We’ve all heard about the “Great Resignation.” It’s been all over the news. Droves of employees just up-and-quitting their jobs, presumably, to find a better opportunity elsewhere. Or maybe just to live in a van down by the river. No one seems to know where everyone has gone. If you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, now would be a good time. Who is John Galt?
What I know – and undoubtedly you know as well – is that every business you walk by, walk into, call or otherwise attempt to patronize, is hiring. They need employees, badly.
There are a lot of theories behind this great resignation, and some of them are probably valid. My opinion, however, is that the issue runs far deeper than “pay people more”, or “offer more benefits” or a “better working environment.” I’m a small business owner who has hired, trained, and cultivated employees for 15 years, and I’ve concluded the issue with the employer/employee disconnect is far deeper than what I see in articles such as this one –> https://hbr.org/2021/09/who-is-driving-the-great-resignation
Here’s my theory on the employee/employer disconnect and why no one sticks around at their job anymore.
Employees now – particularly the younger ones (I mean under 35 for the most part) – are accustomed to immediate satisfaction. Everything in their world is instant. Social Media, “likes”, communication, entertainment, finding information, participation trophies, and even finding a date- it all comes quicker and easier than it used to.
Immediacy has a cost. It’s re-wiring our brains. That background context of habitually expecting immediate satisfaction is also incongruous with the traits needed for learning a new job, for mastering a new set of skills, or for demonstrating the resilience and persistence needed to create a lasting career.
To develop mastery in anything takes time and dedication. There are ups and downs. You need an attitude of resilience and persistence. Employees today who possess these qualities, are becoming a rare breed. Most employees are simply not wired to commit. Workers jumping ship earlier and earlier in their careers has been an observed phenomenon for a long time, but we are talking about a significant acceleration at this point. Modern employees are not wired to develop their skills patiently, slowly, day after day, year after year, and to build a lasting career. They simply don’t stick with the job. They get bored. They get annoyed. It gets too hard. It’s more work than they thought. They think they are doing the work of two people (while still being one person, and still taking lunch and breaks.) They are always looking for that “next thing” – that immediate satisfaction they think might be at the next job.
Only, the problem is that the next job is the same as the last job. It’s still a job. It’s still working for a company that has a mission – and that mission is indifferent to the employee needs for immediate satisfaction. Companies can’t simply give out money without expecting matching value from the employee in return.
Nothing worth building has the word “immediate” attached to it. Not companies, and not careers.
When we are trying to hire new employees, we of course view resumes. It used to be the case, maybe 10 years ago, that most of the resumes we looked at demonstrated some degree of job stability. People who kept a job 4-5 years, sometimes longer, and they were looking to make a move to a different field. Now? Every resume I see has jobs on it that span less than one year. In most cases, these resumes are stacked with jobs that people held between 6 months and 18 months.
Why would I, as a prospective employer, want to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours training someone who I know is going to be out the door in a year?
Recently, I was interviewing someone for my company. The interviewee was so excited about all his experience in all the different industries in which he had worked. Job after job after job. He had no idea how this sounded to me, on the other end of the phone. All I heard was that he sucked up company resources, training, and good faith, in pursuit of the “broadening of his horizons.” I’m the person that you think is going to willingly sign your paycheck, give you first-class business training in my company, and then have you hit the road when it gets too tough? Too boring? When it seems like “too much work” or you’re not moving up in the company immediately?
We know it’s not just us. We’re small fish in a very big economy, full of employers and employees with myriad back-stories and experiences. When we see all the resumes that come in from people who have demonstrated zero ability to stick to anything, we know that their previous employers have also been through training hell. Spending weeks and weeks training people, giving them great pay, great benefits, a great work environment and buying them lunch, and surprising them with bonuses. But still having the audacity to expect them to work. The work part tends to be the dealbreaker. For these toxic employees, work was not what they had in mind when they applied for the job.
For our part, we are going to continue to try to solve this puzzle. Better training, ever-higher starting pay. More, more, more. No matter what we offer, though, we can’t fix people. We can’t make the job “not work”. It’s work. It will always be work. There will be hard days. We are not therapists, we are a business. And like everything else, there is a cost to paying more, offering more benefits, etc. We charge our clients more. We even charge tenants more. There simply are no free lunches. The irony in all of this is that we are just chasing our tails. This problem with the need for immediate satisfaction and ever-higher starting wages only backfires. The cost of everything goes up, and that buying power goes back down again and the employees start at the bottom of the ladder at a new company. Everyone loses.
The best solution I see for employees is to work on themselves first. Objectively ask yourself if you’re bringing your A-game to work every single day. Look in the mirror and ask what value you provide to your employer (hint: showing up isn’t value.) Ask yourself if you’ve demonstrated a significant track record of reliability and excellence. This takes time – have you put in the time?
Ask yourself if you’re going to get better, or get bitter.