Ryan Arthur was making a fine salary. He had great benefits. And the market research consulting firm that employed him was very pleased with his work.
But during the pandemic, Arthur began a very targeted job search that had little to do with financial considerations. The 28-year-old Manhattan resident went hunting for a job that would be more personally satisfying, focusing on the pharmaceutical industry—and he found it at Bristol Myers Squibb, where he is now a customer- and market-insight manager in the oncology division.
“I wanted to pick what I’m working on and stay connected to the mission of the work,” he says. “I know that sounds hokey, but it’s very real to my generation that improving the lives of others matters.”
That’s not the end of the story. For Arthur—and for an American workforce emotionally whipsawed by the pandemic—it may be just the beginning. For Arthur to remain happy with any employer, he says he requires a new on-the-job challenge roughly every two years.
“The onus of where loyalty comes from has completely shifted,” says Arthur, who is ecstatic to feel personally fulfilled by his work as part of a market research team that communicates with doctors and consumers about the pharmaceutical giant’s latest drug for treating melanoma. “It’s not employees that have to prove their loyalty anymore—it’s the employers.”
The YOLO job market
Arthur has lots of company in requiring empowerment and personal growth from his work. It’s a fast-emerging employee mindset that some workplace consultants peg as the real reason so many workers are always looking for a better job. For a host of reasons—some for a higher salary, others for improved benefits, and many in search of better company culture—America’s workforce is constantly looking for its next gig. A whopping 65% of workers nationwide say they are seeking new employment, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s US Pulse Survey.
“We call it the ‘You Only Live Once’ economy,” says Julia Lamm, workforce transformation partner at PwC. Among Millennials and Gen Zers, says Lamm, “the expectation is that you will have multiple careers.”
Few know that better than Ryan Arthur’s mother, Susan Arthur, CEO of CareerBuilder, one of the nation’s largest marketplaces that matches job seekers with job postings. Currently, the site has three times the number of job postings it had during the early stages of the pandemic. At the same time, 40% of job seekers confirm they have a side hustle—some sort of part-time, paid work in the gig economy.
Whatever happened to the days of the long-term, loyal worker? “As the CEO of a company, I feel those days are over,” Arthur says. “The days of joining a company and retiring from a company…well, I just don’t see it.” Instead, she says, from the moment she hires someone she starts thinking about what she must do to retain them. “I now have to think about what I can do that is uniquely special to help this person grow.”
She, too, is a living example of the very trend she describes, having joined CareerBuilder during the pandemic—only nine months ago. Prior to that, she held senior executive posts at several companies over a handful of years. But Arthur says she’s finding her groove at CareerBuilder, gaining enormous insights into the future of work.
“We are doing a lot of work trying to figure out what employees need going forward,” she says. CareerBuilder recently welcomed employees back to the workplace on a voluntary basis. It created something called Team Building Tuesdays—a day the company holds meetings and works across all teams to create a new dynamic of group cooperation.
CareerBuilder has discovered that employers who offer a remote or hybrid work option received seven times the number of responses from applicants than those that don’t. And those employers that simply spell out compensation information upfront receive 10 times the number of responses versus those who don’t.
In an attempt to keep workers from bailing, Arthur says one of CareerBuilder’s client companies—a major drugmaker—created a new, modified shift from 9 AM to 3 PM at its manufacturing plant, to give workers more flexibility. “It requires lots of creativity to appeal to today’s workers,” she says.
Calling out bosses
That includes workers like Steve Wollkind, a highly compensated senior software engineer from Medford, Mass. He spent the past decade at the same company—but only because the company kept offering him a variety of roles with increasing responsibility. “So it felt like I had worked for four or five different companies.”
Then, last August, Wollkind, 43, did some soul-searching and quit with no specific plans other than to find something more personally rewarding. “I can afford to be choosy and to avoid working for people or companies that I don’t respect,” he says. He believes he has the upper hand in the job market—even though he’s not currently employed. “I now know what questions to ask when evaluating potential employers.”
In the new world of employees who are always looking, it’s the workers—not the employers—who do the most critical evaluating. “I’m quick to call my bosses out on what I think is garbage,” Wollkind says.
Few understand this new world of perennial job-seeking better than Jennifer Shappley, vice president of talent acquisition at LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with more than 600 million members.
“We call it the Great Reshuffle,” says Shappley. “People are looking for new opportunities at a rate we’ve never seen before.”
In 2021, the number of domestic LinkedIn members who changed jobs rose 40% from the year before, she says.
Within the tech industry in particular, it might seem as if every employee is always looking. The average job tenure within the field of internet and information technology services is just 1.8 years, according to LinkedIn research.
How employers are responding
There are, however, ways to attract workers and keep them longer. Chief among them: Embracing the idea that flexibility matters. Employees are three times more likely to report being happy at work if feel their employer actually “cares” about them — and 3.5 times more likely to recommend their employer to others, says Shappley. All of this accelerated during the pandemic, she says.
Millennials and Gen Z employees, in particular, says Shappley, are asking this two-part question: Why am I doing this job—and what is important to me?
“In the midst of the Great Reshuffle, folks are looking to work for organizations that align to their values,” says Shappley. “At the same time, companies must clearly articulate their values and help candidates see that their organization is a fit for their values. This is a huge shift for companies to attract and retain talent.”
That’s one reason why, at the beginning of the year, PwC bolstered its “total rewards” strategy for its workforce of 40,000. Besides announcing a 5% mid-year salary increase for full-time employees in the U.S., it also added a special bonus for highly skilled employees beyond the annual performance bonus pool and formalized a twice-a-year promotion cycle to more frequently recognize top talent.
Even then, PwC does not believe most employees that it (or its clients) hires intend to remain onboard for their careers. Instead, the more likely scenarios might involve moving the best employees across the organization, then seeing them leave at some point, only to return somewhere else in the company’s ecosystem or even as a client, says Lamm. “The idea is that you’re hiring and teaching people skills instead of requiring five years of skills.”
Employees aren’t just passively looking for jobs, either. They’re actively searching, says Jim Link, chief human resources officer at the Society for Human Resource Management. While 53% of those looking say they want better pay, a full 42% say they want better work/life balance, he says.
“The pandemic changed the world view not just for employers about their employees, but employees about their employers,” says Link. “What they are seeking on a personal level is dramatically influencing where they go and where they stay.” Figure on hanging onto new employees just two to three years, says Link.
The cynical CEO
But Gary Stibel remains a skeptic of the Great Job Search.
The CEO of New England Consulting Group regularly speaks with some of the world’s largest employers. He thinks there’s a lot of hyperbole out there. “Of the 65% of people who say they’re looking for a new job, well, 35% are lying,” he says “It’s like all the people who say they are eating healthier — so why are McDonald’s and Frito-Lay on fire?”
“This is a bubble that will burst just like any other bubble,” says Stibel, who notes the very best companies still promote from within and do whatever it takes to hang on to their best employees for a long time.
Which brings us back to Ryan Arthur. He changed jobs during the pandemic. So did his CEO mom, Susan.
“I’ve had private conversations with her about job offers that came her way and she feels that most weren’t tough enough to sink her teeth into,” he says. “Neither of us wants to feel like the job is too easy.”
Though he was paid very well, he became increasingly uncomfortable working for a consulting firm that, he says, was asking him to show a pharmaceutical client how to squeeze every last sales dollar out of an inferior pharmaceutical product.
Now, he says, in his new job at Bristol Myers Squibb, he’s proudly helping to educate consumers and doctors about a new cancer-fighting drug. The company has already assured him that every two years, or so, they’ll encourage Arthur to work on an entirely different project — so he can continue to grow without leaving the company.
It’s all about wise companies being proactive, says Arthur, to keep employees from jumping ship. “If you’re doing good work — you shouldn’t have to fight for the next opportunity.”
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