“No one wants to work anymore.” I see and hear this phrase often: From family members, on LinkedIn, even from a former C-suite executive in a voluble rant over Zoom. It has also been attributed to Kim Kardashian. But the statement points fingers at a vague swath of the population without hearing their side. It begs the question, what are they seeing on their social media feeds because disgruntled employees and empowered freelancers are having discussions that might change the minds of any business leaders tempted to think this way.
Conversations about the workforce can be isolated in echo chambers separated by class, title, or political affiliation. We all come to the table with different incomes, abilities, life experiences, and conclusions about the workforce. Here is a way to reframe why workers, in their positions of limited power, have been leaving their jobs and are quietly quitting: Poor pay, poor boundaries, and the desire for more independence.
The sentiments shared on social media may sound melodramatic but that emotion is real, and it reflects how much people are struggling to pay their bills, feed their families, and live a balanced life.
Low Wages Are Not Meeting Workers’ Standards
The pandemic has brought on staffing shortages, and workers with children don’t have extra income for childcare services. Adjusting to the “next normal” every few months has put a strain on our health. But the extra demands placed on workers have not been matched with extra pay. With every passing paycheck, they are seeing the value of their loyalty and work diminish.
Former Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, known for offering all his employees a starting wage of at least $70,000, was a vocal advocate for higher pay all around. His resignation has not overshadowed his advocacy. “Apparently a lot of bosses need to hear this,” he wrote in a tweet with over 100,000 likes. “If you’re giving out a 5% annual raise right now, you’re giving out a pay cut.” In October 2021, 56% of American workers surveyed by Bankrate had not received a raise or a promotion in the past year. Now place that figure in the context of historic rates of inflation. No wonder we are seeing people leaving their jobs en masse. It is not that no one “wants” to work anymore. They want to receive fair compensation for the work they are doing.
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The Need to Respect Boundaries
“If you died today, they would post your job tomorrow, literally.”
Workers are seeing and living this message. They feel pressure to stay tethered to work 24/7 without compensation for doing so. Working from home has given many employees more freedom. Others have lost a sense of work-life boundaries altogether. Demanding this type of loyalty and availability is often framed as a blatant disrespect of personhood — 35% of people who left their job in 2021 said that feeling disrespected at work was a major reason for their departure; 21% said it was a minor reason.
Telling employees that they are like a family, without giving them time off to spend with their actual families, only hurts morale. Offering virtual happy hours and free pizza does not make up for the fact that these employees may be struggling to pay their bills.. Respecting employees’ boundaries does. There is cynicism that leaders don’t always live up to promises to show employees that they are valued and that their boundaries are worthy of respect. What are these boundaries? Honest conversations with your team are the best way to find out.
Everyone Is Looking for More Independence
There were 5 million applications to start a new business in 2021. A whopping 53 million Americans are now freelancing. All you need is an Etsy or Upwork account to start making money on your own. In previous generations, the arguments against freelance work (no benefits, extra responsibilities, etc.) were enough to keep workers within the corporate structure. With lower pay, fewer benefits, and more demands in the corporate structure, freelancing and more independence are more appealing than ever.
Transparent discussions about the benefits of working for yourself are everywhere on social media. They are coming from freelancers who feel relief, from entrepreneurs who want to show off, and from coaches who want to reel you into their program. Despite any hidden agendas behind these messages, working for yourself has become a badge of honor. Its lure is pulling people from the 9-5 and creating the illusion that no one “wants to work.”
It is not that no one wants to work anymore; they just don’t want to work in an environment without flexibility or independence. More and more people in the workforce are adopting this mindset and technology has made it easier than ever to make self-employment a reality.
The challenge for employers wanting to get people back into the office is to make their companies more appealing than the independence of self-employment.
Starting a New Conversation
It’s time to take a step back and evaluate how pay rates, benefits, and expectations regarding work-life balance are affecting employees. Workers are empowering themselves through online conversations about working conditions and low pay. These conversations are influencing a new generation of entrepreneurs and freelancers who are stepping outside the typical corporate structure or “quiet quitting.” Leaders can acknowledge these concerns to create a more understanding, fulfilled workforce.