Where did talents go? #quitmyjob

#quitmyjob is trending everywhere. The Great Resignation is hitting the job market brutally. A record of 4.4million people (3% of US workforce) quit in September, and that’s following the 4.3million recorded in August. Not exactly the most encouraging news for organizations reopening their offices after a prolonged hybrid work model.

#quitmyjob on TikTok

Over the past 18 months of the pandemic, the workplace dynamic has changed. Initially grateful for having a job through the pandemic, being stuck at home has forced people to reevaluate their priorities and values, while also realizing the benefits of flexible working life. What was once a luxury in the busy office life has now become daily life – family, workouts, newly acquired hobbies (cooking, painting, gardening, etc). When it is time to go back to the office routine (which in an Asian context, is NEVER a 9-to-5), many chose the obvious option of quitting. And many did so, without a backup plan. 

This time it’s not about the money, or the next appraisal and the next promotion. It’s about reclaiming the self and one’s identity that has been consumed by work identity.

“One of the worst things about working in a corporation is the sense that they feel they own you. They would rather own something unproductive than having something productive but not under their control, and that’s extremely depressing to me. I never wanted to feel my life was at the whim of my boss, and I always did.”

Quote from a study by SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

What about creative agencies? Many are struggling to retain employees, and also struggling to employ new talents. The younger generation prefers to “do their own thing” than being employed at a junior position – “to do meaningless social media posts, or to become the operators for people up the chain”.

Some posts from Instagram #quitmyjob.

Welcome, the new players of the gig economy. 

After my last post, some friends commented that it is remarkable that I could run a creative business based on zero employment, and relying entirely on collaborating with gig workers and other studios. It seems like everyone has had bad freelancers experience, and hiring full-time employees is the only option to ensure there’s some sense of control.

There’s no foolproof way of guaranteeing a rewarding client-freelancer relationship. I generally avoid three types of freelancers:

  1. Box Tickers. Those who start the first conversation by wanting to define the job scope and the money. While time and money are important, I am concerned that the person is not first interested in the problem we are trying to solve, together. I am also convinced that the person will most likely be on a mission to tick the boxes to complete the pre-defined job, without asking whether there are better ways to achieve the same objectives.
  2. Approval seekers. Those who want constant feedback, decision making and approvals, at every step on all details “This version or that version? #C0C0C0 or #C1C1C1? Semibold or Italics?” I get that this brings clarity and probably speeds things up for the person doing the job, but this becomes a burden to me. I am not hiring a full-time junior employee, whose default behaviour is to dump the problem at the boss. I am engaging a freelancer who is working with me, to solve a client’s problem, together.
  3. Defensive egos. Those who know it all, and assume clients are always wrong. Or those with the artistic temperament – jumping straight into execution, and expect the output to be accepted as it is, leaving no room for discussions, or too late for improvements. I prefer people who could organise a project into several milestones – where discussions could be held, ideas could be debated and refined, joint decisions could be made before proceeding to the next phase. Basically, good arguments to make better work, together.

Notice the word “together”? It is a collaboration, and it is a process of finding the best ways to work together. Not client vs supplier. Not me vs you. 

Edward Ong gave a good way to think about the position of a freelancer

“A freelancer is technically a business owner.”

Food for thought: When a freelancer behaves like a business entity, many of the common issues with freelancers will vanish. The one-off UBER driver may annoy you by constantly asking for directions (despite having a GPS installed), or becomes extremely defensive when you comment on his driving skills; but UBER, the business entity is not supposed to represent that. 

I use UBER, hoping that all my drivers represent what UBER stands for, and hopefully, I do not get that one-off 1-star rating bad driver.

#quitmyjob on Instagram, and on Twitter.

Agony and Ecstasy in the Gig Economy: Cultivating Holding Environments for Precarious and Personalized Work Identities. Study by SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University.

Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?Harvard Business Review

Thriving in the Gig EconomyHarvard Business Review

Written with inputs from Kavan Antani, and Anushka Sani. Thanks.

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