Earlier this month, a data reporter for Recode, Rani Molla, tweeted that Google searches for the phrase "how to send a resignation email" jumped 3,450 percent over the past three months.
During the pandemic, and particularly over the past six months, the job market has been very dynamic, with tens of millions of U.S. workers quitting as part of the "Great Resignation." The labor market was fluid even before this happened. Throughout the pandemic, millions of women were pushed out of work due to the loss of jobs that mostly women hold and due to increased caregiving responsibilities. Moreover, polls show that people think their employers have been asking too much of them during the pandemic, and large number of people have considered changing jobs or fields for something better.
So what happens when you overlay the Great Resignation with the ESG surge?
That is giving those in the job market the confidence to ask employers for more, whether that’s more flexibility, more remote work, more pay or something different.
For many people, the pandemic has made work challenging. People living alone have felt the isolation of working from home; others have found working from home in shared living spaces hectic. Parents, meanwhile, have had to juggle work, care and management of remote school all under one roof. This is on top of the ongoing stress and trauma of the pandemic, racial violence and climate-change-induced weather disasters.
Anecdotally, I regularly hear about (sustainability) candidates receiving multiple offers, competing offers and counter-offers.
In addition to these pressures, sustainability professionals have lost a lot of the joy, community and impact that comes with these jobs. Travel stalled, convenings were canceled and many sustainability programs were put on hold due to the diversion of business resources, office closures and travel disruptions.
The toll of the past 19 months has been enormous; it’s no wonder so many people have quit or considered moving jobs. And with a hot job market, it’s no wonder so many employers and managers in sustainability and ESG are wondering what they can do to retain talent.
To retain talent, employers should create a culture of flexibility, belonging and growth.
I see three main ways employers and managers can create a desirable work experience for sustainability practitioners:
Create a flexible work culture: Organizational psychologist Adam Grant shared that "flexibility is now the fastest-rising job priority in the U.S." LinkedIn’s research has found that people want remote work at least half of the time, and many employers are thinking about other kinds of flexibility, including asynchronous work and four-day workweeks. People who have caregiving responsibilities experienced the greatest hardships balancing work and life during the pandemic, and they may be looking for less-than-full-time options and job-shares.
In my conversations, I’ve noticed a disconnect between what employees want and what employers are willing to offer. But all signs indicate that the employers who will win the war for talent are those who offer flexibility that accommodates people’s personal and professional aspirations, as well as their constraints.
Cultivate true belonging: McKinsey found that employees cited three main reasons for quitting: They don’t feel valued by their organizations; they don’t feel valued by their managers; or they don’t feel a sense of belonging. People of color were more likely to cite these reasons, underscoring the problem of discrimination and racial bias in the workplace.
The sustainability field lacks racial diversity, and according to research by Diversity in Sustainability (Weinreb Group was a sponsor of this research), barriers such as high educational requirements, access to elite networks and the ability to take lower-paying jobs in expensive cities prevent many people from entering the field. The research also noted barriers to advancement that include lack of workplace connections, growth and sponsorship opportunities, and discrimination and lack of psychological safety.
Sustainability work is powerful because it draws from both the lived and professional experiences of people in these jobs. But if employers fail to create a culture of true belonging, people who are asked to bring their "full selves" to the job will feel alienated and burned out. It’s important for company leaders and managers to interrogate how their organizations can change and listen deeply to understand and meet the needs of employees, particularly those who have been marginalized at work and in this field.
Invest in employees’ growth: McKinsey’s survey also found that people left their jobs because they didn’t have opportunities for advancement. "Employees are looking for jobs with better, stronger career trajectories," the report authors wrote. "They desire both recognition and development."
As "How’s Work?" podcast host Esther Perel has written, employees also "want a place where they can grow and develop personally." It’s important to think about employee growth holistically: How can you offer them opportunities for professional advancement that don’t inhibit their personal growth and aspirations? Sustainability professionals, in particular, may take pride in their own personal efforts to live a sustainable life, and if workplace growth creates demands and impinge on those aspirations, they may be more likely to leave.
The Great Resignation is poised to change the future of work, giving employees a much greater say in how, when, where, with whom and on what they work. Sustainability leaders have a chance to pioneer a better world of work by rethinking the work experience they are providing for their own teams. And this could increase the impact of the sustainability field as a whole.
As sustainability and future of work writers Eva Dienel and Christine Bader have put it in their Life I Want storytelling project: We have a chance to rethink the role of work in our lives and societies — "to make work work so more people can live the life they want, engage with their families and communities, and ultimately create a better world."