Seeking Greener Pastures

Who remembers the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff? It was one of my favorites growing up and if you’ve never heard it before it goes something like this: Three billy goats (one small, one medium, and one large) run out of grass on the hill where they live and decide they must move to the next hill where there is plenty of green, delicious grass growing. However, in order to get there the three billy goats must first cross a bridge, guarded by a hideous and hungry troll. One after the other the billy goats trick the troll into letting them pass, until the largest billy goat finally defeats the troll for good and all three of the billy goats live happily ever after in their new, greener pasture.

It’s a simple story, but it’s one that has created one of the more commonplace expressions we often hear,  “the grass is always greener.” And, ironically, even though the Billy Goats defeat their challenge and are successful in their pursuit of moving to greener grass, the lesson that has come out of this story over generations is to be thankful with what you have and where you are. Today, the grass is always greener means that while you may think that someone else has it easier or better than you, you don’t really know what their life, job, relationship etc. is really like, and so you should be happy with what you have.

And while some parts of that lesson still hold true, in the business world more employees are seeking greener pastures than ever before and a far greater number of them are willing to cross their bridges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American will have held three to four jobs by the time they are 32 and our reasons for changing jobs are a little different than you might expect.

According to a survey conducted by Korn Ferry in January, 2017, 73% of employees actively seeking new jobs were not motivated by the promise of more money, better benefits, or nicer bosses, but by the hope of finding a more challenging position at another company. In fact, the same survey found that in many cases, people were actually willing to take an initial pay-cut if it meant working in a more stimulating role.

That’s a pretty staggering statistic when you stop to think about it. 73% of active job seekers (a majority of whom are young professional) are willing to work for less if their new job is more interesting than their current one. And the same survey also found that 76% of job-seekers were looking at new roles within their current career field, in their same city, and with similar job descriptions. So if people are seeking jobs similar to their own in the same field, and are willing to work for less, are most of them just…bored with their current job?

Possibly. Boredom is an increasing problem in corporate America. According to Udemy’s recent report Battling Boredom Blues, 43% of U.S. employees are bored at work and more than half of those who claimed to be bored said that they were bored for more than half of their work-week. And while it would be easy to discount boredom as either laziness or a poor, disgruntled attitude among your employees, boredom can often times be one of the first contributing factors towards a talent drain.

Boredom is inherently a lack of drive, which in a business setting can directly correlate to how employees view their future at a company. Simply put, if there’s no where to go up the ladder, or work on the best projects, or travel, or earn bonuses, then why should I even bother? And the short answer is, I won’t. Today, instead of just sitting in their cubicles and waiting until the end of the day, bored employees leave. Just like the Three Billy Goats, if they’re not getting the nourishment they need on their current hill, your employees will simply move to another one.

And while this higher mobility can seem depressing to recruiters and HR leaders, I would argue that it actually offers an interesting opportunity. If boredom is pushing folks out, then that means that intrigue is pulling them in. Instead of staring idly at a computer screen, most employees are hungry for continued development and challenging opportunities. And acknowledging this can provide a keen retention advantage for companies, particularly in regard to young professionals.

Just like being an innovative company doesn’t require beanbag office chairs and free beer in the lobby, offering challenging and complex opportunities to young professionals doesn’t mean suddenly turning over the keys to the company. Supervised-involvement in top-priority projects, inclusion or observation in high-level meetings, and investment in professional development opportunities go a long ways towards improving employee morale. And beyond just expanding visibility moments within a company, the most successful managers will be the ones who can find the balance between assigning necessary, daily tasks and establishing more accelerated development goals for their employees.

Despite our commonplace expressions, just like the Three Billy Goats today’s workforce is going to wander to where the grass is the greenest. So in order to keep the best goats on your hill, you better make sure that you invest in keeping your hill fresh and green.

What do you think about your company’s development offerings? Would you consider changing jobs for a pay-cut if you knew you’d get to work on more challenging projects? Let us know! Head back to Base Camp to join the conversation!