Dear Corporates: A Quarter of a Million of Your Workforce are Escaping...
…and they’re running to us. Here’s why.
It’s a shame really, it was all looking so good.
Fifteen years ago you were the darlings of the graduate world: for many of us ambitious types you were the prize we studied hard for. Getting a good degree from a top university led, seamlessly it seemed (thanks to free drinks, prawn sandwiches, and more branded retractable pens than we could shake a stick at), to the exclusive chance of a shiny graduate job at a big corporation.
“Come and change the world! Get the best training of your life!” you cried from atop your cleverly engineered exhibition stands that covered the cracks of a musty student union.
We joined you. We were excited. We wanted to change the world with you.
Sure, the hours were long, we knew that. You warned us that annual performance reviews would be cutthroat; and we understood when we had to reschedule our weekends around your tight deadlines or cancel the odd holiday. We were “team players” after all.
But the one thing we weren’t prepared for, the thing you didn’t mention, was the nagging feeling that the work didn’t actually matter.
We undoubtedly — as promised — made a difference: helping you make global financial institutions richer, figuring out how you could get more kids hooked on sugary drinks, putting systems in place to help you pump fossil fuels quicker. All the while pandering to the whims of high-powered clients, and smiling politely when our boss left early and we worked into the small hours on reports that no one would read.
We soon started to resent you — for the work we were doing, for the lifestyle we were expected to buy into, and for the culture we found ourselves a part of.
A fulfilling career this was not.
Our lives looked something like this (we know how much you love a diagram):
We had an inkling that others felt the same. But how many?
We quit our jobs and set off to find out.
It started with one email a week to 50 of our most miserable friends and colleagues, containing 10 opportunities to do something different.
They sent it to their miserable friends, and they to their miserable friends…
Five years on, and we’re still sending an email every week — only today it goes to 230,000 people looking for fulfilling work. It seems we have tapped into a groundswell of disillusionment: people want more from life than a meaningless paycheque and 40, 50, (60?) years of drudgery, subordination and purposelessness. Time is running out for today’s status quo.
Recently, we asked those 230,000 people to help us understand the nature of the problem — the reason they are ready to escape corporate life, and where we go from here. They told us there are five reasons your churn rate (currently predicted to be a whopping 37%) is about to get a whole lot worse. (Full report accessible here.)
1. It’s easier and cheaper than ever before to start a business
Prototyping businesses has become child’s play as online tools become more sophisticated. Your employees no longer have to quit their job and remortgage their house to take a punt on that idea they’ve been sitting on for years. For pennies, they can sign up to Squarespace and have a professionally-designed website ready to go. They can get a logo for a fiver through Fiverr, and they can start collecting customer feedback for free through Typeform. Startup education is everywhere, catering for the 50% of your workforce who want to set up their own business quickly and cheaply. They’re shown how they can pre-sell their products on Kickstarter and even crowdfund by offering equity. Launching has never been easier.
2. Marketplaces are cutting you out
Anyone can pitch their professional skills directly to the clients they want to work for — they can work on their own terms, have freedom and still get paid. A minute spent on upwork.com, elance.com, peopleperhour.com or taskrabbit.com — not to mention the now ubiquitous LinkedIn — shows just how many opportunities there are to pitch directly to clients and bypass the full-time employer middle-man. ‘Going freelance’ is no longer the scary alternative career route that it once was.
3. Location independence is finally here
Working from the beach in Bali, a remote Italian village or a chalet in the Alps are as viable for your employees as commuting daily to London Bridge — and win obvious points for lifestyle choice. The Digital Nomad movement is very much underway. More than half of those we asked said they would like to be location independent. Herding employees into glass office buildings every morning has become an unnecessary restriction on their freedom to work how and when they choose.
4. Social media means aspirations are increasing exponentially
Between Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin, we all have social feeds relentlessly updating us on the lives of our increasingly experimental and liberated peers. Every success, adventure, champagne moment and product launch is celebrated publicly through an artsy filter. Your employees can no longer justify self-doubt and self-denial — it’s abundantly clear that there is a world of alternative options. There’s more out there and it’s within reach.
5. Companies your employees care about are hiring
It was little surprise to us to find that 60% of those we surveyed would like to get a new job in an organisation more aligned with their values. They shouldn’t have any trouble: there are organisations popping up every day that care about their products, their people, their impact and their contribution. Organisations with legions of fans behind them. People want to join their cause, fight for their campaign and give up their time on this earth to work for them. In return, these employers don’t just pay their salaries: they take transparency, support, flexibility and personal growth seriously. They actually give a damn about their wellbeing and their wider life choices and objectives. Take a little moment to let that controversial notion sink in.
So… where do we go from here?
We know that this is just the beginning. Attitudes are changing faster than ever, and the direction that the world of work is taking is no longer up for question. The blinkers are off: people are building careers on their own terms, and showing others how to do the same.
You may be thinking that this doesn’t apply to you — you’re safe. You have a neat CSR programme. Some of your team members get to work from home one day a week. Oh, and that nifty clause you include in contracts, the one that makes you legal owner of any startup idea that your team members come up with while in your employ? Yes, we know about that one too.
It’s not enough. Sure, there are changes you can make. But the shift happening here is deep in the foundations: it’s in your employees’ attitudes, expectations and aspirations. We’d love to help, but we’re afraid it might be too late. It’s only a matter of time before we both wake up to find another quarter of a million people have escaped through your doors and entered ours.
Perhaps, dear Corporates, you might wish to ask yourselves the questions that your employees are already answering:
What is my purpose here? What difference am I making in the world? What positive mark will I leave behind after I’m gone? In a world where I could spend my days any way I choose — why should I spend them doing the work that I’m doing right now?
Come back to us when you’re ready. We’re always accepting new subscribers.
Co-founder of Escape the City
Read the full research report into the causes of, and possible solutions to, work dissatisfaction here.
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