• Sabatigo Research Group: Talent

Next Play: Migration Stories from Generation Burnout

Updated: Apr 28

At Sabatigo, we've done lots of research lately on the the fact that mostly people are wired to support the success our teammates enjoy. (Ok sometimes we are jealous of how far and fast they go if we can't always run with them!) But when our colleague's good news comes to us in a "Next Play" posting on LinkedIn, how do we feel then?

In a word: demoralized.

In a more nuanced reading of our sentiments, we may feel bruised. (We were left behind, remember?) Or even vicariously mad about whatever addled our departed team member enough to migrate. Whatever our subtler reactions may be, our overall work morale takes a pounding when we read about our former colleagues' new lives on LinkedIn.

Sound familiar?

The Job Change Announcement is Now Ubiquitous: Gratitude/Platitude

Every hour these posts flood social channels not just on LinkedIn but everywhere. We know, because Sabatigo's scholars have been researching these migration posts on social media for some time. They follow certain patterns and are full of textual and sub-textual resonance. On the surface, most Next Play notices are a fast roll of gratitude. Thanks are given to gracious mentors, who are always tagged, and thanks are given for specific and general lessons learned. In most of the gratitude-forward announcements, snark is absent as is even gentle punch throwing. Which is to say they make boring reading, unless you truly know and care about the person because you've lived a few professional lives in their midst.

But even the gratitude-rich Next Plays have a wallop just below the surface, functioning as a subtext. That resonates slowly with certain readers who may be ambivalent themselves about an employer.

If you're reading these kind and gentle statements of thanks and are still at the company that's been left, you wonder: "why are we losing people this innovative and this caring? What about this place was insufficient to keep them here?" (Sabatigo interview with Peter W.)

Companies Need to Fear the Revenge Post

Not everyone leaves a former employer with deep bows of thanks, in part because not everyone gets a work experience worthy of gratitude. Women and talent who come from communities of color or the LGBTQ community can face daily challenges at work that conspire to silence their voices or usurp their creativity and ideation. The Next Play posts they write can be powerful statements of what can't and shouldn't work anymore in business. And they can also be part and parcel of recovering damaged dignity and a sense of self-efficacy. Here's a powerful example of a tough Next Play:

Note the metrics on this post come from within three hours of when it went live. In that time 27 people had commented, from headhunters and recruiters to other team members who had left the same company. A quick look at the likes show dozens of people still working at the company this team member exited. The pummeling a post like this delivers is impossible to quantify, because the reach goes so far beyond the people who liked and commented on it. Suffice it to say: no company wants this messaging swirling all over social media. And while it's right to praise the former employee for having had the class not to tag her former bosses or reveal the company in her post, it's also true that anybody engaging with the post is likely to have their curiosity piqued enough to get that information from the employee's profile.

Three Lessons Next-Play Posts Can Teach Agile Managers

What managers can do in the broadest terms to avoid watching their companies be flamed in revenge posts is to be better managers. That means they need to empower their teams, listen to the concerns of those teams and treat with honor, dignity and empathy the variables that exist in the human lives of their direct reports. Is this a bridge too far? Maybe for some managers, who haven't cultivated their own EQ and leadership chops to work with integrity and authenticity in today's business world. In that case, do at least these three things:

  1. Keep a clear pulse on where your top-talent leaders may be in their own thinking about migrating. This can be hard, but it's also possible with the range of software and pulse survey systems available. Nobody wants an 11th hour call from a worried manager, saying: "I found out you've applied for a new job at a new company. What can we do to keep you? You know you're very valuable to us." It's too little, too late. And not is this employee lost already, but they secretly disengaged from the company months ago and have phoned-in work since. So what do to? Ask often and in highly professional ways what you and the company can do to make life better, now and in the immediate future. And then do what you say. Easy.

  2. Show very clear routes forward and onward from an employee's current position and duties, and establish solid mentorship and signposts to get your team members advanced according to what you've shown them as the way.

  3. Clearly demonstrate that your engagement with your team members is authentic and holistic. Meaning that their work-life balance issues are yours. Their mental wellness concerns are yours. Their bereavement situation is one you are subject to on a level that matters to both of you. And so on.

It's YOLO and You

The example of a bad or weak manager has indeed launched a thousand (or million) LinkedIn Next Plays. But top talent don't leave a company just because they want to transcend a strong negative. Especially as we emerge from Covid, there's a new argument that's got super currency among Millennial and GenZ talent. It's YOLO of course, and we are about to find it used everywhere.

It's almost impossible to beat back with logic. You. Only. Live. Once. Here's a LinkedIn post that's all YOLO and has raw power to audiences today:

133 likes and 17 comments within four hours of its origin that would more than double in two additional hours, this powerful post and ones like it are everywhere on social media now, carving a pathway through the consciousness of young top-talent that's beyond measure. Why?

Because the YOLO posts argue what so many younger leaders in the workplace believe beyond YOLO itself: that there will always come a time to "leave the company that no longer serves you." Work is transactional, always, in this reading.

And because it assumes about its viewers what many of them assume about themselves, especially as the job market heats to a boil this spring and summer: that they can and should do better. And that some company out there will truly and deeply share values with them, now, as it seeks, too, to do better.

Getting Real for Generation Burnout

Covid took so many things away from everybody. But one of the things our young leaders took from it will prove to be key as business adjusts to a new post-pandemic truth: that nothing professional matters more than the employee's sense of an almost quest-like engagement with a personal growth, and deeply-held values.

Millennials and GenZ talent knew most of this dictum already. But they're going to live it like a mantra coming out of Covid and long after. And their search will be on for companies that twine together dynamism, purpose and values. The corporate social responsibility and social-justice nods that sufficed five years ago won't now. Similarly, the general statements about valuing team members as family aren't prime for post-Covid.

Every corporation that wants to recruit and retain the absolute best and most engaged talent will need to get real for those leaders now and meet them where they want to be met. Clever companies will win as they adopt talent-engagement strategies that put their stars on par with their customers. Canny companies will win when they surprise their talent with new benefits, work arrangements and true agility that is best-in-class in all ways.

Meanwhile on LinkedIn, less agile businesses will endure a torrent of Next Plays, as their departing stars may indeed show proper gratitude to the past. Even as they dart excitedly into the arms of their new and more values-aligned gig of the present and future.

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