More than 47 million workers quit their jobs in 2021. That was following 2019, when 42 million quit to create what was already the tightest labor market on record.

Workforce experts are now beginning to recognize that employees are less interested in resigning than in renegotiating. In response, organizations are offering incentives such as higher salaries and signing bonuses.

But what do today’s workers really want? Finding the answer can point employers to practical solutions for attracting and retaining top talent. It can also help prospective employees home in on the enterprises that offer the most rewarding opportunities.

The Great Hesitation — or Renegotiation?

Both employees and employers have lived through massive change over the past two years. The Covid-19 crisis rearranged every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

Many companies were forced to temporarily shut down. When they resumed operations, they had to pivot to remote-work models. At the same time, many employees were forced out of work. When they had an opportunity to return, many began rethinking the role that career plays in their lives. 

The recent sluggish return of workers to the labor market has been termed by some economists as the “Great Hesitation,” with individuals reluctant to return to work as a result of concerns stemming from the pandemic, including risk of infection and lack of affordable childcare. However, many survey reports highlight that a high percentage of workers intend to switch jobs — not leave the workforce entirely. 

It’s not that people don’t want to work, it’s that they want their employment experience to be different. They want their employer to be different, too.

Related Reading3 Things to Know About Hiring Gen Z


Zooming In on the Future Workforce

Another factor is the newest generation beginning to enter the workforce. Generation Z (also called Zoomers) includes people born after about 1995. In the United States, this cohort of 68 million people makes up 20 percent of the population and is the third largest behind Millennials and Boomers. By 2025, Gen Z will make up nearly 30 percent of the talent pool in some markets.

Zoomers have lived through the Great Recession, Covid-19 and an increase in climate-related disasters. They’ve experienced economic uncertainty and global forces beyond their control.

These issues have influenced their priorities. They’re more committed to causes earlier generations might have considered idealistic — especially those pertaining to energy and the environment. They’re less focused on their salary and job title and more concerned about a bigger societal picture and how their job fits into it.

More on Creative BenefitsThis Is Why You Should Let Employees Bring Their Friends to Work


What’s My Motivation?

I’ve worked for more than 30 years in technology and operating roles in the public and private sectors. I’ve contributed to multiple organizations in positions from CIO, CTO, CEO, chairman and board director. In that time and across those enterprises, I’ve never seen employees be satisfied simply because they earned a big paycheck.

But you don’t have to change the world to give your employees a sense of purpose, and you don’t have to blow your budget to effectively engage workers. Here are four areas where practical strategies can attract the talent you need now.

4 Practical Offerings to Attract Talent

  1. Wellbeing benefits
  2. Flexible work patterns
  3. Transparency and empathy
  4. Meaningful work



Job hunters look for more than just adequate healthcare insurance. They also seek out benefits that contribute to their wellbeing, such as fitness-plan allowances and matching charitable donations. In fact, Gallup has identified five elements of wellbeing, including career, financial, social, community and physical factors. 

Today’s workers think of wellbeing in increasingly broad terms. If an employee can work remotely but then experiences social isolation, wellbeing is degraded. If a worker earns a good salary but still faces temporary financial hardship, that too is a wellbeing issue.

Employers need to pay attention to these issues. The right combination of wellbeing elements will vary by industry and organization. But all of them will affect worker engagement and productivity.



Of the 125 million full-time jobs in America, half can likely be done from home. And 30 percent of those workers would prefer never to come into the office, though 60 percent want a hybrid model of one to four days in the office each week.

Every company will need to identify the roles that can be performed remotely and the balance between in-person and remote work. But even as the global health crisis wanes, flexible work environments will remain the norm. Such elasticity enables employees to better balance work with personal commitments.

Top performers will increasingly stake a claim for working wherever, whenever and however they believe they can best contribute to your enterprise. Smart companies will listen to their needs and set policy accordingly.



Employees want to feel they’re a vital part of your organization. As a consequence, they want insights into financials, strategy and decision-making. It’s vital that leaders keep staff informed and engage them in decision-making processes.

Part of this need is driven by what some perceive as an increasingly unstable world. Even as workers seek new jobs in the wake of the pandemic, two-thirds say they want greater stability. Providing employees with transparency is a good way to demonstrate that your company is stable — and that they’ll be kept apprised as inevitable changes occur.

Transparency is also an effective way to demonstrate empathy, a trait that employees now look for. The emotional intelligence of corporate leadership can help engender a culture that makes employees feel valued. This need is likewise driving a rise in mentoring programs, which Gen Z in particular values.


Finally, today’s employees want to feel their work is meaningful. Studies have long shown that employees are willing to earn less money for more rewarding jobs. That’s true of 71 percent of Zoomers, more than half of whom say it’s “very important” for their work to have meaning. A sense of purpose is especially crucial as remote teams need to feel emotionally connected to company culture and goals.

Of course, many companies, especially in the tech industry, say they’re changing the world for the better. But to attract top talent, you can’t simply write a flowery mission statement or claim your organization is mission-driven.

However, your organization doesn’t need to operate in the public sector or nonprofit space for it to offer employees meaningful work. Rather, demonstrating your company’s commitment to customers — and enabling employees to tangibly contribute to that commitment — can empower workers to feel their work matters.


The Takeaway

Giving employees opportunities to share how their work is purposeful, and it can help to give customers opportunities to express how your company benefits them. It is all about setting outcome goals that are more than just financial targets. Financial targets need to be a consequence of the outcomes, not the other way around.

For the foreseeable future, competition for the top talent will grow more fierce. By understanding what prospective employees want from your organization today, you can win that battle — and help ensure your business success

Expert Contributors

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