In September 2021, 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs. We’re hearing about the Great Resignation everywhere–on TikTok and Forbes and everything in between. The industries affected are vast, and the reasons are highly variable. The common denominator, however, seems to be that there is a widespread shift in mindset among American workers that may no longer be compatible with the way the business world traditionally functions.
We could say that this mindset shifted because of the pandemic, but as a 24-year-old entrepreneur who brought my business from zero to $3+ million in two years, I’d say the mindset was there long before 2020.
I’d be bold enough to say that this mindset shifted the moment Gen Z entered the workforce. My generation is highly entrepreneurial. We have already built businesses or are aspiring to. This ubiquitous and revolutionary mindset is contagious and is already sending ripples through other generations that are also not fitting with traditional business models.
If you are in startup mode or are planning to build your business, you are not alone. Don’t let news about the Great Resignation frighten you. It should inspire you. It shows that people—millions of people—are ready for a change, and their mindset is finally aligning with what Gen Z has been saying for years.
Business should have purpose
It’s no longer a secret that consumers expect brands to have purpose. But it isn’t said enough that internal teams, as well, want their companies to have purpose. If you are starting a business during the Great Resignation, both the business and your team must have a sense of purpose to survive.
There are too many choices for everyone involved for people to waste their time on companies that don’t contribute to society or the world. One of the many reasons cited that people who are leaving the workplace is because “it’s just not worth it.” Why would they put their health (physical and mental) on the line for a job they don’t care about?
That is why purpose is so incredibly important. As an entrepreneur, you need to believe in what you are doing beyond only financial rewards, and your team needs to believe in what they are doing beyond only a paycheck. Their work has to matter. Making work matter starts at the top, with you.
My philosophy is about giving the team complete ownership over their roles and activities from executive leadership all the way down to new hires. They have ownership over their clients, projects and activities, with a guiding hand and strategic input from me whenever needed. My role is to support their success, not mandate their day-to-day.
Regardless of title or pay, every team member should have a purpose and ownership over their work. No one likes someone swooping in at the last minute and taking credit for their work. What people do like is feeling like they are contributing to something greater and being recognized for those contributions.
Anyone in startup mode should analyze the purpose of their business and then make that the central pillar from which all things are built.
Thriving people make thriving businesses
For too long, businesses have viewed their teams as resources, not assets. The postindustrial age mindset has been about climbing a corporate ladder for better compensation. This is often done at any cost and with little consideration to work/life balance or health. People are leaving their jobs because they are beginning to value their lives over their careers and will settle for lesser pay, or financial uncertainty, if it means a better lifestyle.
Within that lies the second mindset that Gen Z is bringing to the table. Businesses that focus on their people and make sure they are thriving, professionally and personally, will allow them to then invest themselves in the business. A company cannot thrive if its people are not.
It goes beyond company culture. The entire business must be oriented around empowering and inspiring the team, so team members can find their purpose and enthusiastically take the company with them.
Entrepreneurs need to be every bit as focused on their people as they are on their customers or prospects.
Successful business models are built on freedom
Ultimately, this comes down to the freedom for teams to work the best way for them and to have the independence to own that work. The pandemic lifted the veil and showed many people what freedom in the workplace looks like. We demonstrated that not only was it possible to work on our own terms, but we could be more productive and more successful doing so. Businesses that know how to build a flexible culture built on freedom and trust found ways to grow in spite of remote work and the pandemic.
If you are starting a business in this climate, it is good to know what will be expected of you. More than that, it is an exciting time to build a new model of business that lifts up employees so they can do their best work—not for you, not for a paycheck, but for themselves.
What Gen Z wants should not be revolutionary, but it is. They want a culture that trusts them to do their best work in the best way that they know how. They want a company that gives them the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. They want to be respected and valued. They want to be inspired and empowered. They want purpose.