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"No One Wants To Work Anymore" Is a Phrase Old as Dirt. Here's How to Really Attract and Retain Employees in the New Age of Work

Giving talent attraction, engagement and retention a strategic business focus will give your business that extra growth potential.

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You've undoubtedly heard about the so-called "anti-work" movement if you're a business owner or entrepreneur. According to a slew of media outlets, nobody wants to work anymore. Even worse, those businesses that can find people to hire have trouble retaining talent amid outrageous demands, quiet quitting, and worse.

Indeed, there is a growing rift between employers and employees. But if you look closely, it's nothing new nor indicative of some "anti-work" movement. The idea of business owners lamenting "no one wants to work anymore" is so old you could likely find it carved on the pyramids.

The truth is this: workers have more options than ever before. If you, as an employer, are not making your business a desirable workplace, you'll need help attracting and retaining employees. You might recognize this as less of a "crisis of work ethic" and more of a failure of employers to keep up with changing needs.

Related: Happy Employees Create Happy Customers

Attraction starts with finding out what employees want

If you own a business, you should have at least some knowledge of basic capitalism. If so, you might recognize that the entire system relies on choice. Your clients choose your products and not your competitors' because you incentivize them in some way. Well, the same is true of employees. As with your customers, you need to find out what employees want — and what they want changes over time.

Unfortunately, many "old school" employers are too inflexible to consider this. To them, the mere offering of a job should be enough to inspire not only action but loyalty. But that doesn't work in a world where employees can merely join the app-based gig economy (Fiverr, DoorDash, Lyft) if they don't like their current job. Sure, the pay is variable, and the benefits are nonexistent, but such jobs offer flexibility, which is in high demand among modern workers.

So if you want to figure out what employees want, that's your first stop. According to this Pew Research Study, most workers who quit their jobs cite low pay, few opportunities for advancement and a general feeling of being "disrespected" as reasons for leaving. Other reasons included "not enough flexibility" and "too many" or "too few" hours.

You might recognize these as perfectly valid reasons to leave a job. While the media may make it seem like all employees are demanding to work from home, get free childcare or have an on-site brewery, today's employees want what employees have always wanted. They want to be paid fairly, treated well and have a chance to climb the ladder.

Related: Improve Employee Retention By Taking a People-First Approach

Retention is about finding the "them" in the team

Every year, magazines put out their list of "Best Companies to Work For." But rather than cite the companies with trampolines in their meeting rooms and corporate retreats to Bali, the top-ranked positions are typically occupied by companies that treat their employees respectfully and pay attention to their needs.

The standout criteria for why employees loved working for top companies were as follows:

  • 98% — I can take time off from work when I think it's necessary.
  • 98% — When you join the company, you are made to feel welcome.
  • 97% — Management is honest and ethical in its business practices.
  • 97% — I'm proud to tell others I work here.
  • 97% — People care about each other here.

Every single item on that list is personal. It's something that the company provides its employees, either literally or emotionally. There's nothing about "sky-high salaries" or "office perks," just references to how working at the company makes them feel.

Of course, most employers already know this but either choose to forget it or prefer to imagine the problem as a lack of work ethic. The truth is that attracting and retaining employees comes down to treating them like part of the team from day one. It's about making them feel important and valued. The companies that top that "Best Places to Work" list see their employees as assets, not indentured servants who should feel lucky to have a job.

Returning to the discussion about what employees want, it's crucial to consider the "upward mobility" factor. Many employers lose perfectly good, perfectly happy employees because they don't have a chance for advancement. With nowhere to grow in their current job, the employees have no choice but to look elsewhere.

That's why it's so important to provide a "light at the end of the tunnel." Educate your team members so that they can move up the ladder. Moreover, reward them financially when they do. And if your business isn't big enough to provide them a place to go, invest in them anyway so they can continue their career elsewhere.

Related: Google's CEO Is Asking Employees 3 Simple Questions to Boost Productivity

Employers need to be more than just "job givers"

In the end, attracting and retaining employees is about making them feel like they're a part of something greater than just a 9-5 job. Of course, there are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of ways to do this.

Some of the best strategies include making custom plans for each employee's future and following through when they fulfill their side of the agreement. You might view their job as an opportunity for you to help them rather than for them to help you. You might learn to welcome feedback, avoid micromanagement and recognize and reward outstanding performances.

Despite what some news outlets say, there is no "anti-work" movement. If anything, hiring and retaining talent issues result from employers failing to recognize what potential employees want or provide what they promise. As with the last 100+ years, all it takes to get good employees is to stop treating them like a number and treat them like valuable team members.

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