Coping with seismic change in our work and lives

Much has been said in recent months about the Great Resignation, a mass exodus of workers that caught many employers off guard. Board conversations around the world agree that something needs to be done. Unfortunately, the response I’ve seen from many leaders is full of the same old bromides. Common ideas from leaders (developing tailored retention programs, increasing benefits and compensation, accelerating promotions, launching new training opportunities) show that leaders do not understand the full implications of the jobs crisis.

Before going any further, I have a confession to make: I was one of those leaders. I was happy with the way my team at DocuSign was set up before the pandemic and wanted to get back to that comfortable productivity as soon as possible. I had a professional comfort zone that I lacked and I assumed that my employees were in the same position. I was wrong.

One of the biggest blind spots for me was misjudging how much the world had changed for employees. It took some long conversations and some compelling data points, but eventually I came to a clearer realization. Employees don’t run away from anything, they run for something they feel is better.

From my perspective, the Great Resignation is a misdiagnosis. The issue of employee migration has two sides, and we’ve taken it upside down. Rather than thinking about what leadership can do to prevent great employees from leaving, we must first think about what we can do to attract them. Losers will ultimately see the phenomenon as a great resignation, but winners will see it as the polar opposite: what I’ve come to call “the Great Embrace.”

The key to the Great Embrace lies in what really matters in our lives: our families, our community and our profession. The pandemic has awakened in the global workforce a renewed desire for meaning, balance and responsibility in work and life. Gone are the days of expecting employees to be content with “working weekends”. They demand more, and rightly so. Scaling to meet their needs won’t be easy, but the cost of failure is a loss of access to the world’s best and brightest talent. Failing to act quickly and definitively is an unthinkable proposition.

To move beyond half measures and platitudes, and to sketch a map that recognizes the shift to long-term remote working at scale, leaders need to understand these five values ​​that make up this rapid shift in our culture. I hope that by understanding these values, leaders can develop strategies to make their institutions attractive to employees who want more:

economy everywhere

While the traditional economy has faltered during the pandemic, the Everywhere Economy jumped up and left us forever changed. Companies like Zoom, Netflix and Amazon have become essential service providers for work, life and mental health. Overnight, the arduous commutes, sack lunch eaten at a desk, and the obligatory break room ping-pong table have become relics of a distant past. For many, the pre-pandemic workplace is now ridiculously outdated and infinitely undesirable.

Embracing the Anywhere economy means more personal choices: the freedom to move where they want to live (or never leave), to be close to family and community or close to nature. In practical terms, that means they find jobs that offer culture everywhere, technology everywhere, and the drive to help them thrive wherever they choose.

As we made plans for the coming year, my management team sent out a short survey. The results were impressive: going forward, around 95% of the team wanted to work remotely at least some of the time. For me personally, it was an eye opener. I have a penchant for working in person and needed to listen to the team to understand that what was best for me was not necessarily best for everyone.

For companies, the Anywhere economy has yet to solve the challenges of collaboration, innovation and, to some extent, the depth of our interpersonal working relationships. Nevertheless, it brings with it the hope of a revolutionary expansion and diversification of the workforce.

Bold and life worthy missions

Workers now choose forward-looking companies that share their values ​​and proudly demonstrate those values ​​in every business decision. What was once considered a fanciful thought on the part of employees is now concrete and achievable. In a 2021 McKinsey study of American workers, 70% said their basic sense of purpose is defined by their job, and 65% said the pandemic has made them think about their purpose in life; 36% who had quit their job in the last six months did so without having a new job in hand. That’s how much the company’s vision, mission and values ​​matter now.

This is not to say that each individual’s purpose in life will become homogeneous with his or her employer. Nor is it to say that if you’re not the next Patagonia, you don’t belong in the economy. But there’s no denying that the global workforce expects their working time to play a significant role in improving our collective future.

A culture of belonging

For many of us, our work family is important enough to be considered part of our real family. Just like in a loving family, creating a culture of belonging begins with an employee’s sense of acceptance within their team and extends to how they fit into their department and work. company as a whole. When inclusion is sincere and consistent, employees rightly perceive that the organization cares about them as individuals, which builds their engagement and energizes their work.

In this particular area, the transition to the Anywhere Economy could pose new problems. For some employees, connecting in person with co-workers might be the most direct route to a deeper sense of belonging at work. It’s normal. There is no quick fix to this; it is a problem to be solved on a personal level. With our help, managers must redouble their efforts to reconnect with their teams and find new ways to build a lasting sense of belonging for all.

daily target

Coequal to the mission and culture of the company is the purpose that can be found in the craft of every job within a company. The joy of developing and perfecting our craft is the second most important thing in life, after our family. For many workers who have resigned in recent months, the pandemic has brought to light a gap between their day-to-day tasks and their priorities for honing their craft in a targeted way. In the aforementioned McKinsey study, 85% of managers and frontline workers say they struggle to find real purpose in their day-to-day lives. Faced with these bleak prospects and new, more attractive remote options, it’s no surprise that millions have turned to an entirely different career, their dream job. Others found more reason to be a stay-at-home parent and dropped out of the workforce altogether.

We also know that many workers who quit did so because they were undervalued or were not heard by their employer. In a 2021 study According to Edelman DXI, 54% of Gen Zers considered resigning, citing difficulties feeling engaged in their jobs, bringing new ideas to their manager, or even speaking up in video meetings.

Corporate responsibility

Finally, as the exodus of unsatisfying work continues, employees are embracing institutions with transparent and proactive ESG positions. 5WPR Consumer Culture Report found that an overwhelming 83% of Gen Z and Millennials are looking to buy from companies that share their values. With these two groups now accounting for nearly 50% of the global workforce, it’s not hard to see that they expect the same from their employers.

These new employees expect their employer to minimize negative environmental impacts and take a proactive stance in addressing social issues. They also come with the understanding that diverse viewpoints at work lead to more creativity and better decisions, making a company’s diversity and inclusion record an increasingly critical part of the decision-making process. of the candidate for new job seekers.

As the importance of corporate responsibility grows, expect ESG definitions to evolve alongside it. Transparency on all human elements, including product safety, labor practices, talent management and data security, will be the next beachhead in our accountability dialogue.

Without major corrective action by companies around the world, employees will continue to seek more attractive and meaningful work. They made it clear where they would like to go; it is up to us to meet them there. Winners in employee adoption of values, meaning and culture will not fail pre-pandemic models of employee engagement and retention. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach. Every institution should be mission-driven and put people first in every decision, strive to understand the motivations and development goals of its employees, and engage daily in an exceptional culture of purpose and belonging.


Dan Springer is the CEO of DocuSign.


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