Enrichment or resignation – the great employment challenge

4th April 2022 Posted by

Blog by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Human Resources and Health and Safety Officer, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

What makes people get out of bed and go to work? Apart from the alarm clock and bills to pay, they need other reasons – if they are to choose to work for you, and with the level of commitment a company needs to survive and thrive.

It’s a business-critical question, which can keep HR professionals awake at night, and is now gaining a new sense of urgency.

Job vacancies in the UK are at all-time high and, as the economy continues to recover from the shock of the pandemic, the labour market is at its tightest for 50 years. One aspect of this challenge is the phenomenon US economists dubbed the Great Resignation. This has impacted UK employers too as people have left their jobs in large numbers over the past year or so.

Various surveys have shown more people than ever before – across multiple sectors – are re-considering their roles and employers, and finding them wanting. A Microsoft poll of 33,000 global workers found more than 40% were considering leaving their employer in 2021. In a survey of 2,000 employees in the UK and Ireland, 38% said they were looking to change roles within 12 months, or once the economy strengthened. Meanwhile, nearly half of the 500 HR decision-makers questioned (45%) said they were worried that staff would leave when the market improved.

A more recent UK study this year suggests almost one in five UK workers (17%) is actively looking for a new job. More than half (53%) are open to new opportunities and just 3 in 10 are committed enough to their current employer to stay put for at least the next 12 months. Also, six out of 10 admitted to so-called ‘turnover contagion’ – when the departure of a colleague encourages you to follow them out the door.

What’s driving this? As with so much else, COVID-19 has shaken up attitudes to employment, but it’s also amplified some forces that were already at work.

Some employers will have driven people away by letting them down during the pandemic. Where the workplace culture was already poor, lack of support or unsympathetic treatment was probably the last straw for those able to move on.

Workers too have re-set their priorities, deciding to strike a different life-work balance or pursue a ‘dream job’. Another interesting theory – from a US army veteran of multiple deployments– is that some people are struggling as companies try to get back to normal after the pandemic. They miss things they got used to when working from home, and on their return to the workplace, micro changes make it feel somehow different or unsettling. Management consultant McKinsey’s advice, therefore, is to treat this dissatisfaction as a human problem rather than a business problem, though it certainly is that.

I agree, because there are other underlying human factors that COVID has only intensified and attitudinal trends it has accelerated.

Employees and businesses thrive when individuals come to work for reasons that extend beyond themselves. We must provide an enriched employee experience that not only supports their careers through wellness, inclusion and continuous learning, but also channel their efforts so we contribute to a greater societal or environmental good at both a micro and macro level.

  • Wellness: In the case of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, our employees drew up a Wellness Charter, setting out their priority areas for action to support and promote wellbeing in 2019. Our Wellness for All programme includes: regular webinars, sharing sessions where employees can get support on issues affecting them as well as sessions to encourage physical health. We also provide First Aid for Mental Health Awareness training for 20 employees each month. By the end of 2022, more than 2,000 of our people will have completed mental health awareness training.


  • Inclusion: As with mental health and wellbeing, inclusion is now seen as far more important by people and our society. Our diversity and inclusion networks of employees are helping to shape the company culture and our response – which is also informed by gathering and analysing data, learning from the lived-experiences of our people, and supported by unconscious bias training for all.


  • Continuous learning: A comprehensive learning and development programme is not only essential to business performance and continuity, it demonstrates to people that they are valued – from induction and apprentice training through advanced skills to ongoing personal development. We also empower employees to take greater control of their own development through free and flexible access to modules on complementary skills.


The purpose of a company and its sustainability also matter to its people.

One in three UK professionals would turn down a job offer from an employer that fails to live up to their personal values, according to international research. This view was even more common in other countries – reaching 50%-plus in France and Switzerland. I expect the UK to follow a similar trajectory as the climate crisis worsens and younger people dominate the workforce. Study after study shows that millennials and the subsequent Generation Z (born 1996-2011) want to work for responsible employers.

  • Social value: Social responsibility takes many forms, from procurement through local suppliers and collaborations with schools to paid volunteering days and match-funding employees’ charitable fundraising. Most companies are already generating social value, and could do more if they measured and managed their contribution. Using bespoke software from Social Profit Calculator, we quantified our social value in 2020 as £1.98 billion (up from £1.55 billion in 2019, despite the pandemic’s restrictions on our activities).We also commissioned research by Eunomia showing how local authorities can create more social value through the environmental services contracts they procure. Providing your people with channels to give something back enhances their employee experience. Feeling like you are contributing to a greater good shouldn’t be limited to people’s social value or charitable work outside work.


  • Environmental responsibility: As a company that has long championed the circular economy, our everyday business is to protect the environment and manage resources sustainably. This commitment to the environment is a core value we share with our employees. But every employer can show that they want to be part of the solution, and not the problem that threatens our planet. If your staff don’t already expect it, they and your prospective recruits will.

Sustainable practices – whether conserving energy, recycling or avoiding waste – not only benefit the bottom line of a business, many studies show that employee retention, productivity, and engagement are boosted.

The pandemic has laid bare how much compassion, trust and wellbeing matter in the workplace, alongside investment in learning and personal development. It further enriches our workday experience when we are part of an organisation that lives up to its wider corporate responsibilities, where we have shared values, and have a purpose we can support. This is the way that 21st century businesses and their people can thrive amid the many challenges we all face.

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