In my work as an organizational psychologist, I’m fascinated by what causes people to behave the way they do at work—what makes them stay, and what makes them ready to take bold steps in a new direction. COVID-19, and other global shockwaves, have reshaped how we think about work, sparking a movement many dub The Great Resignation. People are rethinking life and work and want jobs that align with their values. I prefer to call it The Great Re-evaluation—a disruption that brings a real opportunity for innovation and culture change.
Understanding the drivers for change
At LHH, we’ve started to dig into people’s motivations for taking the next step in their career, tapping into data science to build a picture of the factors that drive readiness. Our study started with a literature review of over 150 peer reviewed papers from leading psychologists and academics relating to employment “readiness.” That helped us define measures of readiness and identify the three factors that influence how ready a person is. Firstly, how they feel on a personal level, secondly the impact of the workplace culture, and finally the wider environmental and societal issues.
Our Readiness Index has been developed by behavioral scientists to meaningfully explore the difference between how people say they feel about their work, and what's really going on for them at a subconscious level. Our quantitative survey was designed to capture both conscious and unconscious attitudes, encouraging people to go a little deeper than the automatic response. The result is a scientific measure that can shine a light on people's deeper motivations, helping employers to understand how ready their people are so they can support them to grow.
How ready are people?
The Readiness Index is a score derived from both the implicit and explicit responses to the survey. The score on a scale of one to 10 indicates how ready people are to take the next step in their career, with 10 being the most ready. We asked 2000 people working in the finance sector in the US, UK, and France what factors are driving their readiness to take the next step. Initial findings show a high degree of readiness across the groups we surveyed, with an average score of 7.7.
There was no difference in readiness between gender groups, and 78% of both men and women say they are ready for change. But our research revealed different drivers for change. Women are more inward focused and interested in opportunities for personal growth. Concerns about the future center around lack of self-belief in abilities and skills. The men we surveyed are more motivated by external factors like salary and workplace relationships. Men are 48% more likely to say their manager is poor compared with women and are more concerned about the rise of tech and other environmental factors, like COVID-19.
The group that emerged as the least ready across the three countries is 16–24-year-olds. We're calling this group The Vulnerable Youth. Young people, contrary to what we sometimes think about Gen Z and Millennials, appear to be the most disillusioned. Over half of the young people we surveyed say they feel anxious about next steps, and one-third that their voice isn’t heard. Young people have the highest levels of anxiety and a lack of self-confidence which is related to a low level of control over their next step and a pessimistic outlook over their future. Our research revealed that young people working remotely during the pandemic had missed out on the mentoring, belonging and connection they need to feel part of the workforce. As a result, young people say they feel excluded.
Waking up to what people really want from work
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman says we have two systems of thinking—fast and slow. System 1 is fast thinking that controls our intuitive, automated, rapid responses. System 2 is slow thinking where we have time to engage in deliberate effort, planning and reasoning.
We spend most of our time in System 1—moving through our lives and careers on autopilot—perhaps taking the first job on offer and continuing along a path set by early choices. The conscious parts of our brain might say we’re ready to take the next step, but our subconscious patterns and emotions tell a different story and often stop us from making a move. Sometimes we need a jolt to shock us out of passivity. And COVID-19 has been that catalyst, as people wake up to how they’re spending their precious time and will no longer stay in jobs where they don’t feel valued.
Unfamiliarity and change can leave the subconscious brain at sea. It can no longer tick over happily on autopilot, so our conscious brains are forced to take back the controls. We are more likely to move out of comfort zones, and act on concerns that have been simmering beneath the surface. Crisis can lead to opportunity. By understanding what really matters to people—and why they might stay or be ready to go—business leaders can design solutions that work for people in their career today.
Advice to employers: Harness the power of intention
Employers and employees now have a real opportunity to do things differently, and support workers to optimize their skills and desire for change. We’ve started by focusing on the financial sector and will be widening our lens to look at different sectors and global territories over the course of the coming year. We'll be using insights from the Readiness Index to develop processes that will help you take the pulse of your teams, drive readiness, and release untapped potential.
People want purpose at work. They are ready to walk away from a toxic workplace or bullying culture and will no longer stay in jobs where they are unhappy. The uncertain climate caused by the pandemic has led some people to invest in themselves and their skills. And they want to use them. One big lesson for employers is, ignore the aspirations of your workforce to develop at your peril. If you don’t harness the extraordinary latent abilities of your people, then someone else will.
So, if you want to attract and retain talent, and create an environment where people can flourish, then keep in touch with LHH and the wider Adecco Group as we embark on our latest journey to help get people “Ready for Next”.