Work With The Willing: A rule of thumb for human capital management (and life)

The great resignation of 2021 has been a huge headline this year. After millions of people lost their jobs in 2020, this year we saw millions of employees voluntarily leave their jobs. What has this taught us?

Each year human resource executives invest millions of dollars to promote workplace engagement. I work for a company that researches employee engagement and workplace cultures across the world. The top companies strive to solidify their spot on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list each year.

Despite the investment to cultivate an engaged workplace culture, about 25% of people voluntarily quit their jobs this year. Further, about 40% have considered leaving their job this year, according to a Microsoft study.

So what can employers do about this?

Here’s my hot take—employers can’t fight this. If somebody isn’t willing, you can’t coerce them to be willing. Even if you do, that willingness won’t be sustainable.

First, the people who left weren’t happy with their jobs. At least, they thought they’d be happier without them. It didn’t fulfill their life’s purpose anymore.

Second, maybe your employee says they can’t be fully bought-in until they see company, departmental, or personal success. But that’s the crux of the issue.

You can’t wait to place your bets in life until you see the deck is stacked in your favor. You have to “buy-in” for the deck to be stacked in your favor.

When is it time to let someone go? Have an open conversation with your employee. The discussion isn’t about their performance, but their willingness to make a plan to improve. If there is no willingness, there is no future together.

If you’re on the other side of this, you might be asking yourself, “When is it time to let go?” Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t enthusiastic about your job, this endeavor, or whatever it may be, move on until you find something that you can buy-into completely.

You might notice these guidelines hold true in HR and also life in general. Just as ‘only work with the willing’ is a rule of thumb for human capital management, it also applies to love relationships. You cannot be with someone who isn’t willing. It takes two to tango.

What are you 100% bought-into in your life right now? Have there been times when you had to be honest with yourself about not being willing anymore? Excited to hear your thoughts on this topic.



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17 thoughts on “Work With The Willing: A rule of thumb for human capital management (and life)

  1. I’m generally not enthusiastic about work environments in general. I haven’t been since I left a very dysfunctional company. As far as relationships go. One of my last ones was either one sided on my part or her’s. Rarely did we see the same level at the same time. It was completely disheartening after awhile. Back to business, I think I was being approached for a venture. But try as I might, I could never get a straight answer about them or what my role would be. The fact that I was constantly guessing made me think it was a scam. I’ve also been approached by scammers before, using believable scenarios. But I never got the full scoop or qualifications. We live precious lives. Sometimes I feel I wasted a lot of time doing unproductive activities. But I’m the kind of person who needs clear instructions and clarifications in order to excel. I’m an extremely hard worker and very loyal. But the price is trust. I need to trust them and they need to trust me. I’ve experienced enough personal tragedies to understand that I don’t want to suffer like that ever again, even if it means I’m sweeping floors for meals.

    1. I think I’m quite enthusiastic because life is too short not to be. Maybe another term is “bought-in” relating to the workplace, but I am very lucky that I work at such a great company. I think if people ever have the choice, they shouldn’t settle for something they don’t love, whether that’s for work or in a relationship, and relationships always have choices. I can definitely relate to having a one-sided relationship, it’s not a good feeling and slowly breaks down your self-respect and self-love constantly trying to be good enough. That’s a great lesson you’ve learned about yourself need to trust others and have that reciprocated. I think the lesson I’ve learned recently is that you can’t force anyone to be bought-in. It tells a lot about the person and their intentions if they are or not, and it’s not something you should try to change. Thanks for reading, <3E

      1. Yes! I am relearning to love life. I did for many years. There are stories, experiences that I’ve decided not to carry on, the horrible ones. But I’m relearning. As far as jobs, no one has genuinely wanted me to work with them for decades. For a long time I really took it personally. “If you knew me, you’d want me.” Getting a clean perspective on society, it just doesn’t matter anymore. Believe me, I’ve sent in hundreds of applications in over the years. I almost got a teaching job at a nearby university this year. Their budget fell apart. Between you and I, it would have been a serious lot of work. But I really love working with people. That’s what I miss the most. If there’s a perfect job out there for me, it will take a miracle to find. But I’m not only settled with myself, I’m deeply appreciating my endurance. It almost brings a tear to my eyes.

  2. As the mother of two daughters who both resigned jobs this year, I am aware that people have been carefully considering how they spend their days. My daughters both worked very hard and faithfully during the first 15-18 months of the pandemic, and experienced increased work loads. One employer did nothing to prevent employees and clients from being exposed to Covid–even going as far as not notifying contacts when someone became infected. Both daughters brought their concerns to management, who blew them off. One was quickly snapped up at a different job for substantially higher pay; the other is still too traumatized to start looking for a new position.
    It’s not a question of not being willing–it’s being fed up with being treated poorly in the workplace.

    1. Well said. Its so crazy to think how often employees are treated as less valuable people because they aren’t a part of management. They are being paid to do a job, not to be bullied, degraded, or disrespected. I’m really hoping that the great resignation transitions to a great reform.

  3. Once again … I read this and believe you are speaking directly to me 🧡🧡
    On the business side, I agree completely. Employers can’t fight the resignations. In years past, society (and parents… and recruiters) often looked negatively on anyone who “quit a job “, especially when they did not have a new job lined up. This phenomenon is normalized now – parents and hiring managers and recruiters understand why it’s being done, and “job quitters” don’t get the negative press they once did. Some still do it for less than admirable reasons, but many seem to have valid reasons- and even without the next job in the wings, this appears to be a good career move.
    On the personal side, it’s still not easy to make changes. Contemplating…

    1. it’s nice to see that quitting jobs is accepted more now than before. people are beginning to see that career paths aren’t so straightforward anymore. there is not one path for success, but many. your life has one chapter, and then another, and another.❤️

  4. If you don’t mind I would like to disagree with what I think is an unspoken foundation of this post – the fact that employees quitting is all about the employees.

    I fully accept that my job doesn’t offer me the same insight yours does and I may not have the full picture to speak on, however I feel ( from those insights I do have of seeing others being employed by large firms and being a small employer myself ) that the views of employees as a commodity to hold onto or let go of, place in a scale of profit/loss etc. have become such a common thing now that we almost forget of them as people. Someone could be leaving because they’re being bullied, ignored, used almost as a ( paid ) slave, even ( as another poster commented ) not being protected from a pandemic. I fear that if we just say “it’s alright for employees to leave,” we are placing the choice, and there-by the blame ( in cases where there is any need for blame ), solely upon their shoulders.

    The HGV/fuel crisis in the UK recently was as much down to the fact that the industry works on a principle of pushing employees to their limits, as it was any lack of foreign workers. This is not only cruel and morally wrong but also downright dangerous when it comes to drivers pushing themselves to meet deadlines and working too long.

    Yes, industry is having to fight in a very competitive and money-tight world but there has to be a balance so that it doesn’t become a soulless behemoth.

    There is also the question of the companies being able to improve themselves for their own benefit: A good company will be able to take feed-back from employees to improve its overall service and productiveness, it will have more likelihood of a permanent work force and more chance of employees pushing themselves because they feel they have some ownership of the company.

    Yes, I agree that there is a need to see beyond the now and put effort in both in work and life; we just need to remember that there is also the need for both sides to work together.

  5. There are many variables that have led to the great resignation this year. Many people postponed leaving during the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the safety of our health and others is more of a priority now than ever. There are many reasons that have led up to this trend. And I don’t think that employees leaving should be solely the employees fault. However, I do think it’s important to take accountability for your own happiness. You decide whether or not you’re going to make the most out of whatever situation you’re in, or if you’re going to let it take away from your happiness. You decide if the glass is half full or half empty. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing we can really control.

  6. I think fear is the main reason people stay in jobs they hate. They choose uncertainty over unhappiness – the fear that they might end up with something worse. Starting some kind of side hustle in your spare time and trying to spread your psychological eggs so to speak is another option. To have a safety net of some kind makes leaving a job that much easier.

  7. Your insight is accurate and often useful. However, the repeated headlines out of the coordinated media is often false. Yes, the reported that 2.6 million people left their jobs in November but what should be in the same sentence or the immediate sentence following is… 2.8 million people found new jobs. What we don’t know is why? Your article does a much better job trying to explain “the why/s” then the miss leading headlines. Thank you!

  8. Its amazing how much a work environment can impact the success of an organization. Most peoples jobs make up a majority of their waking lives, its a shame more effort isn’t put into making sure that time is enjoyable. When it is we generally see lower absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, and higher productivity as well as greater cohesiveness.

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