The COVID-19 has caused a macro-level attitude shift in employees’ view of work, which led to a record number of people leaving their jobs in 2021. This was especially prevalent among the younger generations, with 54% of Gen Zers considered leaving their current employers last year. Their decision came within a year of their joining jobs.
For corporates, addressing this shift is certainly important, not only for the purpose of talent retention, but also to understand the factors driving productivity and excellence at work.
I tend to think what motivates people in their career has been more or less constant throughout history. Psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with his theory, the ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ as early as the 1940s, purporting that our actions are motivated by needs that progress from more basic physiological and safety needs to more complex psychological needs.
What we see among talent today is a greater focus on higher level needs such as a sense of belongingness to their organisation, respect from their colleagues, and a desire to self-actualise, as what Maslow calls it.
Longing for agency
It has occurred to me – and many of my colleagues – that one of the central traits underscoring the attitudinal shift is a longing by employees for more ownership of one’s work. From my experience, young professionals are willing to go above and beyond to provide their clients with the highest quality service if they feel an endearing reconciliation with their work. In other words, they want a greater sense of agency in defining priorities and producing results.
The most important step in promoting a sense of agency in the workplace is cultivating an ethos of ownership within the company. When employees view themselves as owners they will feel a greater sense of responsibility, oneness, and pride with not just the work they are doing but also the present and future direction of the workplace.
Extending ownership with monetary and non-monetary initiatives
Doing this, however, is no easy task. It comes down to creating a shared sense of purpose as well as providing tangible incentives to push the company ethos in the right way.
The former is a broad-based task and a longer-term effort that takes commitment, wholesale change of the modus operandi and a deep reflection into the ethos that drives a company. Companies can do this by looking into processes that influence communications and self-management. For instance, a culture of direct, honest and constructive communication can be instated, responsibilities can be assigned instead of tasks to be completed, and companies’ mission statements and strategic direction can be communicated and solidified regularly.
Another important step corporates can take to further a sense of purpose and ownership is one that can be accomplished in the shorter term: rethinking the remuneration model.
Compensation might be the most basic thing employees look for in a job, and in the current economy where the rising cost of living is affecting everyone, it is more important than ever for employers to offer a compelling remuneration package. However, monetary incentives can satisfy far more than basic livelihood needs. When designed properly, monetary awards like bonuses offer acknowledgment and a sense of accomplishment which help motivate employees to keep up their good effort.
This is why Kearney announced in August that it will become the first management consultancy to widen the doors of ownership and fundamentally expanding the ranks of employees that have access to an equity stake in the firm.
By offering equity stakes to consultants who attain junior manager levels, something that was previously restricted solely to partners, we are creating a culture of equity and opportunity and making the workplace more purpose-driven.
As the business environment becomes more complex, more interconnected and more information-driven, companies must call upon their one true asset: their people. Having people who are in it for the long run with your organisation will be the smartest investment you make to ensure a sustainable business.