What to do if “No One Wants to Work Anymore”

What to do if “No One Wants to Work Anymore”

What to do if “No One Wants to Work Anymore” 1800 1200 Brook Thorndycraft

My ear is to the ground as we experience a seismic shift in the way we work. It’s not a new one, but it’s been gaining momentum over the last two years of pandemic. We hear more about work/life balance, hybrid workplaces, population shifts like The Great Resignation, and popular ideas like Quiet Quitting. In management writings (and from some of the leaders I work with) I keep hearing people repeat the worry that “No one wants to work anymore.”

There is an upsurge in people challenging dominant narratives about what we should care about. What have we collectively been valuing as a society, and at the expense of what? We are more than our work, but we have been taught that the first question we ask each other is “What do you do?” and that work should take the majority of our time and energy. What if we actually want to live a different life? Connect with family and friends? Support causes we believe in? Care for each other in ways that reflect our values? 

People are wanting to do their job with boundaries and put work in its proper place in relation to the rest of life. 

Instead of finding these shifting values to be frustrating and overwhelming, what if leaders could see this as a chance to make some inspiring changes?

What are people so unhappy about?

At the same time, these shifts are not just about a collective change of values. They also reflect problems of that are endemic in almost all of the workplaces I support. 

The following are some of the primary reasons that people disengage from their workplaces:

  • Unrealistic workloads and the resulting burnout, stress and a lack of work/life balance
  • Feeling unvalued, both in terms of compensation, but even more in terms of a lack of autonomy, positive feedback, opportunities for advancement and professional development, and celebration of successes
  • Toxic, unfair, unsafe, or unwelcoming workplace cultures and management practices

These trends are leading employers to ask important questions. What are people so unhappy about? How do we make sure not to lose the people we rely on? Can we create workplace cultures that people want to work in? What do we need to do to ensure that people feel engaged in the work they are doing? 

The first thing is work/life balance

People are pushing back against the narrative about work that it is normal and expected to go above and beyond, stay late, commute an hour each way, and demonstrate excellence in everything. Many parents are no longer willing to miss a birthday or the school play because of a deadline. 

Lots of workplaces have believed they benefit from this narrative, but it has never been sustainable. 

If you are an employer whose business model or funding model is dependent on expectations that people will go above and beyond, this might be a scary hard time. If people are reassessing their relationship to work, it means everything has to be changed to meet that reality. It affects timelines, deliverables, and revenue or funding. It affects your workload as a leader, because you are probably also one of the people who has been living in this narrative.

And it’s also a massive and exciting opportunity to reimagine how and why we work. 

We can reimagine how we work

This is not an easy thing for an organization to do, but it is possible, and there are big payoffs in terms of retention, engagement, and creativity and innovation. Here are some of the things that help:

  • Audit people’s workloads and identify where the biggest overload lies. Figure out what the maximum is that your employee, team or workplace can actually do within their hours. Don’t forget to include time for asking questions, thinking, collaboration and rest. Innovation and adaptability require rest and repair. I have worked with many workplaces that are trying to be innovative, but they forget to integrate space to pause (as individuals and as teams) into their project timelines and cycles. They soon find that there is no time for mistakes, unexpected changes, or celebration of successes. A truly adaptive organization integrates this space into their project timelines and workloads.
  • Find efficiencies and cut out anything unnecessary, including projects and even funding if it comes with too many expectations. And then don’t add new things into the space that is cleared!
  • Shift cultural norms, starting with yourself. It’s a skill of a good leader to model sustainable work practices. If you have a little voice in your head telling you “You aren’t good enough or aren’t working hard enough, there’s so much to do, it’s all urgent,” it might be helpful to get some coaching support.
  • Consider how you might be rewarding overwork, and stop doing those things!

But also an empowering and psychologically safe culture is essential for engagement

This post has mostly been about work/life balance, but the number one most important thing for employee engagement (and retention) is the health of the workplace culture. People engage more when they trust the people they work with, feel safe to express their ideas and perspectives, and trust that their workplace is respectful, fair, and equitable. Work/life balance is a part of this, but it includes many other elements. People need to feel supported and valued. They need to know they will get the feedback they need to grow and develop, and that it will be done with respect. Employees need to know how decisions are made, and how they can influence them. Most importantly people need to trust the quality of relationships between team members and between employees and their supervisors. 

A landmark study by Google about team engagement found that team psychological safety was the number one most important factor predicting effective and engaged teams. On the other hand, unfair, high conflict, and toxic workplaces experience much higher retention problems as well as substantially more employee disengagement

It’s beyond the scope of this blog post to get into creating healthy workplace culture, but stay tuned for future posts. In the meantime, check out these past posts: How a Workplace Came Back Stronger from a Crisis and Preventing Workplace Conflict.

Changing culture is the key to engagement

We are in a moment when many people are no longer willing to compromise on what’s important to them. This is leading to massive changes in many of the workplaces I support. 

It’s a hard moment of change, and an opportunity for a healthier and more engaged workplace. Reach out for support if you are wondering where to start.