Last year quit quitting, where mainly young employees silently checked out of the job they no longer enjoyed but financially needed, was en mode.
Now, workers are doing the exact opposite—they’re “conscious quitting”.
Instead of mentally leaving their job, workers that don’t see eye to eye with their employer’s company values are voting with their feet.
According to the results of the Net Positive Employee Barometer, which surveyed more than 4,000 workers across the U.S. and U.K., the majority of employees aren’t currently satisfied with corporate efforts to improve societal wellbeing and the environment. Almost half would consider quitting if an employer’s values don’t align with their own and a third of employees have already resigned for this reason, with these figures rising among Gen Z and millennial workers.
Former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman, who commissioned the research, concluded that, “An era of conscious quitting is on the way.”
The findings of the Net Positive Employee Barometer were similar to KPMG’s recent data, which revealed that 20% of UK office workers would turn down a job if ESG factors were lacking. Meanwhile, Glassdoor similarly found that 1 in 5 job hunters are actively seeking an employer with values that align with their own.
Why employees are ‘conscious quitting’ in 2023
Like many of the career buzzwords that have taken hold in the past three years, from career cushioning to kinkeeping, Jeremy Campbell, CEO of the performance improvement consultancy Black Isle Group, says that the pandemic gave way to conscious quitting.
“It has made many people think entirely differently about work,” he says. “Merge that shift with the realization that we are killing the planet and you bring together two powerful forces which have reprogrammed the mindset of people about the way the way they work and what they expect of the companies they work for.”
In addition, the ongoing labor shortages in the aftermath of COVID-19 has tipped the power balance in favor of employees, so they no longer have to sit tight-lipped in disagreement with their employer.
Pair this with the decreased stigma around job hopping, says Jill Cotton, career trends expert at Glassdoor, and “employees are more confident to look elsewhere if they feel their employer isn’t making progress on promises made or the mission of the company no longer aligns with their personal values.”
What’s more, she thinks that this power shift has given workers “leverage to demand change in the workplace” and so “lip service on core issues, like diversity and inclusion, and corporate social responsibility, will no longer be tolerated by employees.”
And unlike the constantly evolving career trends that we’ve seen come and go, conscious quitting is unlikely to be leaving our vocabulary any time soon.
Employees have always been concerned about the culture and values of a company. “The difference now is that talent has more opportunity to switch employers if they feel their values no longer align with their employer,” Cotton points out.
Employers hoping that would change amid the global economic headwinds will be bitterly disappointed.
Despite the fact that hiring is slowing down globally and that power is returning (slightly) back in the hands of employers, tight labour markets are expected to continue through 2023 and beyond.
How businesses can avoid having conscious quitters
In a tight labor market, businesses can’t afford to lose talent because they are not living up to the values that today’s workers hold dear.
“Companies who are not moving with the times to meet these expectations will see their people moving out. They will fail to maximize the performance of the people who stay and they will be losers in the marketplace,” Campbell cautions.
As a first port of call, he says that there a three areas that every modern company’s values should embody: “They have to be seen to be leading in the charge to net zero; they have to be flexible in their approach to how people work; and they have to have leaders who lead with empathy.”
And while most organizations today are claiming to be sustainable and inclusive, they have to “walk their talk”.
“They need to be genuinely putting the planet before profit,” Campbell says while asserting that this means “no greenwashing and no hogwashing”.
“Transparency is crucial in stopping the spread of conscious quitting and needs to be embedded in every part of the business, from hiring onwards,” echoes Cotton.
“In a transparent workplace, employees clearly understand the company’s mission and can make informed decisions about their careers with that employer,” she adds.
Businesses that publicly push their people-first culture and forward-thinking ESG policies are not only more likely to retain their employees who want to work for a company that aligns with their personal values—but they’ll also be able to attract conscious quitters exiting other firms for that very reason.
But be warned, “this talent will quickly leave if the values they signed up for are not genuinely embedded in the culture”, Cotton says.
“The company’s culture and values need to be fed throughout the company, from leadership down, and clearly understood by everyone who touches them.”