Employers are throwing more money and all sorts of perks at people to recruit and retain them but they are still struggling to fill roles? How does that makes sense?
We used to go to work to meet our needs. You went to work in the factory or to feed yourself and have a place to sleep. It only met your basic living needs but was better than starving to death in the countryside. You put up with the bad conditions and treatment because it enabled you to exist.
Then we began to work for our wants. Better employment enabled us to improve our standard of living and advance ourselves socially. We were able to buy a home, a car, modern appliances and to provide for our families, get education, develop ourselves. Employers competed to provide the best pay and conditions to get the best people. This was the story of the post-war period, reaching a zenith in the 1980s, a decade of unimagined luxury and wealth for the masses (in the advanced economies, at least).
Today, however, it’s changing. We no longer work to meet our basic needs (although a ‘precariat’ has emerged this century who are in this struggle) and we have indulged our wants. We are numbed to the serotonin buzz of ‘having stuff’, we’re done with consumerism. We now have to work so much harder to get stuff that does so much less for us, a constant treadmill that has left us jaded and exhausted.
COVID caused a widespread re-assessment of our priorities and what we value in life. It didn’t start this change but brought a fresh urgency to the enquiry, accelerated it and pushed it into the mainstream. New needs have emerged, emotional and spiritual ones. These are not ‘new’, of course, but they have long been neglected in favour of pursuing our wants. Now we’re putting back at the top of the list.
What employers are doing is appealing to our ‘wants’ by offering us more money or meeting them directly with perks. However, our ‘wants’ are much less important to us, we’ve hit the point of diminishing returns (in fact we’re realising we passed it a long time ago). It’s our emotional and spiritual needs that we want met now.
It’s like trying to feed a Vegan with a sausage. No matter how hungry they are, they’re not going to eat it.
Meeting ‘wants’ is easy, it’s transactional. Meeting needs, especially these higher order ones, is much harder because it is relational.
Organisations have increasingly focused on meeting ‘wants’ over the past decades at the expense of meeting ‘needs’. They have used ‘culture’,’values’ and ‘purpose’ as ersatz versions of belonging, compassion and care but everyone knows that, at heart, the relationship is a transactional one.
And in that, is the solution. Heart. Until organisations bring some heart to the relationship, until they prove a level of genuine care for their employees, they will fail to engage people, to recruit them and retain them.
No matter how much money and perks they throw at them.