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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2022-02-05 09:15

Cathryn Barnard



Various conversations with frustrated CEOs in the last few months have attributed the ‘Great Resignation’ singularly to inflation. There seems to be a view...


Leaving Me Now. If you Leave Me Now. If Leaving Me Is Easy. Why have so many songs have been written about leaving?


Because leaving isn’t easy.


Various conversations with frustrated CEOs in the last few months have attributed the ‘Great Resignation’ singularly to inflation. There seems to be a view that people are solely on the hunt for higher salaries to combat the rising cost of living. 


It’s not that straightforward. 


Until recently, making decisions about work was as nail-biting as choosing a life partner. Work-related issues were included in the top five causes of stress. Knowing you’ve made the right call about something that takes up so much of life is a huge leap of faith - how many of us ever really *know*?


The labour market is certainly less stable than it was twenty years ago, and perhaps younger generations feel less tied to permanence, given the ‘on-demand’ nature of life in the Internet age.


But despite changing attitudes, most of us still hope for job security and ‘good’ work.


Making any big life decision typically takes reason, consideration and courage. With work, as with personal relationships, when you accept a new role, you’re ostensibly taking a gamble. You’re trusting the story you’ve been told about another party enough to go on a journey. This requires belief that you won’t be disappointed. As trust expert Rachel Botsman has written:


“Trust enables us to feel confident enough to take risks and open ourselves up to being vulnerable”. [1]


Emotionally, there’s a lot at stake.


When I think about the jobs I’ve left, in every case there’s been a significant time-lapse between the moment I realised I needed to go, and the point at which I did so. While I may have entered the ‘zone of disengagement’, it took months before I was ready to acknowledge that how I felt wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. And once I’d applied rational logic to my decision-making, how ready was I to give up on the aspects of my work I still enjoyed – colleagues, teamwork, clients?


Unless their work environment is toxic, I don’t think anyone really ever leaves a job with 100% conviction. It’s human nature to doubt and regret.


Most of the time, we leave relationships – personal or commercial – because we no longer feel valued. Because we feel unseen and unheard. 


Since March 2020 we’ve explored what CEOs are doing to mitigate against the human cost of pandemic-fuelled anxiety. Last year, we undertook qualitative research to understand how CEOs are building more inclusive ‘people-first’ cultures. 


But when people move on anyway, this can feel like an impossible mission and for some, a waste of time. What’s the point of it all if people still resign? 


This has always been a risk, though. In every interpersonal relationship, you can never be entirely sure what someone else is thinking. Every positive social interaction is a recommitment to the belief that the relationship has value and somehow makes life better. 


We don’t enter romantic relationships with a pessimistic outlook. Why would we do the same in our professional lives?


In all my years recruiting, money has rarely been the sole driver informing work and career choices. Typically, it only becomes important when someone learns they’re being paid less than industry standard. Equity and a sense of fairness are paramount. Today, data shows that people are increasingly willing to deprioritise salary for other factors that make work ‘good’.


Mostly, we want to feel we matter at work. Acknowledged for our contribution. Recognised for what we bring to the party. Supported and encouraged to be our best.


In more than two decades of employee engagement research, analytics firm Gallup has identified “There is someone at work who encourages my development” as one of the best survey questions separating enthusiastic, high-performing workers from low-performing, miserable ones. [2]


In my experience, jobseekers most commonly cite a desire to learn, develop and grow in their careers as a reason for wanting to explore pastures new. Money helps, but it’s far from the single driver.


So, to those CEOs about to give up on their efforts to improve organisational culture, I say this. Don’t. Continuous improvement is a never-ending process of trial and error. 


Nurturing a positive workplace culture requires the willingness to show up every day and do your best for everyone within your ecosystem. In increasingly tumultuous commercial landscapes, your internal stakeholders are just as, if not more, important than your external ones. They’re the ones who have your back, who believe in your vision and trust you enough to stick with you even when things seem impossibly hard. This is what Simon Sinek means by the ‘Infinite Game’ [3]. 


Some days it’ll feel thankless. Others, you’ll feel on top of the world. But isn’t this commitment to never-ending relational improvement what brings us meaning? 


Leaving is never easy. Our work relationships and the workplace communities we nurture have never been more important to success outcomes in the future of work. 


PS: In case you’re wondering, Level42, Chicago and Phil Collins are your ear worms. 


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Navigating Talent RiskRecruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.



[1] Botsman, R. (2017). Who Can You Trust: How Technology Brought Us Together – and Why It Could Drive Us Apart. London: Penguin Random House


[3] Sinek, S. (2019). The Infinite Game. London: Penguin Random House

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