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Organizational Change
More and More Talent Ready to Leave Companies Over Misalignment of Values

From ‘quiet quitting’ to conscious quitting: Despite economic uncertainty, 51% of employees surveyed would consider resigning if employers do not align with own values.

Pay and benefits are no longer the only critical factors in deciding where to work, with a striking majority citing their employers’ values (88 percent) and commitment to the environment (73 percent) and social equality (75 percent) as key criteria, reveals a survey commissioned by business leader Paul Polman.

The 2023 Net Positive Employee Barometer — a survey of over 4,000 workers across the US and UK — reveals that 36 percent are concerned about paying their bills, while 66 percent are anxious about the future of the planet and society. This figure rises to 71 percent for Gen Z and Millennials, who have entered the workforce amid an age of ‘permacrisis’ — witnessing the cascading environmental, economic and health shocks of recent years.

Clover Hogan, climate activist and founder of Force of Nature, says: “Anxiety is on the rise in my generation; we’ve inherited a climate crisis, broken political systems, and increasing social polarization. We’re tired of greenwashing and empty commitments. Counter to the image painted of Gen Z, we don’t want beanbags and table tennis in the office; we want to work for organizations that reflect our values. CEOs who fail to see this, and take action, will be left behind.”

As the Net Positive Employee Barometer explains, many assumed the “Great Resignation” would dissipate as inflation rose and growth slowed last year. However, despite economic uncertainty, employees continue to resign; around 4.2 million US workers (2.7 percent of the workforce) quit their jobs in November 2022 — just fractions less than the record 3 percent in November 2021.

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The Barometer suggests that a key driver for these resignations is a misalignment of the values between employee and employer. CEOs focused on the “Great Retention” must therefore recognize this crucial link between job satisfaction and companies’ social and environmental impact.

In their 2021 book, Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, Polman and co-author Andrew Winston say they believe that businesses can turn the many pressing challenges facing society into ways for businesses to drive resiliency by changing their business models.

In the foreward to the report, Polman says CEOs must wake up to the new reality in which we find ourselves — an era characterized by the Great Resignation, ‘quiet quitting’ and now ‘conscious quitting’ as employees put the need for purpose and positive impact in their work front and center:

“In a rapidly changing labour market, where the power seems to be ever-more in the hands of the employee, C-Suites are being inundated with advice on how to recruit and retain the best people. Don’t get me wrong: The numerous studies telling us that employees want better pay, more flexibility and greater wellbeing are absolutely right. But … the danger of relying on these prescriptions alone is not that they are incorrect, but that they only tell part of the story. These analyses tend to look at employees as just that: workers, in the narrow sense. Not as human beings, many of whom crave meaning and fulfilment on top of money and flexibility.

“We conducted a survey of 4,000 employees across the UK & US that aims to take a more human lens to these issues, recognising that our economies are at an inflection point and the way many people think about work is being shaped by this wider context. Our findings are eye-opening. The message that came through loud and clear is that, in addition to thinking about their financial needs and personal wellbeing, many also want to work for companies who share their values and who are stepping up on the biggest issues facing humanity — not least climate change and economic inequality.

“Many can see that their employers are trying to be ‘less bad,’ but they can also see it’s still not enough. And when their companies don’t uphold their values, many employees say they are ready to resign. Indeed, many already have. Any CEO who thinks they will win the talent wars by offering a bit more money, some extra home-working and a gym membership is going to be disappointed. An era of conscious quitting is on the way."

Key findings

Image credit: 2023 Net Positive Employee Barometer

Employees are worried about the future and want to work for companies that are doing something about it:

  • Two out of three employees are anxious about the future of the planet and society (69 percent UK, 66 percent US).

  • The majority want to work for a company that is trying to have a positive impact on the world (66 percent UK, 76 percent US).

Despite seeing some progress, employees can still see that their companies aren’t doing enough:

  • They see an ambition gap: Even though many employees are aware that companies are taking some steps to address environmental and societal problems, around two out of three in each country say current efforts by businesses do not go far enough (68 percent UK, 62 percent US).

  • Many believe the CEO and senior leaders don’t care about these issues. Almost half of UK employees (45 percent) and over a third of US employees (39 percent) believe these leaders are only driven by their own gain.

  • Three-quarters say a company should take responsibility for its impact — not just on its employees and stakeholders, but on the wider world (77 percent UK, 78 percent US).

Business is sleepwalking into an era of conscious quitting:

  • Nearly half of employees say they would consider resigning from their job if the values of the company did not align with their own values (45 percent UK, 51 percent US).

  • In fact, a third say they already have resigned from a position for this reason. (35 percent in both the UK and US). This number rises significantly among Gen Z & Millennials employees (48 percent UK, 44 percent US).

  • Nearly half of Gen Z and Millennials would consider taking a pay cut in order to work for a company that shares their values (48 percent UK, 44 percent US).

“The risks to C-Suites who ignore this should be obvious: If you continue to fall out of step with the expectations and needs of current and future employees, your company will become less attractive, less productive and, ultimately, less successful,” Polman asserted in a post. “On the flip side, companies which step up can unlock motivation, innovation and loyalty. And they can accelerate their efforts to build a more sustainable, more responsible and more profitable business — what we call a ‘net positive’ company, which thrives and delivers long-term value by giving more than it takes.

“We identify three key ways companies can do this:

  • Show greater ambition on your values and impact;

  • Do a better job at communicating this:

  • Empower your employees to help you.”

As the report concludes, CEOs that fail to act risk losing talent, weakening engagement and productivity, and undermining the success of their business in the years ahead. Those who step up will reap the rewards of motivated, innovative, loyal employees who work together with senior leadership to accelerate the company’s journey toward becoming a more responsible, more sustainable, and ultimately more profitable business.

“Having a positive impact on the world is no longer a byproduct of good business, it’s our whole reason for being,” says Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. “It’s no shock that in such turbulent times, employees want to work for companies striving for significant social and environmental change. And we’ll be with them every step of the way.”