Several years ago, I met an early career HR professional who was debating whether to accept a new job offer. In the previous year, she had received a promotion, attained an HR certification, and greatly expanded her professional network. She enjoyed her job, liked her team, had friends at work, and was very satisfied with her pay. She had job autonomy and was able to implement initiatives that were important to her. Both her direct manager and “the powers that be” regularly provided recognition and kudos, and the organization celebrated milestones (such as birthdays, new babies, and business wins). Yet even though she was what many would consider “happy” in her job, she was looking for something more, and therefore began exploring other opportunities.
“Why,” one may wonder, “would a seemingly content and newly promoted employee look for another job?” Simply put, she had decided that the value she could receive from a new job would be higher than the value she was getting from her current job.
People have always resigned from jobs in pursuit of this perceived value. It may lie in higher compensation or in more robust benefit offerings. Or it may be based on culture, such as a desire to join an organization that affords better work — life balance, more closely aligns with one’s personal values, or better caters to an individual’s work style (for example, by offering the ability to work from home).
Someone may explore other opportunities because they anticipate enhanced career development and professional growth. They may want to broaden their knowledge base or work in a different industry. Or they may want to increase their perceived value by adding the name of a sexy-and-shiny company to their resume.
People quit jobs for any number of reasons. The Great Resignation of 2021 is creating a candidate market right now, and the business world is collectively gobsmacked at the increased turnover it’s experiencing. This turnover really shouldn’t come as a surprise, though: people are thinking about “value” in their work lives today just as they always have. And although employers can’t change the facts, they can use this opportunity to review how someone’s perception of value may affect their desire either to start a job search or to entertain a conversation with a recruiter.
Understanding perceived value
Marketing specialists most often discuss the concept of perceived value when they explore whether customers believe that a company’s product or service satisfies their wants and needs. Believe is the critical word here, and marketing professionals rely on this understanding to inform their branding and messaging. This leads to articulating the value proposition for said product or service, extolling its merits, or justifying its price.
HR is quite adept at using these concepts, especially in talent acquisition, where employer branding specialists and companies spend bundles of money to develop employee value propositions (EVP). HR departments align their employment brands with their EVPs, design unique (quirky? value-driven?) messaging, and target and source from critical talent segments in order to make great hires.
But what about existing employees? Are companies continuing to have the “value” conversation with folks who have been on board for six months? Or two years? Or twenty years? Do HR staff and managers know if those employees continue to derive value in their jobs or at the company? Do they even understand what those employees value? If the answers to these questions are “no,” now is the time to make some changes.
Having value conversations
Value conversations with existing employees should be driven by individual managers. Pulse surveys offer a great starting point for managers to gain data-driven insights into the mood of employees across the organization and into the state of their own departments or teams.
But it’s also critical that managers never lose sight of the fact that speaking with employees is the best way to really understand their unique needs and wants. In these conversations, managers can ask questions that include:
- “What makes you feel appreciated at work?”
- “How do you know when you’re valued?”
- “How can I best recognize your contributions?”
- “What’s important for you to experience at work?”
- “What factors need to be present in a job for you to be satisfied? Are we meeting those needs?”
And then, after getting answers to those questions, it’s important that managers let their employees — those incredibly talented individuals they want on their teams — know that they they have been truly heard. Managers must take the lead in ensuring that employees feel psychologically safe at work, as well as in offering recognition and planning team celebrations (including knowing which employees like — or dislike — being in the spotlight of public recognition).
Bringing it together
As for that maybe-ready-to-make-a-move HR professional, she decided to map out her personal value inventory, including what made her happy in her existing job and what was missing. She listed the things she loved to do and the things she wanted to avoid. She reflected on what she wanted to learn and where she thought additional experience would take her, both within her existing organization and at other companies. She then shared this insight with her manager, which allowed them to jointly devise a personal development plan that went beyond a performance plan that merely captured task, goals, and accomplishments. Together they worked to ensure that she would continue to get value out of her current job — as a professional, as a contributing team member, and as a human.