Terry Rybolt is the Chief Revenue Officer at LiveXchange Technologies, Inc., a tech platform that enables a virtual, on-demand workforce.
There are many critics of the Great Resignation. Some commentators believe that as we head into a post-pandemic business environment, workers will adjust their expectations and everything will return to the normal we used to know back in 2019.
I’m not so sure about this. It’s true that the job-switching may have peaked, but I think there has been a fundamental change in expectations—especially in younger generations. There is quite a lot of evidence emerging to suggest that the change is permanent.
The Pew Research Center talked to almost 10,000 American adults in February of this year to explore why people are switching jobs. The findings are interesting. The top three reasons to quit were low pay, no opportunity to advance, and feeling disrespected at work—possibly the same three reasons that applied before the pandemic. However, look at the reasons immediately after the top three: child care issues, no flexibility over working hours, wanting to relocate and working too many hours. All these reasons are entirely focused on flexibility. People want more choice over their hours and where they need to work.
Professor Anthony Klotz coined the term “Great Resignation” in an interview with Bloomberg last year. He recently suggested to the Financial Times that the labor market will be unsettled for at least two or three years. As more people quit and gain new opportunities and improved flexibility, this will become contagious, and more people will follow what they see their friends and family doing.
Fast Company recently featured analysis by the futurist Eric Termuende, who first explored what changed over the period of the pandemic. Companies were forced to change quickly, but the upside was that everyone had to think deeply about how and where we all work. Many people found a new freedom in the flexibility this change created. They don’t want to give that up.
Termuende then predicted that office-based companies will need to offer flexible work location options because there is nothing forcing people back to the office except corporate leadership and tradition. Employees will not accept that, after performing well for two years, they must suddenly abandon their flexibility.
The best talent will have the most power to put their foot down and insist on remote work options, but no company can allow the A-team to work flexibly while everyone else is suffering. Everyone will need to be offered more flexible work arrangements, and if that doesn’t happen, then all your best talent will leave for more enlightened employers.
This is clearly what is happening right now. Even the Wall Street banks that previously said flexible and remote working cannot work for their corporate culture are backtracking because they can see that the best talent now expects flexibility.
We are witnessing a great reconfiguration of how employees expect to be treated by employers. Henry Ford gave his workers a full two-day weekend as early as 1926, but now a weekend is expected in most office-based jobs—unless the job involves serving customers over the weekend! We have certain expectations of the employer and employee relationship, and what was normal before the pandemic is now being challenged.
Even Wall Street cannot hold back the tide. People expect more flexibility over their hours and work location. Within a few years, this will be normalized by the effect of the top talent expecting it and that expectation fitering throughout company culture. This is how work will function post-pandemic. The Great Resignation is the first step, but eventually, I believe we will call the 2020s the Great Reconfiguration.
Here are the key points that I believe executives need to be aware of:
• WFH will live on. You might want your team back in the office, but they know they can be more productive remotely, and research backs up the employees. A new Harvard study suggests that all that in-person time can be compressed into just one or two days a week.
• Flexibility is not just WFH. You can start exploring much more flexible shifts and work options if employees no longer need to commute. This is great for the employees and also for the company that wants their team focused on peak periods—you need flexible Workforce Management, not just transferring the exact same Monday-to-Friday shift pattern into the home.
• Gig work is not just Uber. There are over 57 million gig workers/freelancers in the U.S. alone. Some gig work is driving a cab or delivering food from a restaurant—relatively simple tasks—but some gig work can be higly complex and involve domain knowledge, like supporting players inside a globally available game. Some gig workers need to be domain experts to contribute.
Gig work is not the only answer. However, my focus on customer service is a good example of why it matters. I cannot see many customer service agents wanting to return to long commutes followed by long shifts in a crowded contact center on little more than minimum wage. It’s just not an attractive environment. But those same skills can be used flexibly from home in a way that is advantageous to both the brand and the gig worker.
This will permeate across other industries. Our recent focus has been on the Great Resignation, but in the near future, it will be on the dramatic change in employee expectations. The world of work has entirely changed, and leaders of today need to accept that if they want to stay relevant to the needs and demands of today’s workforce.