The Great Migration to Jobs with More Connection and Meaning
By Jason Walker and Rey Ramirez
A fascinating trend we’ve been watching over the past year related to employee stability has continued to evolve. Some are calling it a Great Resignation, others have opted for other terms such as the Great Migration, the Great Attrition, or even the Great Attraction.
The symptom shows up as employees leaving their jobs en masse. When looked at as a whole, it leaves a mark for employers who are left wondering, “What did I do? What will I do?”
And whether this apparent mass employee walk-out over the past three years springs from an internal catalyst in each person or comes from something external, in general employers have been left with a large question mark over their heads as a whole, wondering what’s going on.
This sea change promises a shift from the comfort zone of clock in, clock out. It is a shift from get a paycheck and enjoy your security toward a new and previously unseen space where both sides must take stock, grow, and change.
There was something easy about that set up that both sides benefited from—employers didn’t have to go beyond “we give you pay and promise that we’ll do the least amount of harm,” and employees for their part didn’t have to do more than simply show up and perform the minimal amount to get by.
Unfortunately, 2020 happened, and that started a movement. We’re beginning to really see the ripples from that. This, we think, is one of them.
When Employees Quit, It’s Not Weakness. It’s Hope.
Leaving the security and comfort of a situation—especially with a family to support—is a scary prospect. When a worker chooses to do it, it signifies something that others may not understand. While some of us have been trained to see it as failure or weakness, it’s actually hope in the guise of braving the unknown. It means that a person believes something better is on the horizon.
According to Great Place to Work, “People want to spend their time in meaningful ways. Purpose is the way you make a difference in the world. It’s why you matter. All humans seek purpose, and employees are emboldened more than ever to go find it.”
The CEO of Great Place to Work, Michael C. Bush, elaborates, “‘It’s the reason why we spend so much time away from our families to do this thing called ‘work…’ Purpose is also the reason why we sometimes question our priorities and life choices.’”
Purpose is important on a business level—for employees who want to feel like their work at their specific company connects with them and that it matters to the business at large.
But more and more it’s not only about the connection to the company. It’s also about the company’s contribution to society and other global scale imperatives such as climate change, social issues, and making an impact that benefits the greater good.
What sorts of jobs are employees migrating toward?
Employers in general have struggled with how to stem the flow of attrition by offering bonuses and pay increases. But according to McKinsey, this can actually be detrimental to solving the personnel crisis. “Rather than sensing appreciation, employees sense a transaction. This transactional relationship reminds them that their real needs aren’t being met.”
These real needs go back to what we’ve observed as purpose and meaning. If there was one thing that the chaos of 2020 illustrated, it was the fleeting nature of our mortality. The stress and grief of a changed world brought with it a desire for deeper meaning on all levels. It has also resulted for many in the realization that they can demand more respect in the work they choose to do.
If we must spend half our lives doing work, and stability is a fleeting concept, then we should be dedicating ourselves to something with meaning.
What is more meaningful than connection? Employers who wish to keep their best talent happy must pivot and find ways to relate to their employees in a compassionate way that allows them to know their work has meaning to the company and if possible, society.
Jobs where employees were not valued and endured abuses from customers (such as service industry positions where “the customer is always right”) have seen their employees leave for better, higher paying white-collar jobs where they’re valued and treated with dignity and respect.
“They want employers to recognize their value and provide value to them on a human level. Monetary compensation is important for surviving, but deeper relationships, a strong sense of community and purpose-driven work are essential to thriving. This is the value that employees expect their employers to provide,” explains Chris Howard at Gartner.
For many people, signs in windows in hospitality positions have communicated labor shortages. Those who pay attention and observe numbers and the statistics have seen that the reality is a different one.
For perhaps the first time in decades, workers have the will and the ability to leave their current position before finding new work. That is a hopeful sign, one that is altering the very landscape of the workforce.
Where once a customer service agent had to endure verbal abuse without a shred of hope that they could ever receive support from their employer, many have chosen to boldly demand more from their company. These agents now have many work options from other companies to self-employment at Uber, Lift, Grub Hub, and can make more money for their families.
What this all means is that employers in every industry must research and investigate the trends that are happening inside their own company and industry. Only then will they be able to weather these migration and attrition patterns without losing their business model entirely.
At Thrive HR, we specialize in identifying disconnects between management and their teams, as well as zeroing in on the patterns that are causing attrition. Evolution in the workforce doesn’t have to mean the loss of your best talent. People are our business and we’re available for consultations to help you weather these changes.
Jason Walker and Rey Ramirez are co-founders at Thrive HR Consulting, a minority-owned HR advisory that provides value-based HR support for mergers and acquisitions, C-Suite executive coaching, employee relations, DEI and belonging, performance management, employee engagement, and talent acquisition.