Nobody wants to work anymore.
You’ve heard this before.
Heck – maybe you’ve even said it yourself.
With stories of companies ending remote work policies and with businesses asking their teams to come back to work, there inevitably follows a cacophony of voices that blame employees for looking for jobs elsewhere.
I’ve worked in the leadership space a long time.
Unofficially for over 15 years.
More formally, I have a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Teaching Leadership.
I’m also a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy.
Not to mention, my business Good Advice offers consultative services in the leadership and management space, an area I’ve been involved in for several years now.
I say all this to say that when we talk leadership – this isn’t a casual hobby of mine.
This is something that has been a deep focus and a professional interest of mine for a while.
I can tell you plain and simple one basic truth:
When someone tells me, “Nobody wants to work anymore!” It tells me far more about that person’s management style than it does say anything at all about the quality of people who work for them.
However, “Nobody wants to work anymore” has become a rallying cry for bad bosses everywhere.
Earlier this week, one CEO gave his perspective.
There’s a bit to unpack here, and unfortunately it’s not any different from the dialogue we’ve seen for years.
Contrary to popular belief, “Nobody wants to work anymore” isn’t a phrase that popped up after COVID.
It may surprise you that this is something that’s been said about the working class for over a hundred years now.
As the world continues to evolve — and with it, what the work week looks like for many professionals — there continues to grow this trend of bosses unable to adapt and embrace change in the way they manage.
It’s hurts to be Self-Aware
One of my favorite tools in the leadership and management space is a 360 assessment.
I’ve done probably a hundred of them at this point, and they continue to be one of the best, data-centric ways to give a person real, tangible feedback on the kind of job they’re doing.
It’s called a 360 because it involves getting feedback from basically everyone who works with you.
It’s basically a 360 degree view of you and your leadership style.
You know what I most often hear from people when we go through their 360 data?
“I had no idea.”
What I’ve founded over the years is that people really struggle having an objective view of themselves.
Understandably so, too.
I remember being in my early 20s and acting extremely sarcastic left and right – and I thought this was a really likeable quality.
It wasn’t until someone told me, “Hey, you’re kind of an asshole” that I realized the person I thought was me was actually pretty different from how other people thought of me.
I’m not the only one who’s had this problem before.
Harvard Business Review years ago did a study using 360s.
They wanted to find out two things.
One – how many people think they’re self aware.
Two – how many people actually are self aware.
The way a 360 works is not only are you getting feedback from everyone around you, but also you are giving yourself a score on how you think you’re doing.
For people whose personal scores lined up with how other people saw them… these people were seen as fairly self-aware.
And for those who had drastically different scores – for better or worse – these people weren’t self-aware.
Just as a random note, it’s always interesting to me often I run into this latter situation, where someone’s personal scores are far higher than how others rated them.
You can probably think of a boss you’ve had in the past that lines up with this.
It’s usually the person who describes themselves as being “incredibly self-aware”…
Despite being hopelessly not self-aware.
In the case of the HBR study, ask yourself this: what percent of people ended up actually being self-aware?
Their conclusion might surprise you.
They found that at most only 15% of people are self-aware.
Even generously rounding up to 20%, it means that on a team of 10 people – only 2 are statistically likely to be self-aware.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to assume that on some of the most toxic teams, naturally the boss believes they’re one of the two.
And I think that’s why this conversation is so important.
When we talk about “nobody wants to work anymore” – we really aren’t having a conversation on the types of people applying for jobs.
If anything, it’s a far deeper reflection on the boss and their philosophy (or lack thereof) for leadership.
When We Struggle to Lead Effectively
Years ago, I was in a conversation with someone looking for a consultant for their company.
This person ran a local business and she was experiencing a major problem.
Another person had just quit – and this one was devastating for her business.
Worse, it wasn’t the only person to leave in recent months.
In fact, in the past year, nine of her 12 employees had all left the business.
“I’m really struggling,” she began. “I simply can’t find quality people.”
I listened to her for a moment as she talked about how bad her employees had been.
Then, I simply replied, “You know, in my experience, when 9 out of 12 of your team quits in a year… it’s usually not them. Usually it’s the boss.”
She was immediately offended.
“If you’re telling me it’s my fault then clearly I don’t need to hire you.”
I think about this experience from time to time and it always has struck me how quickly she snapped back at me.
I had no bias for her business, and I really was just trying to make a polite observation.
But I’ve found that it’s really a challenge for us to take an honest look in the mirror.
What we see, frankly, can really hurt.
It’s hard to recognize that some of the most painful circumstances we find ourselves in are a result of our own doing.
Not only that – it’s infinitely easier to blame others for our problems.
______ are so lazy and entitled.
It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.
Time Magazine spotlighted people’s opinions ten years ago.
It kind of reminds me of another cover article several years prior:
Funny how even when things change, a lot of the conversation stays the same.
It’s the Economy — not Avocado Toast
Someone asked me recently for advice on hiring new people – she was struggling to find great employees.
Whenever I get this question, my quickest reply is usually, “What do you pay?”
In this instance, the person replied, “$12/hour.”
To which I explained, “I’ll be straight with you. There is no advice in the world I can give you that is going to get you great employees at $12/hour.”
To be clear this owner was well-meaning and well-intentioned… though it’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation either.
Four or five years ago, when $15/hour was becoming a new standard, a business owner asked me for advice on how to get his minimum wage employees to stick around, instead of going down the street to another business paying $15/hour.
My advice was simple and direct.
“I can’t afford to do that,” he explained.
In that case – you don’t have an employee problem. You have a fundamental problem with your business model.
But it’s hard to face that.
It’s hard to recognize that the business we’ve poured our blood, sweat, and tears into isn’t functionally working.
Again, it’s infinitely easier to blame the employees and to believe that they’re the problem.
Let’s talk objectively, though.
Right now, there’s not a city in the country where a minimum wage earner can afford a one bedroom living space.
In other words – if you worked 40 hours a week at minimum wage – you wouldn’t make enough money to find a single place to live anywhere in the United States.
So when an employer asks me, “How do I get my minimum wage earner to stick around and really care about the business?” I can’t help but feel like it’s a nonsensical question from the get go.
These people are literally living paycheck to paycheck concerned with their two most basic necessities – food and shelter.
What I’ve found is that instead of us facing these deep issues in our society, we instead make the conversation around work ethic and problems with Gen Z, millennials, or what have you.
Adapt or Die
The bottom line is that businesses that aren’t willing to be competitive when it comes to talent simply aren’t going to make it longterm.
There was once a business owner who was bleeding customers and when faced with the feedback and criticisms of why his customers were leaving, he said:
“This is the business I set out to make. If they don’t like it, they can go somewhere else.”
I was shocked, leaned in, and said, “But they are going somewhere else. That’s the whole point of this conversation.”
It’s another example of deflecting our own shortcomings onto someone else – in this person’s mind, his customers.
I’ve found that people often are simply unwilling to change, grow, and develop how they do business despite all signs pointing out that they really should.
People are notorious for this.
We live in a digital world today.
Yet there are still people today who bemoan the added resources that come from the digital world.
It doesn’t mean you absolutely have to have a website for your business in 2023.
But you can know you’ll grow far slower than a competitor who does.
Similarly, in early 2020 I gave a presentation to businesses on Innovation in the Workplace.
My focus was entirely on digital teams – companies that had grown to $1 Billion in revenue while having entirely remote teams.
No office. No HQ.
Businesses that had scaled entirely online.
Several weeks later towards the end of March 2020 – I got a phone call from one of those businesses I had presented to, asking me to come back and share more on my perspective.
Granted – I didn’t really expect a worldwide pandemic to be the proof that was in the pudding.
What I did find out though was that some businesses really flourished during COVID because they understood the need to adapt.
Steve Blair, SHRM-SCP recently joined me on the Good Advice Podcast and he said as much. His business weathered the storm of COVID because they were willing to embrace change.
In 2020, businesses everywhere had to ask: how do I recreate my company’s culture when people can’t see each other every day?
“It can’t be done” = recipe for disaster.
“What would it take?” – words that prefaced real innovation in the talent retention space.
A few years later, we’re not in any different a conversation.
We have businesses that are ending work from home policies, even in some of the most bizarre instances – like Zoom’s most recent call to return to the office full-time.
Zoom, oddly enough, built their brand seemingly overnight during COVID as being the best resource to connect people.
Shouldn’t a business built on digital connections have all the resources needed to build and maintain a company’s culture without people having to be in the same room?
All this to say – if I’m a Zoom developer, there’s no shortage of job postings online looking for an experienced programmer.
It feels like businesses want to stick to the old way of doing things rather than actually innovate and change.
Personally, I think the writing’s on the wall for the older model of management.
This isn’t the first time businesses have had to choose between sticking to their guns or embracing change.
Back in ‘95 when the internet was roaring – do you think everyone was jumping on board?
And this was a Silicon Valley developer. Not some random person.
So really – none of this is anything new.
There will always be people moving against the tide. Fighting against the tide doesn’t typically work out well, though.
None of This is New
We’ve heard versions of all this before. Frankly, it’s going to continue well into the future of our generation and our kids’ generations and so on and so forth.
Blaming employees is simply the easiest way to shift the narrative.
(By the way, it’s a page of the same book that blames poor people and immigrants when the economy struggles.)
And this isn’t to mean that we can’t have standards for our work.
People who work from home can be held accountable to outcomes just like anybody else.
I think in reality a lot of managers simply don’t know what to do with their own time – and looking over someone else’s shoulder is a time burner that feels a lot better for them.
Either way, this conversation likely isn’t going anywhere. Still, if you find yourself wanting to manage your team better.
Start with a few things:
- Pay fairly. It doesn’t mean you have to be the best, but you certainly don’t want to be the lowest. And if you genuinely feel trapped in the pay conversation – it’s time to pull some levers to redesign your business in a way that it’s functional and profitable enough to attract great talent.
- Create measurable outcomes to pair with your team. I think a lot of bosses are more interested in “My workers seem busy” than actually getting serious on the milestones their team should be accomplishing. Worse, I’ve known bosses who “reward” employees with more work who achieve those outcomes faster than their coworkers. This is effectively missing the forest for the trees.
- Understand that there are ways to build relationships beyond working in the same room as someone. Be intentional on what touchpoints look like and more importantly, what it means to build trust with someone you don’t see every single day.
The world is only becoming more digital as time goes on. Businesses that can better embrace collaboration with their team members will go far.
More importantly, they’ll go farther than bosses who see their employees as a line item expense that should be kept down at all costs.
It’s a big place out there.
Ego often feeds, “You should be grateful to work here.”
And while that may have worked 30 years ago…
Today, I can get a job in any state or in any country without ever leaving my home.
All this means is — employers should start to understand that the competition for talent will only continue to grow.
So if you aren’t willing to embrace the new world of management…
You’re going to get left behind.
And like a person who shouts angrily at the clouds…
You’ll nonsensically blame entitled employees for your own ego and arrogance.
We’ll discuss more of this on our latest episode of the Good Advice Podcast.
I encourage you to take a listen, and more importantly, let me know your thoughts, even if you disagree.
In the meantime…
Take care of your people. In return, they’ll take care of your business.
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