes meaning and purpose.’
Caregivers (and others): At home but wanting more — ‘These are people who have decided to sit it out at home, with some actively looking for work and others who are passive job seekers hoping to find an opportunity that would justify reentering the paid labor force. The predominant age group is between 18 and 44, with more women than men, many who are parents or other caregivers. A lot of the people in this group needed more flexibility and support than traditional employment offered and left to care for children, parents, or themselves.’
Organizations wanting to tempt these folks off the sidelines must shift to ‘normalizing and widening the use of parental leave and by offering parents more flexibility around school holidays’.
Relaxers: Careers don’t come first anymore — ‘the people in this cohort are a mix of retirees, those not looking for work, and those who might return to traditional work under the right circumstances. … The rate of retired workers returning to the job market has slowly been increasing. Some have been enticed by higher wages or an improved pandemic outlook, while others have felt the effects of inflation and a need to return to work as their nest egg dwindles faster than anticipated. … Employers who had positive relationships with employees they lost should consider reaching out to them to see if they can find the right balance to win those people back.’
Four Actions to Counter The Attrition/Attraction Problem
Sharpen the traditional value proposition for the traditionalists.
Build non-traditional value propositions, which ‘flexibility, mental
and behavioral-health benefits, a strong company culture, and different forms of career progression’. Of course, it helps if those are a/ all in place, and b/ are made central to the company’s operations. That could very well be a major transformation.
Broaden the talent-sourcing approach, especially targeting non-traditionalists who are on the sidelines but would consider returning for the right company.
To counter attrition, make people’s work more ‘sticky, by investing in more meaning, more belonging, and stronger team and other relational ties’. Again, this might require a significant rethinking of operations and policies.
Companies confronted by a jobs market dominated by employee dissatisfaction may have to undergo a serious — if not complete — transformation of the compact between worker and organization.
Things are much more complicated now that the pandemic has shaken people out of the traditional grooves of the company steeplechase: people’s values have shifted, and companies have not caught up.