Companies flummoxed at what would keep their workers from quitting in droves should try asking them. Even though they might not like what they hear.
In a recent study on “The Great Resignation,” or America’s lingering labor shortage, the investment bank and financial research firm Jefferies asked workers who have quit within the past 18 months what their employers could have done to get them to stay. The firm found that a combination of two things would have placated the vast majority of them: more money and a shorter workweek.
Jefferies’s research shows that workers are ravaged by burnout, and they want employers that offer better working conditions, more respect and a sense of purpose. If they don’t get that, they’re willing to walk — sometimes, several times until these demands are met. Of workers who recently quit, 42.8% say a raise alone would have convinced them to stay, and 31.6% say a four-day workweek would have hit the spot. (7.9% of respondents say that nothing could have kept them from quitting.)
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The report comes as resignations spike even higher. According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million workers voluntarily quit in September, 4.3 million quit in August, and 4 million quit in July.
What’s fueling the surge in burned-out employees? According to Jefferies, many of the people walking away from their desks these days could be “downsizing survivors,” aka the workers who were left after the mass wave of layoffs and furloughs on the early days of the pandemic.
“We view the involuntary turnover [read: layoffs] from 2020 as a contributor to the overwhelmingly high burnout rate,” Jefferies says.
A four-day workweek (without cutting pay) could be an effective measure to curb burnout rates, and research shows that it doesn’t have to dent productivity. In some cases, a four-day workweek can even increase productivity. Jefferies points to the success Iceland had with a four-day workweek: “Results showed that in the majority of workplaces, the productivity of employees remained the same or improved.” Iceland’s success sparked similar programs in Ireland and Scotland.
And the benefits of a four-day workweek aren’t contained only to Europe. Buffer, a fully-remote, U.S.-based tech startup, implemented a four-day workweek trial period in May 2020 to help its workforce deal with the stressors of the pandemic. (Buffer is also an early adopter of salary transparency. Since 2013, the company has been openly posting the salaries of its entire staff to promote pay equity.)
“What’s interesting is we actually found that people were getting the same amount done, which is awesome,” says Hailley Griffis, Buffer’s head of public relations. After seeing results from the trial period, the company eventually “rolled it out indefinitely.”
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