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Human Truth Podcast | Ep. 01: Is it really true that no one wants to work?

Is it really true that no one wants to work? We dig in to this question on the first episode of the Human Truth Podcast. Listen now!

The Human Truth Podcast

It’s a new podcast from Visier! Welcome to The Human Truth Podcast where, each episode, we take a closer look at a popular workforce statistic ripped from the headlines and ask: Where’d it come from? Is it true? And why should we care?

Learn more about resignation trends at the Outsmart Blog:


Producer: With a historically tight labor market, hiring the people you need has become harder than ever. Download Visier’s free guide, 10 Talent Acquisition Strategies For Winning in 2022’s Tough Job Market for tips on how to win the employees you need. Visit visier.com to learn more. Today on The Human Truth Podcast, Ian Cook, vice president of people analytics at Visier, and Yustina Saleh, PhD and VP of research and value also at Visier, will be discussing the idea that most Americans hate their jobs. Is there any truth to it? Or is it all just a big misunderstanding?

Ian Cook: Welcome, everybody, to the first Human Truth Podcast. I’m Ian Cook with Visier. I am an individual who is passionate about people, passionate about business, putting all that together with data to help inform the direction and make sure we win with people. I’m joined today by Yustina. Want a quick introduction, Yustina?

Yustina Saleh: Hello, hello. Yustina Saleh also with Visier. And I have been a little too obsessed about people, their pathways, what makes them thrive at work, and really excited to have this conversation today.

Ian Cook: And so, we’re launching this Human Truth Podcast to explore the reality behind people, data. Both Yustina and I have spent our careers helping educate, inform, guide, build a lot of this stuff. We’re often struck by how the data can change ideas or really guide and inform different action. There’s a lot of misperceptions out there and a lot of the focus of the Human Truth is let’s take a piece of data, let’s see what the general view about this data is. Let’s dig underneath that to work out is it true? Is it helpful? Does it work? What should we do? Sharing our history, sharing the data we have, sharing our experience to help build a better picture of how we build people-centric businesses.

So today, what we’re talking about is inspired by The Atlantic. They recently published an article disputing this notion that nobody wants to work. I think it’s a really interesting notion that nobody wants to work. Personally, I like working, but if we were to jump into this, Yustina, there’s this notion that people don’t want to work. There’s been lots of talk about why are people not coming back to work? What is it about work that makes people think that people don’t like to work?

Yustina Saleh: Well, this is a conversation that annoys me a little bit. There are so many of us who perceive their value to be hugely connected with work. If you are introduced to a person in a party, the first thing you ask is like, “Oh, what’s your name? What do you do?” So your work is part of who you are, part of your essence. And just assuming that people, they don’t like to work, I mean, the fact is, if you don’t work, first, physically and mentally, you’re going to die. And second, there are so many stories that inspire us about how people go out of their way to work.

Ian Cook: And yet, what I think the press are seeing is The Great Resignation numbers, and you and I are both very closely aware of what those numbers are, the extreme rates at which people are resigning from work. And I think the misperception comes that resignation means they’re exiting the workforce. What do you actually think resignation means?

Yustina Saleh: Well, it means that there are a lot more options today than there were in the past, that people, with the pandemic, with how we are seeing the meaning of life, you’re starting to see, it’s like, “No, I’m not just going to go and get a paycheck. I need to get value. I need to see the value that I’m adding. And if I am not seeing that value, I’m going to go find it somewhere else.” So there’s a lot of movement between companies. There’s a lot of mobility, internal and external, that we are not seeing. In that very, very static statistic, resignation rate is higher than ever.

Ian Cook: Yes. And so resignation isn’t a measure of who’s leaving the workforce. Resignation is more of a measure of who’s moving from job one to job two. And as you highlight it, some people are saying, “Oh, I’m resigning. I quit.” You have those examples from TV, from all those various pieces. Like, “I quit. I’m mad as hell and I’m going to leave.” Where actually, that’s not so much what I hear you saying. That’s not so much of what’s happening. There’s always a portion of that, but the larger message is like, “Actually I can find a more meaningful expression of work through changing careers. I can find a better work life balance through working remote.” And that opportunity to adjust work to fit what I want to do is unprecedented right now. And that’s being played out as people hate work. It’s like, “No, no people don’t hate work.” They actually have an unprecedented opportunity to access the work that they really, really want to do. And that’s creating a different work environment.

Yustina Saleh: Precisely. And I think the pandemic was a wake up call for all of us, but it also posed a lot of opportunities for many of us. If I can do work from home, why do I have to go and expose myself to those high risks of working in a place when I can have other options? So with that, what appeals people to a job is a lot more than a paycheck now. It’s all that comes with the job.

Ian Cook: Yeah. So again, we had some stats around… There’s a general social survey that looks at job satisfaction. I think it’s running about 84% of people are satisfied or very satisfied with work. That tends to play into this notion that people like to work. So you’re talking about people, able to access the kind of work they want. Why is that coming about? What’s driving that change? 

Yustina Saleh: Again, people are becoming more selective about the work that they are doing and the circumstances around the work that they are doing. So with that, there is a lot more opportunity to be satisfied with work.

Ian Cook: And I think that’s really interesting because a lot of the people don’t work to work. Seems to be coming from stats around there’s lots of jobs, there’s not that many applicants. And so like, “Oh, well I’ve got this really great job, but nobody’s applying for my job. That means people don’t want to work.” And I think that logic is flawed because I actually, I think what you and I know is the labor market’s changed so that actually there aren’t people available to do the work. It’s not that nobody wants your job. It’s just actually your job isn’t better than somebody else’s job. So nobody wants to do your work. How has labor participation changed? Because that has a big impact on the number of people available to do work.

Yustina Saleh: Great question. And this is a really, really great segue because if you look at it like, “Oh labor force participation has declined so madly since 2019.” And what does that mean? Is just people are getting lazy. They don’t want to get out and work anymore. And there’s a lot of anecdotes really about like, “Oh, they don’t need to work anymore because there are all those checks coming in.” But this is really, really inaccurate. And if you look at the demographics of labor force participation, you will start to see that very clearly. First of all, so yes, labor force declined, but so dramatically. In four months it went down by 3%, right? But then it started going up the more there’s flexibility. There were two pressures on labor force that employers are saying, “All right, we’re going to close doors. Go ahead. And if they’re not searching for job, because there aren’t any options out there that they perceive, well off you go.”

And at the same time, well, work versus stay alive was very, very big question on the minds of many people. As there were more and more flexibilities coming into work, you start to see labor force participation rate going higher and higher. And now it is not that still at the level of 2019, but it is trending up. So you see what is happening. And it is also gradual that you say, “Is their welfare paycheck over or not?” You don’t see those abrupt numbers to say like, “No, it is because of those extraneous factors.” But it was mostly impacted by women who tend to be more the caregivers, and also by them being outside, what about, how are they going to bring… What kind of risks are they bringing back home? So they chose to… Is it a choice really? If you are not providing any of the… They can’t work. It’s not that they don’t want to work. 

Ian Cook: Yes. Because the capacity to access work just does not align with all of the other demands on their time and various things. I think that’s a great observation. I’ve seen a lot of conversation right now, which I think is very valid, that some of the gap in the labor market tightness that is being experienced could and should be shifted by rethinking work policies. Our work policies often go back to the industrial age, where the machine drove the work, and you had to be there from 9:00 to 5:00 for some random reason. And that really doesn’t work for people anymore. And we’ve all had this quite visceral experience of working very differently. And lots of people I’m talking to is like, “Well, actually, the work didn’t miss a beat. And in some instances there were different pressures. And other instances we actually got more done.” 

And so, “Why would I return to the way it was if there are elements of how I’m working now that are better? And how do we adapt to that?” There’s a lot of opportunity. I think all these pressures create this enormous opportunity to adapt how we work. Sometimes you have the choice, sometimes you don’t, but I think there’s this people don’t work to work, I think, just moves that problem away as opposed to embracing it and saying, “Actually, people want to work. They just don’t want to work in the old ways because they don’t fit.”

Yustina Saleh: Exactly, exactly. That is exactly the point. And the options are also far wider now than here is a job, because the gig economy is prospering more than ever. And actually, many employers and many enterprises are benefiting from the gig economy more than ever, because you can get work done faster. It’s a contract. It’s not a long term relationship. Let’s just try it out. And that provided immense opportunities for many people.

Ian Cook: That’s a really great point, Yustina. Let’s break here and explore that when we come back.

[BREAK] Producer: When we come back Ian and Yustina discuss whether or not it’s possible to be happy while also keeping your options open. Spoiler alert, it’s totally possible. With a historically tight labor market, hiring the people you need has become harder than ever. Download Visier’s new guide, 10 Talent Acquisition Strategies For Winning in 2022’s Tough Job Market for tips, such as why hiring internally is key to winning new talent, how to think like a sales team to keep your recruitment pipeline strong, and how to identify the most critical positions to maximize your talent acquisition resources. Visit visier.com to learn more.

Yustina Saleh: Welcome back everyone. This is The Human Truth Podcast. And I’m Yustina Saleh, and I’m joined with Ian Cook, talking about this false notion of people don’t want to work. Well, fantastic. I have a question for you, Ian. So they say there’s a generational element to working, and some people say that millennials just don’t like to commit. They will take a job, and then hop, and move from job to job. And there’s a lot of stats out there to say they are a lot more likely to look for a different job. They are a lot less likely to stay. They’re always looking. Staying within the same organization for 12 months, only 36%. So what’s with the hopping? 

Ian Cook: Yeah. I think it’s a fantastic question. And I think it does, as you say, come back to demographics. The reading I’ve done around this space, the boomer generation was the biggest generation to date. When it came into work, there was a scarcity of work relative to the number of people. That created this notion of loyalty, that created this notion of, “If I have a job, I’ll hold onto it because I’m not sure where I can go.” What I think that created is a certain work experience, which was probably suboptimal. Like, “I’ve done this job forever. I’m comfortable. I’m bored. But I fear what will happen if I change.” We’re not really in that world anymore, because… I don’t really necessarily what I categorize myself generationally, but I changed jobs every two years for the first 15 years of my career.

And what drove that was, I came into the job, I learned something, I had a new challenge. There was some excitement there. I went through a cycle where I got good at it. And then I got bored. And I don’t really see the point for an employer having somebody in a job who’s bored. And I think it’s a really common human experience. I really don’t think I’m unique in this. I think lots of people want the challenge, want the growth, want the exploration of using new talents. But when you’re doing that for the third time, it’s like, “Yeah, I can’t quite do it in my sleep, but it’s not really extending me as a person.” And so the notion of job change, and I think this is, again, where employers have to think about people as it relates to getting their services and products built, there’s no reason why, if you’re a big enough business, you can’t have internal mobility. There’s no reason why., for a small business, you can’t have an alumni process where people come, learn, move somewhere else, learn some more, move back. 

I just think that we need a fundamentally different approach to accessing, deploying, sharing talent over time. This notion that a company owns you and you work for them, and once you’ve worked for them, they reward you, like the gold watch model of employment. I think it’s gone. A, employers couldn’t keep up with it. B, some employees may want it because they like the stability. But a lot of people, especially early in their careers, you’re questing, and understanding, and learning, and growing. And that’s really important. So I think we should embrace the job hopping. Every six months? Maybe not. Every three years? Spot on. I love you. You’re motivated. You’re driven. You want to go places come work for me, let’s make the best use of those three years.

Yustina Saleh: This is really interesting. And I think you’re bringing up two points here, from an organization point of view and from a job seeker or an employee point of view. It seems that the trend is very consistent with people really, really wanting to get more value out of their work. And if they are plateauing, that’s when you need to switch your work diet and go look for other opportunities. But I feel like there is a lot that organizations can learn from this movement. And I don’t know, maybe it is more obvious for millennials because of…

Ian Cook: I think the opportunity has presented itself to millennials. Again, in some of our research, we came across the stat, 60% of millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity. And again, I think often traditional manners is like, “Well, you can’t be working hard for me if you’re thinking about working for somebody else.” And I think that is old fashioned thinking. There is no reason why somebody cannot be committed and driven in the work they’re doing whilst keeping an eye on the market. And I think it’s this, what’s happened for the millennial population is we actually now have a very active market. We have a lot of opportunity. The capacity to move opportunity is way different. It used to be, you had to know somebody to find the job. Now they’re thousands of places. Our digital world has made accessing work much easier. Remote work has made accessing work much easier. 

So the opportunity to move us higher, therefore, the market activity of where are my skills, where am I going to optimize my skills, where’s my next best move is key. I also think, and I’m not 100% sure on this, but a lot of millennials grew up playing digital games. Digital games move you up a level as a booster to your experience, as a way to keep you playing the game. So if you’ve moved levels every two months, and that’s your notion of progress, then work may need to actually match that. And so I think again, there’s two things employers can do. It’s understanding that somebody looking whilst they’re working for you isn’t disloyalty. It’s actually agency. And what you want is people with agency. The second is for employers to think about, “How do I go away from this massive single role?” It’s like, “Yep, you’re going to sit here for 10 years and you might just be capable doing something else by the end of that.” And actually trying to create structure within that.

Yustina Saleh: So, I totally agree with you about millennials and the importance of people looking for opportunity, that this is actually a good thing for enterprises. But I actually read a statistic that the vast majority of people looking for a job, close to 80%, maybe we can fact check that, close to 80% would be looking for jobs outside. And whoever you survey say it’s way easier to look outside the organization than inside the organization. What’s happening there? 

Ian Cook: I think that’s an interesting stat. I think it’s the dynamic… It’s hard to change a first impression is the way I would summarize that. I think a lot of people feel like they have a stable relationship with their management, they have a stable relationship with their team. And whilst humans grow, often our perceptions of them do not grow. So it likely feels easier for an internal employee to go, “I get a fresh start. I get to rebrand. I get to reposition. I get to elevate how I am seen,” because I’ve seen this happen in certain businesses where somebody starts as a junior employee. Six years in, they’re a rockstar, but the people who met them as a junior employee, unconsciously, I don’t think it’s even conscious or intentional, just unconsciously still see them as the junior.

It’s like, “Oh, can they really do that?” It’s like, “Yes, they’ve actually been handling it for six years. You just didn’t notice.” So, there’s a dynamic. Every working relationship is back and forth. So I think that is a piece of what makes it easier for people to look outside. It can be easier to search. You don’t have to worry about what your boss is going to think if you’re looking for a job with somebody else, like, “Is my boss going to be angry because I’m going to go and work with a different manager?” So it just avoids a lot of those dynamics which haven’t been normalized. And it feels to me like a big piece of work for employers is to actually not look at a person as belonging to a supervisor, as is often the case. But the person as an agent, an associate within the business who’s there to meet their needs and meet the business needs. So I think you highlight a really interesting fact, and something that leads us to think about what do employers need to do differently?

So let’s just take a few minutes to summarize. We’ve established that people like to work. We’ve established that actually a lot of people are really quite happy with work. We’ve also established that the opportunities for engaging with work are quite different from what they were, remote work, gig, more mobility, and more self agency in terms of, “I’m managing my own career,” versus, “I joined a business and they walk me up the ladder as they see fit.” So it’s more of an adult-adult kind of relationship, as opposed to the parent-child types that history built in the industrial age. If you’re an employer, Yustina, and you’re thinking about this new labor market that you’re playing, and where resignation rates will stay high, because people are going to move jobs, where 80% of people don’t think about looking internally as they’re looking for that movement. All those elements of, “I’m not applying for your job, because it looks boring and poor,” versus something that could lead me new… How do you think employers start to respond?

Yustina Saleh: Well, I think more than ever, you need to make your internal job market sexier than ever. And there is a part of me that feels a little remorseful about all the skills matching because it always puts biases, the hiring manager, to look outside because usually that person comes with fully wrapped bows of skills that are not captured internally. And so you miss a lot of that. But on the top of that, there is domain expertise that comes with experience, internal experience, that is also not captured at all in all the internal matching algorithms. So there is an AI part of it. There are the tools that are being used, it just always makes the shiny object outside look sexier. And of course, there is all this stigma around, it’s like, “You’re looking for another job? Someone told me that you applied here. What’s wrong?” All of this is creating, actually, the worst kind of storm for employers today, because there are simply not that many outside. Even with all the resignations and all the turnover, you have to look inside and you have to make it sexy, but also create pathways, understand how people are moving really, rather than that linear path that you have charted for everybody. It doesn’t work that way.

Ian Cook: I think you hit at some wonderful points there, Yustina. I’m reminded of a project I did a while back with a client where… And it’s the need to change the perception of the business about movement. What they recognized is they were hiring people out of university in order to feed the business, to grow. But a lot of those people were leaving 18 to 24, 30 months in. And so their whole program of feeding the business from university was failing. And what they did once they had the data, and again, it was driven off resignation data, was then start to talk to people like, “What are your career aspirations for the business? Do you know the other opportunities that are available to you? Do you know the other departments you could go and work in?” 

Activating the managers of that group, activating that conversation, they halved their short tenure turnover in that population. And as you say, it’s not a just throw money at the problem. I think a lot of people are just thinking, “Oh, we throw money at the problem and it’s solved.” It’s like, “Yeah, no,” because I think the movement is more driven. It’s a component where money is a baseline, but a lot of it’s driven about, “What will I learn? How will I grow? How will I stay employable?” And actually activating that conversation across the business. A very different mindset around people and their contribution and what it means to manage that contribution inside the business. So some pretty, pretty big shifts.

Yustina Saleh: Exactly. And let’s not forget that the number one driver for voluntary resignation is, “I’m looking for skills outside. I maxed out inside and I need to look for skills outside.” And the worst part about it is the skills that they are looking for outside are the most critical skills for the organization inside. You’re looking for what we need right here. You can get it all, but there is that possessiveness, plus the technology, plus the culture around work, plus the culture around pathways. And what do I know that are captured a lot easier once I get outside is really, really a huge barrier for enterprises. It’s not a nice to have anymore. Like this is a survival question here.

Ian Cook: And so trying to summarize our conversation for today, we started with this premise, busting the myth people don’t want to work. I think it’s really clear that people do want to work, but they want meaningful work that rewards them for their skills, where they’re in a fair and equitable work state. I think it’s also clear that there is more opportunity for people to find what fits for them than ever before. And that’s a labor market situation we haven’t been in. I think some people are hoping it’s a blip because of the pandemic. I think we need to educate them very clearly this is not a blip. This is the dynamics of our labor market are going to be those going forward. And again, a real focus on skill, and skill growth, and how you achieve that for yourself and achieve that with the business going forward. And any last words you would have, Yustina, in terms of things for people to think about to actually counter the myth and be successful in creating meaningful work for people going forward?

Yustina Saleh: Well, I will say that 80% of workforce would actually quit for the same exact dollar amount that they’re getting if another organization is offering them a way to show their value, which is they can get more skills out of it. So that really leaves us with a huge pause. They’re not leaving anymore because let me get a paycheck. They’re not leaving because they hate working. How can an organization really shift their culture to capture that? This is the best opportunity ever, but it’s also the most challenging because the technologies and culture are both not working for organizations to move forward.

Ian Cook: Thanks for a really great conversation today, Yustina. This is The Human Truth Podcast. We’re exploring data, what it means about people, and how you apply that to make business successful. 

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