A handwritten note saying "I quit" lying on a green surface surrounded by desk equipment.

Much attention has been paid recently to “the great resignation” – the pandemic-inspired talent exodus. It’s a phenomenon causing headaches for companies across the business spectrum – companies that aren’t sophisticated enough when it comes to delivering the new working models employees demand.

This sudden talent shift has eroded value from otherwise commercially-sound businesses, for no reason other than their failure to fully recognise that people want to work in different ways than they did three years ago.

You might say, “this stemmed from a global pandemic, it’s a unique situation”. But there’s a far-reaching lesson here: employees have become powerful activists within their businesses – underestimate them at your peril.

Green ultimatum

Nowhere is this employee activism more apparent than when it comes to companies’ sustainability strategies. Man Bites Dog conducted research among 10,000 employees across the globe and found that close to half (43%) of employees would leave their job if the company they worked for was not obviously working to reduce its carbon emissions.

At a time when talent scarcity is already on the boardroom agenda, those numbers are certainly a concern, but they’re also an opportunity.

For progressive businesses struggling to recruit, it underlines the importance of sustainability to an employer brand. Meanwhile, businesses who’ve put sustainability on the backburner in favour of near-term growth need to know that the grass is greener on the other side, and their employees will be tempted away. Much of the value they add will depart with them, putting that near-term growth back under threat.

Go green or go home

Perhaps most importantly of all, these statistics starkly illustrate that any business lacking a defined, well-communicated sustainability strategy is acting against its own interests. With pressure from investors pushing down on organisations, and pressure from employees pushing up, there’s no longer any space for laggards.

Those of us with the task of communicating our firm’s sustainability strategy and wider environmental influence within the asset management industry find ourselves right at the centre of a Venn diagram. We are directly beholden to these two activist groups at the same time: employees and investors. But through that central position, we also have an unmatched opportunity to influence the fate of not only our own businesses but the wide range of businesses that we channel investment into.

The option to sit on the sidelines and see what happens no longer remains. Sustainability is here to stay, but the opportunity to differentiate is becoming elusive as the bandwagon gets crowded. Firms must go further than ever before, they must take a stand and truly mean it, backing up their intentions with evidence of progress and commitment. They need to find increasingly creative ways to communicate their unique strengths in a way that stands out.

It’s a vast and complex challenge that each firm must face up to with its own bespoke, carefully crafted communications strategy. For those who succeed, there will be spoils – and a planet on which to enjoy them. For those who don’t try, the cost will be astronomical.

Employee experience has been steadily moving up the agenda for the C-Suite. Gartner cited it as a top priority for HR leaders in 2023, and with phenomena such as ‘The Great Resignation’, ‘quiet quitting’, 'bare minimum Monday' and 'resenteeism' on the rise, it stands to reason that this should be a core strategic focus for leaders as they battle to overcome these challenges.

There are so many reports highlighting the enormous negative impact the pandemic had on the global job market, resulting in instability for organisations. However, it also created an opportunity for people to reflect on their careers and consider their options – hello, ‘Great Resignation’. Data released by the UK’s Labour Force Survey in November 2021 showed that, of the 1.02 million people who moved jobs between July and September 2021, 391,000 of them had resigned – the highest spike ever recorded. While in the USA, according to the federal JOLTS report, about 50.5 million people quit their jobs in 2022, surpassing the previous record-breaking figure of 47.8 million in 2021.

In a similar vein, while some were considering resignation, there are those that started to fall into the ‘quiet quitting’ bucket – referring to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. This push-back against hustle culture has also seen the rise of ‘bare minimum Monday’. Taking this one step further, many employees started to fall into the ‘resenteeism’ pot, meaning they are not concealing their dissatisfaction with their role or their place of work. Reports suggest these behavioural trends have emerged in the wake of the pandemic, driven largely by social media, perhaps with most targeting efforts towards Gen Z in a new era of hybrid work.

When considering the ways in which leaders can attract and retain talent, focusing on employee experience has to be a top strategic priority. But what does it really mean? Wind back only a few years and a positive employee experience might have meant a pool table in the corner of the office, some colourful bean bags to relax on and a few beers with the team on dress-down Friday. We’ve come a long way.

Employee experience now has to be embedded within a much more sophisticated diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy, with initiatives encompassing race, gender identity, neurodiversity, age and disability to name just a few.

The role businesses can play in progressing DEI was a key topic on this year’s Davos agenda. The Global Parity Alliance (GPA) – a cross-industry group committed to advancing DEI around the world – released a new report to help companies identify initiatives that have resulted in significant, quantifiable, scalable and sustainable impact. The aim was to support leaders with these insights and contribute to faster DEI impact across the global business community.

Many organisations are recognising that focusing on DEI is the right thing to do, and prioritising it is good for business. A recent McKinsey article pointed to DEI being a strategic imperative to win the battle for talent amid the ‘Great Resignation’, better serve clients and stay ahead of the competition. To do this, leaders need to mobilise their people to roll out and externalise their DEI initiatives.

And marketing and communications professionals have a key role to play in externalising their initiatives through inclusive campaigns that empower diverse groups. There are global brands doing wonderfully creative things; in 2019, Gillette took a stance on transgender inclusion with a campaign that showed the experience of shaving for the first time from the perspective of a trans male teen and his father. This highlighted a part of its audience that many other brands might not have considered and showed solidarity with the trans community. In another example, Microsoft’s “WeAllWin” campaign showcased its Xbox Adaptive Controller for children with physical disabilities, highlighting the company’s dedication to equal opportunities.

As the Global Parity Alliance report reveals, despite increased commitment towards – and investment in – advancing DEI globally, progress is slow. But progress is key, and by having a strategic focus on the right DEI initiatives for their business, leaders will be enhancing the employee experience, increasing engagement, better serving customers and staying on track for success in 2023 and beyond.

Brands need to stand out in a crowded market. Customers, employees and suppliers want to see both vision and action from leaders when it comes to DEI progress. At Man Bites Dog, we’re working with some amazing organisations to help amplify their initiatives. Drop us a line at [email protected] if you’d like to know more.


The Gender Say Gap

For some years now, we have been campaigning to close The Gender Say Gap, a term we coined to highlight the invisibility of women and diverse leaders as expert authorities in business and public life.

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