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The Great Resignation Vs. The Great Reshuffle

  • Jake Wood
  • April 8, 2022

Groundswell CEO Jake Wood hosted a LinkedIn Audio conversation with The Muse founder Kathryn Minshew talking about the latest in The Great Resignation. The Muse is a market-leading online job portal that compiles detailed profiles of companies looking for top talent. With over 68 million people who use the site every single month, it has long been the go-to location for talent seeking a meaningful relationship with their employers. Below you’ll find a transcript of their conversation.

Hi Kathryn, it is so nice to have you here. Can you tell us more about The Muse?

 Thank you Jake, very excited with our discussion. Well, I have been kind of at the intersection of values based work, changing generational trends. And I just ask these questions, do you find work you love as a business? How do you attract people who are actually going to be happy in the jobs and the culture that you have? I’ve been in this space for a little over 10 years, which is just wild. I feel like it’s been a fascinating last couple of years.

At The Muse we are aiming to help individuals find a career that matches their unique preferences, values and priorities.

We have 68 million people who use the site every single month, a lot of Gen Z and Millennial candidates in particular, but we’re not limited by age. So people are searching for jobs based on certain benefits, like paid parental leave or tuition reimbursement. They can also look for jobs and companies that have a female founder, veteran founded, black founded— a lot of different leadership attributes. We’re constantly asking individuals, what are they looking for? We have hundreds of companies we work with, from Apple, to Goldman Sachs to Enterprise rent-a-car, and a bunch of small businesses as well. We are also asking these companies what are they offering? What do they think that they need to do to attract employees? It’s a marketplace, and I just love this space. I love seeing it evolve, particularly in the last six to eight months, as we’ve been dealing with The Great Resignation.

Everyone is talking about The Great Resignation, and some people have no idea what that means. On the most fundamental level, people are expressing their dissatisfaction with their jobs. Many people are quitting their employment and not returning to the labor force. I believe there is a lot lurking beneath the surface. And you’re starting to see some of this come to light, as well as how certain leaders are beginning to reframe it. Some refer to it as The Great Migration, while others refer to it as The Great Reshuffle. What is going on, in your opinion?

Well, I prefer the term, The Great Reshuffle or The Great Rethink, because it’s not just that people are quitting, but people are re-evaluating their priorities. They are using this opportunity to make career moves, some for better salary, some for a career that treats them better, or a job that is more aligned with their values, purpose, and mission. To put it in context, you mentioned the scope of the changes, and I think that it’s just helpful to note the number of people quitting is higher than we have ever seen since this data has been recorded.

There were millions of people in November who quit, and there were more job openings than at any point in history.

So it’s really interesting that we’re seeing workers have more power. I have to say that this trend has been going on for a long time, even from the early days of The Muse back in 2019 and early 2020. Right before the pandemic, I saw that. The internet just makes it a lot easier to understand what else is out there. It does that in opinions in the media, in every field, but it definitely does that in careers where people have unprecedented access to all the other jobs that they might be able to get, all the other companies that they could be working for. Candidates are getting more choosy in where they work.

Do you mean that this has been going on for a long time, even before COVID? Is it a slow-boiling trend exacerbated by COVID, but it will still be the eventual outcome?

Yes, 100%. For example, the products that we use like Netflix, it personalizes its recommendations which is a big advancement in technology over the last several years. I showed people that you should be able to get something curated for you, personalized for your preference.

The workplace on the other hand has in a lot of cases remained one size fits all— and that is changing.

I totally agree that COVID is a huge accelerant, and we’re moving faster in the direction of workers voting with their feet, and expressing preferences. But I don’t think the trend is anything new and none of the data I’m seeing indicates that it’s going anywhere.

What, in your perspective, was the main driving force?  Is it the move to remote work, or the decision point people are facing as some companies demand a return to the office? Is it more of an inward introspection, driven by, to put it frankly, this brush with mortality that came with COVID? What was the trigger of this unexpected surge?

I think it’s a fool’s errand to try and pinpoint the one thing because we have seen so many of these trends, but I love that you brought up. I don’t think people are looking at this enough, the fact that we had this collective brush with death. It’s very common in a lot of movies, you’ll see a main character who is almost in a car accident, or they narrowly escaped death in some way, it reminds me of them of their mortality. And they wake up and they say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m not living life in accordance with my values, I need to make a change.”

This is so common, and yet, I think we’ve not experienced, at least in the last, several decades, as sort of society-wide reckoning with how fragile life is, what matters beyond the day to day rat race.

 I really think that the shift to remote has been huge. There have been a lot of structural and societal changes that were brought all at once. But I do think that one of the biggest themes is this fact, this reckoning with people’s individual values with how they find meaning in life, and that often comes out of tragedy. But I think it’s created a sense where they want to live a life that is more aligned with what matters to them, and so they’re looking to work and workplace as a big piece of that.

Here at Groundswell, we have firsthand knowledge. We’re venture-backed, we’ve got funding, we can contribute equity, we have an amazing product with big commercial prospects, but it’s difficult to attract talent right now because it’s a war. Do you believe people are changing their priorities because they can afford to do so right now?

Yes you’re completely right. We are seeing cases where candidates are getting multiple competing offers. Salaries are obviously on the rise, a lot of companies are rethinking their benefits package. You can’t underestimate the importance of a great mission— a strong company culture. For anyone who is hiring right now, there are a lot of messages in the market right now about what candidates want.

I have a lot of data about what candidates say that they’re looking for. But what’s really interesting is, there’s not one single path, or one single rubric that every candidate is measuring a company. The opportunity and challenge of the era we’re in is the candidates have very specific individual priority lists, and they are measuring up your company or your opportunity against those lists. The reason I think that this is an opportunity is that, let’s say that you can’t provide the perks of Google, but you can really invest in learning and growth and professional development opportunities.

Whatever it is, if you can get clear about what you can offer, and you can make those promises to the market and back them up. You’ll find candidates who want what you’re offering, and you just have to be really clear about what you’re offering. 

It has to be genuine, authentic, because there is a lot of punishment right now in the marketplace for companies that miss promise.

In an excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine, a reporter was discussing a conversation he was having with a consultant. And then he says, “Companies will no longer be able to impose a one-size-fits-all approach if they wish to compete. Instead, they’ll need to tailor their interactions with their employees, just as they did with their consumers.” He’s arguing that the future of employee management will be similar to what’s happened in customer service over the last two decades. Many of these customer care activities take a one-to-one approach to customer support rather than the one-to-many strategy that was previously the only scalable way to do it. How do you feel about that? Do you agree or disagree? Is it going to have to be one-on-one? And is that scalable for companies wishing to do this at the enterprise level?

Yeah, I love that quote. I think that it’s undeniable that this is the direction we’re moving in. The path that we’re on, is it going to be fully one to one, everyone chooses their own adventure? Probably not— or at least not for a long time. But, when you look at the experience right now, it’s very uncustomary sized. I think it’s very clear that people are seeking more personal solutions, they want to be heard on their deepest needs. It doesn’t mean every single whim, but on the most core priorities of an individual, they are looking for those to be met by their workplace, and if not met, they might leave.

I like the customer service example, but I actually think B2B marketing is really interesting. No company right now, just blast every potential customer with the exact same message, the exact same. I’m not a B2B marketer, but B2B marketing folks have a lot of software, there’s data, there’s strategy. There’s an entire system for saying, different people are at different points in the process, they have different needs, so they create customized flows. The thing is, it probably feels really hard. This idea that businesses are going to create a bit more of a customized flow. But you need to do it, because it’s important to your businesses, so people will figure it out. We figured it out in B2B marketing, we figured it out in customer service, and I think unfortunately HR often gets the short end of the stick.

Everyone talks about the importance of people, but a lot of companies aren’t really set up with the employee experience as a key priority. I think that The Great Resignation is forcing that to change.

Businesses will have to figure out how to do so. Is that a viable strategy for scaling a business? On the other hand, can you afford not to?

It’s really easy for this conversation, to hang out in the extremes. Companies that treat their people like garbage are completely blind to their wants and needs. Then on the other end, companies that are just bending over backwards, contorting themselves into shapes, trying to deal with the every request of a very demanding workforce. I think that obviously, I don’t want to live in either of those extremes, I’m guessing nobody wants to.

We live in America, don’t we live in the world of extreme dialogue?

Yes that is true. Some of it starts with some basic principles. I’ve been familiar enough with you as a CEO and as a leader to know that some of these are very organic to the style that you lead. In running The Muse, every single employee who works at the Muse chose to come here, and they could have gone somewhere else. That doesn’t mean that I have to give them everything they want, obviously I can’t. But it does mean that when leadership teams approach employee relations and talent with this idea, that your people are good, and they have other options, it’s basically mutual respect.

A lot of the tools that we give companies are sort of under the hood, and the advice we give them as well, is how to listen to your people and understand. What is making your happy people happiest? What is making disgruntled or frustrated or less engaged people less happy or making them leave? It’s not about the feeling that you have to fix everything immediately. We live in an imperfect world, and that’s not a very realistic task. But it is about saying, “How do I identify the biggest things that are standing in the way of employee satisfaction and genuinely commit with real resources to working on those?” I think it’s becoming more important for employers to say, “How do I make sure that before people come here, they have a rough sense of what they’re getting?”

People will opt into all sorts of work environments willingly, but they want to do it with their eyes wide open. They want to say, “Yes, this problem matters to me so much.” The thing about the Marine Corps, people know what they’re getting there. Of course, there’s always surprises, I don’t mean it like that. But broadly speaking, there is a sense, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there’s a pretty clear sense that this is what you’re signing up for. I think that most leaders, if they were pretty transparent about what you’re signing up for by joining our company, would find that their people are actually happier than you know.

The worst thing is when people feel like they have been misled in the hiring process.

That is a brilliant point. You’re completely correct; one of my favorite recruiting ads was run by the Marine Corps before I joined, I believe in the 1980s. It’s an old poster featuring a drill instructor glowering at a recruit with an evil look, and the poster’s title is “We didn’t promise you a rose garden.” They were quite clear about what you should expect, but I believe you’re correct. I believe that all too frequently, CEOs recruit for resumes or pedigree rather than for the type of individual they want to join the team. It’s a marketplace for how companies treat their employees rather than the types of jobs they’re promoting. Is that accurate?

Yes it’s definitely one of the things that we’re focused on. We’ve seen this again, and again, some people want work environments that are one way, some people want them differently. My favorite metaphor is dating, right? Because there’s no such thing as the best people to marry in your city. I don’t think there’s such a thing as the best companies to work for. Best for who it really is, on what you want, what your values are, what sort of work environment you’re seeking out. Some people want a lot of stability, consistency, low velocity of change, and things are very predictable.

Discussions take place over long periods of time, with tons of input from all across the organization, and then a decision is made and rarely changed. Other people drive them insane, they want fast change experiments. I think when you have people who are frustrated, frankly, sometimes there is a real problem in the workplace and that is something that is very, very important to keep in the conversation. But sometimes there’s a real mismatch between the type of work environment someone is looking for, and the type of work environment that they’ve found.

That’s why companies are putting a lot more of their work environment, their values, their culture out there. It’s scary for companies to be more honest, because every HR leader I know is working with folks at their company but should only say the good things. I’m not necessarily saying that companies need to wave every bit of dirty laundry out there. Let’s say that you are a traditional company that hasn’t been trying to become more innovative, but is also dealing with a kind of slower moving legacy culture.

We found that it’s actually much more effective to tell a lot of people,”Hey, our leadership is committed to becoming more innovative, we are doing these things. We also are, you know, dealing with some of these legacy systems, but we’re all working together to move in this direction that is going to yield,” If that’s the truth, that’s going to yield a much more likely match with someone who knows that that’s what they’re signing up for, and is excited about it than trying to say like, “We’re just as innovative as all these, you know, startups, and you can come here to and kind of move really fast on the latest technology”.

If that’s not true people are going to be really disengaged, which is awful, for everyone. It’s bad for the candidate, and it’s really bad for the employer, too.

“I don’t believe in good cultures and terrible cultures,” I used to say. In terms of business culture, I believe in both strong and weak cultures. There’s a great difference between good and bad, and strong and weak; one is by design, the other is unintentional. It’s been carefully constructed to achieve specific results. I believe what I’m hearing from you is that the same is true for workplaces, correct? There aren’t always good and poor work settings, but there are those that are better than others for certain people. However, the best work environments were created with certain goals in mind. Is that what you’re saying?

I think it’s a complicated issue, because you do have certain elements of sort of toxicity in companies, especially when you get into cultures that are not equitable by design. There are companies that have a culture that’s hard charging. If it could be made more equitable, the hard charging, this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that might be fine. For some people, it’s a kind of preference. “Yes, I want that ”, “No, I don’t”; is then layered in with a culture that is not inclusive or diverse, a culture that has issues with structural sexism or racism. Then you have both a preference, the hard charging-ness intersecting with something that is truly toxic.

I think that’s another challenge is there are some places that just have major issues. And often if I talk to an HR leader, who’s at a company, they say, “We don’t treat our employees well, and management doesn’t want to change”, “What can I do to help attract people?” There are companies that have historically not been good at equity that are making real strides now. I think it’s really hard for jobseekers to get a sense of what you’re like, but we’re in such a time of change that business leaders have relegated talent and work experience and company culture to their HR department, so that’s their job. They’re starting to wake up and say, “This has to be everyone on the executive team’s job otherwise, we are going to be in big trouble.”

Before, I was asked by a partner at a big VC firm, “Are you going to build a remote company or an in-person first company?” You are the expert on the future of work. What are your thoughts?

I will tell you what I’m seeing in the data, and then I’ll tell you how I think about it personally. So in the data, I’ll say that, when we pulled job seekers, at the very end of last year, about the most important criteria that they were considering, when looking for a new job, work life balance was number one above everything else. It is way far ahead of compensation, or anything else. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean remote. But I think it does mean flexibility and work life balance.

How much of that is driven by the fact that if they’re looking for work right now, it’s because they’re leaving a job that doesn’t allow for that kind of flexibility? Was that a foregone conclusion because they were job seekers at the time?

We’ve surveyed The Muse’s users over time, the number of people who want flexibility is going way up. But again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot of people don’t want to go back into the office consistently. In fact, 24% of our users prefer to return full time to the office.

I think that flexibility marker means that people want to have the ability to have some flexibility when needed. Workers want to be treated with respect by their employers.

Companies that are going to prioritize offices first should work with their team to figure out a policy that lets people have a bit of flexibility. The biggest chunk of our users 41% said that they prefer to go back to work part time in the office, part time remote, while 34% prefer to remain totally remote, and 24% prefer to return full time to the office. The thing that’s so interesting is, when you really dig under the surface, no company is going to be able to make everyone happy. Because back to the office, they don’t want an empty office that they can use whenever they want to go back with their team and experience the full on office experience, which a lot of people miss when working remotely.

If everyone else is in the office, they want to be on a team that is distributed first. Going back to the very first question you asked me, this is why I think The Great Reshuffle or The Great Rethink is such a better term for what we’re experiencing than The Great Resignation. Because right now, a lot of people are staying put in their jobs because they like the work, they like the manager.

And at the end of the day, most companies at least, aren’t fully decided how they’re going to navigate, remote, in person, or hybrid work set-up. We’re still in this pandemic, and there’s still a lot up in the air. Some companies have come back, and some have said they’re going to be fully remote. There’s no answer that makes everyone happy. I think leaders are going to have to think about what they believe is the right answer for their business.

What does the future hold for a 23-year-old fresh out of college? Going into a remote-only company for their first job? How does that person advance in their career?

A lot of early career employees have been put at a big disadvantage. I used to spend a pretty good amount of time, every single week, just walking around The Muse’s office, I would purposefully hang out, in the kitchen, near the Bevi machine. I would put myself in situations almost every single day, and certainly for a good amount of time, every week, where I would just be available to chat with folks. My goal was to see that new SDR sales development rep who had just joined, or talk to the account manager who had just closed a big deal and congratulate them, or ask that engineer what problem they were working on.

I wanted to create a lot of these small, informal opportunities to build connections. “Leadership’s a contact sport,” it’s a contact sport that requires those collisions. I really love that phrase. I think that it has been really hard in a virtual world. We use a tool called doughnuts at The Muse, where two people every two weeks are matched for coffee. So I get matched for these coffees with folks all over the business. I love that, but it doesn’t quite replace the in-person interaction. For the people that I work with closely, like our leadership team, I get a lot of time with them, I know them, they know me, and I’m missing them in person. But at the end of the day, I feel like our relationship is pretty deep with mostly virtual contact, and then we see each other in person every now and then.

I think it’s much harder to do that when people have weak ties in the organization or multiple levels or departments apart. There’s the flexibility, which a lot of people are focusing on virtual work. I do think we’ll see some sort of backlash among a segment of folks, there are people who like their remote all the way and they know what works for them. We have not settled on what we’re going to do post pandemic, it will likely be a hybrid approach, but I do think that some of that human connection is needed.

When you really bring people together and let them develop personal relationships outside of direct reporting structures, I think that it’s really important.

Kathryn, what are the two or three things that a company should be doing right now, if you could summarize? How do leaders take advantage of this disruptive moment for others and turn it to their benefit?

Start the process of listening to your people now. Listening to your current employees, listening to folks who are leaving. Making sure you’re doing really thoughtful exit interviews. I recommend anonymous forums, which allow people sometimes to share things with less fear of blowback, but also small group conversations.

I think it’s really important to put your employee stories as genuine, authentic truths about your company work experience as part of the recruiting process.

At The Muse, I encourage all of our recruiting processes, where we send candidates a lot of information. Obviously, there’s the job profile, but we’ll also give them a lot of time to ask questions. We encourage the entire interview team to be very transparent. We equip people with the results of our latest poll survey. We also use a tool called Culture Amp to understand how people are experiencing different things at The Muse. I never want someone to show up at The Muse and feel really surprised about what they found. I want them to have their eyes wide open when making a decision.

Companies can get really clear on their work environment, their culture, what they offer if they do this. It also includes accepting that some people will move on, but if they were an employee with good standing, make sure they know that if the next opportunity is not what they thought it would be, you’d welcome them back. In the past I was against rehiring past employees or what I call boomerang back. But you know, if they were great employees, it can actually be really valuable to have people come back who realized that the grass is not always greener elsewhere.

  • Jake Wood
  • April 8, 2022