subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Twenty years ago it was commonplace to hold the same job for a decade or so. But today’s work environment is different. The millennial labour force, who make up the largest generation in the global workforce, will stay 2.75 years in a job on average.

A recent Gallup report found that 21% of millennials surveyed had changed jobs within the past year — more than three times the rate of other generations. And it’s not about the money; this same generation is said to quit their jobs mainly due to a lack of meaning in their work, rather than leaving for higher pay. 

It’s no surprise, then, that a 2023 Gallagher Organisational Wellbeing Report highlighted the top priority for organisations in 2024 was retaining their skilled workers, even above generating more revenue. Data from June last year indicated that almost 60% of 122,416 global workers weren’t feeling engaged at work. That’s a lot of people just going through the motions. 

The great disengagement 

All the research points to one main reason — a lack of purpose or meaning in the work. If employees feel no connection to the work they do each day it makes sense that they will search for greener pastures. However, as the adage goes, is the grass really greener on the other side? Is it not just more of the same but in a different setting? 

I believe the answer is a resounding yes. The workplace has become an endless loop of human resource turnover, and it’s because employers are so caught up in the rat race of boosting the bottom line that they have failed to prioritise employees.

Of course, there’s been a lot of lip service about caring for their staff. In an attempt to keep employees “happy”, management has introduced certain perks, such as working from home one day a week or putting a pool table in the communal area. But these are just well-designed distractions to avoid dealing with the real issue of employee disengagement. 

Employees are disengaged because they don’t feel valued. Communication in the workplace is poor, leadership can be inferior, and there are no growth opportunities. All of these things tie into an organisation’s fundamental workplace culture, which in too many instances is completely undefined or nonexistent. 

Resetting the relationship 

While it’s been well-reported that Covid-19 had a telling effect on the way we work and how employees feel about their jobs, many experts argue that the future of work was shifting even before the pandemic. 

With issues such as rising stress levels, anxiety, and burnout, workers have long been questioning their job satisfaction. The pandemic just accelerated things, or rather put things into perspective. So significant was this newfound perspective that the Gallup report cited 2024 as the year of the employee-employer relationship reset. 

Traditionally, the working relationship has been a simple transaction. Workers are expected to give up their time, and in return companies provide financial remuneration and job security. A simple contract, though mostly dictated by the company, seemed to work well for a long time. Today, however, we are living in the age of people. Employees no longer see themselves as resources to be expended; instead, they want to be seen and treated as humans. It’s about the give and take. 

This is where leadership can be the nail in the employee experience coffin. When we do employee experience research for companies, more than 50% of the time the feedback we get is that leadership is responsible for employees feeling demotivated, disengaged, and unsatisfied in their positions. The “aha” moment here should be that in many cases the employees aren’t quitting their jobs, they are quitting their bosses. 

Here are a few things employers can consider to retain their top talent: 

  • Make your employee experience as important, if not more important, than your digital and innovation strategies. Often, companies get caught up in digitising offerings and implementing the latest technology. While this has its place, it can’t be at the expense of employee happiness.
  • Regular employee insights. Consider how often you ask your employees how they feel about the job, what could be done better, where they would like to see improvements.
  • Customer feedback. Your customers can be an effective key in uncovering the cracks in the employee experience. Make gathering customer feedback an important and consistent part of your business strategy.
  • Training. This is a must if you want to hold on to your skilled workers. The research coming out of the pandemic years tells us that a top priority for employees is skills and career growth. Leaders need to empower their staff so they can grow as individuals, which will also provide value to the company by improving the customer experience for the end-user.
  • Create a purpose-led culture. Surprisingly, most employees aren’t even able to articulate their company’s mission and vision. If they don’t know why they are showing up each day, it’s tempting to find another organisation that can offer them more purpose.

A key thing for businesses to remember is that engaged employees are critical for overall company success because engaged staff are far more likely to keep customers or clients happy. In the words of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson: “Train your people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

Schooling is CEO of nlightencx. 

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.