TLDR: Businesses need to rethink how they deal with exiting employees; remember that ‘at will’ works both ways.
So I joined the crowd this September and left my job. I’m now a consultant with Publicis Sapient. There are a bunch of reasons for the change, some related to the current work environment and others the traditional reasons to move on. Since this is a current events item I did have some thoughts, and maybe a revelation on how this changes work going forward.
First, there is an obvious difference between knowledge workers, who have the luxury of working from anywhere, and service workers who don’t. Paul Krugman noted it may be that low wage workers finally realized how bad their jobs were. Plus, life’s too short to put up with jerky customers. Oh and bad pay and bad hours, in general corporate exploitation.
With knowledge workers, it looks like remote work will be a thing now. Whether that’s good or bad we’ll find out. For me, probably many others, the social aspect to going to the office was a draw… one key finding in engagement surveys I’ve seen is employees stay engaged with their company because they like the people they work with–more or less that is ‘culture fit’. We will likely look back at the forced remote socialization efforts (zoom happy hours, zoom meet the execs mixing cocktails, zoom anything really) like planking and ice bucket challenges (“that was a thing?”). Relegating work to just ‘work’ and not including all those random interactions you have in the breakroom, like comparing Original Twin Peaks to Return Twin Peaks, makes you think hard if the work, and this company, is enough.
Conversely, if there are jerks that make your work harder to do, your decision to leave is easier. In remote work the jerks tend to stand out, I’ve found.
Forced remote work offers a few benefits to job seekers. You can interview all day long. No need to take a day off, travel, put on your suit, and spend half a day with multiple interview panels… No need to sneak off to the parking lot for a phone interview. You just fit a Zoom/ Teams/ GoogleHangout in between blocks of work.
More importantly, remote work means you don’t have to move to get a new job. In my early career, UX/HF jobs were scarce, and ‘telecommuting’ wasn’t a thing–I moved three times for a pay bump. Unless you’re in a tech hub, like Austin now, you had to go to where the jobs were. Now, it is low risk to try something, especially in a seeker’s market. I got an offer contingent on relocating, which I understand makes sense for a manager position, but was a non-starter for me because I have no interest dealing with the housing market right now.
I had to play the world’s smallest violin when I read on LinkedIn about candidates ghosting hiring managers. When it is still standard practice for HR to ignore candidates (lookin’ at you JPMC, IBM, USAA, Visa), now they start whining? At-will goes both ways, you’re finding out.
So what do companies and employers need to do if this is the ‘new normal’? I mean besides living wage and work-life balance, generally treating employees like people; better yet–customers. One insight that could illustrate your opportunity is the trend for ‘boomerang employees‘. So if you’re not doing enough to retain employees, at least don’t burn the bridges when they leave. Instead of threatening them by reminders of the non-compete, or dismissing those who leave as ‘not team players’ (i.e. execs not taking a hard look in the mirror for an exodus), thank them for their service and check back later. First, they might ask if so-and-so left yet.