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  • Writer's pictureWes Adams

The Great Revelation of the Great Resignation

Leaders are starting to realize that what matters most to employees isn't salary or location flexibility - it's being valued and feeling that they belong.

The #GreatResignation is in full swing and shows no signs of slowing down. 2021 may be the biggest year on record for employees voluntarily leaving their jobs. While healthcare and hospitality have been the hardest hit, the tech and knowledge work sectors have also seen a huge spike in voluntary employee exits. According to a recent study from McKinsey, people are walking off not because of issues with salary or benefits, but because they don't feel valued or that they belong.

While many organizations have responded with offers of increased salary, broader benefits, and location flexibility - employees are clearly looking for more than a transactional relationship with their organizations. They are desperate to be inspired and crave a workplace where they belong, feel a sense of purpose, and have the opportunity to grow. Leaders are slowly coming to the #GreatRevelation that what employees want is meaningful work.

In this new paradigm high-performing talent are fleeing in droves, despite offers of more money or a bigger title. For smart companies, however, the Great Resignation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show existing employees how much they matter and scoop up valuable new talent - many of whom are leaving their current jobs without another one lined up.

This three-part series will dive into the challenges and opportunities of the Great Resignation to look at:

  1. Understanding new paradigm of Meaningful Work

  2. Re-centering retention efforts around showing employees that they matter

  3. Redesigning recruiting to attract high-performing talent


The Great Revelation: The New Paradigm of Meaningful Work

In addition to forcing organizations to re-evaluate how they work and giving many employees the flexibility to work from anywhere, the pandemic also amplified a conversation that had been steadily building around why we work. It gave each individual the opportunity to step back and ask themself, "Does what I'm doing really matter? Is my work truly meaningful?"

The answer to that question for many workers was a resounding "no".

In one recent survey, conducted in September, nearly 75% of respondents said they were considering leaving their jobs. There are a variety of reasons people are walking off - burnout, poor conditions, and the new opportunities afforded by remote work. Beneath all that, however, is a deeper crisis - a crisis of meaning.

What makes work meaningful for individuals and motivates them to do their best work is the belief that their work matters to others, the feeling that they are a part of a values-driven community, and the opportunity to grow and develop. When employees find their work meaningful, they are more committed to their organizations and less likely to leave according to a recent meta-analysis that aggregates decades of research.

Additional research shows that job satisfaction may be a more significant factor in turnover than pay satisfaction. Why, then, are employers trying to court new talent by throwing money at them?

Meaning is the New Money

A pre-pandemic survey from BetterUp found that 9 out of 10 people were willing to accept a smaller salary for more meaningful work. A recent McKinsey study shows that, while employers believe people are leaving because of compensation, employees are actually leaving because they don't feel valued or that they belong - two key drivers of meaning.

This should be a huge wake-up call for employers, especially those that are losing good talent. While organizations likely won't get far by offer lower salaries, leaders need to shift their approach. The Great Resignation should be sparking a Great Revelation in the minds of organizational leaders. More money and flexibility are great, but what employees are really looking for is more meaning.

Research that Tamara Myles and I conducted during the pandemic found ten leadership practices that help increase meaningful work for employees (spoiler alert: none of them involve compensation). In Part 2 of this series, we'll share some of these evidence-backed practices and how leaders can leverage them to reduce turnover.

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