Executives across industries, particularly CFOs, are feeling pressure from the teetering of global economies. The pressure of navigating through a harsher economic environment is starting to hit the C-suite hard. A new study from the Workforce Institute at UKG on fixing work surveyed 600 U.S.-based C-suite executives. The findings identified numerous challenges for executives as we roll into the new year.
Younger Execs Want Out
A large number of younger leaders don't have the same appreciation for their work as their older counterparts, data shows. Only 16% of Baby Boomers, many of whom are at or approaching retirement age, said they wanted to stop working. Findings reveal the younger an executive is, the more likely they no longer want to be an executive.
"I think it has a lot to do with the season of life that younger executives are in,” Dr. Chris Mullen, executive director of The Workforce Institute at UKG, told CFO. Compared with Baby Boomers who can see the end of their career coming into view, Gen Z and millennials— who have presumably worked really hard to get where they are in a short span of time — may also be focused on other core aspects of their lives, like starting or raising a family.
Similar numbers of Gen X and millennial C-Suite executives reported not wanting to work anymore, 33% and 36% respectively. More than half (58%) of the youngest group, Gen Z executives, told researchers they wanted to stop working. Regardless of age, a majority (61%) of executives said they missed pre-pandemic work styles, with new environments making the CEO's job “harder in just about every way.” About 40% of C-level leaders said the stress from their work is so immense they’ll likely quit within the next 12 months.
“Younger executives have greater expectations for the role that work plays in their life,” Mullen continued. “They’re surrounded by meaning and opportunity in other aspects of their life, like having time to coach their kid’s soccer team. It’s really important that they find that same meaning and purpose in their work, or they might move on to something better.”
Still Searching for Ideal Work
While corporate teams are “acting their wage” according to the survey, executives still have trouble finding a balance between longevity and ambition. Whether it’s factors like burnout, disengaging workflow, or boredom, nearly a third of executives (29%) told UKG that they wouldn’t wish their job on their worst enemy.
Despite the notion that many wouldn't recommend their jobs, the executive mindset remains mostly positive. Half of the executives surveyed said they were energized about their roles, while more than one-third said they were committed. In a labor environment that has "quiet quitting" trending, that's remarkably positive.
“Organizations need to do a better job helping people find meaning in their roles if they want to retain them,” said Mullen. “If employees wouldn’t wish their jobs on their worst enemy, it’s pretty likely that if something better comes along that provides those people with more meaning and enjoyment, without compromising pay, they’ll probably take it.”
Despite executives' discontent with their day-to-day work, their thoughts on future roles haven’t impacted their current projects. Half (50%) reported they are passionate and genuinely enjoy their work, while another 37% reported they are committed to their jobs. Nearly 1 in 10 (11%) are content, meaning they have set boundaries between their work and personal lives.
Despite their contentment, the last group said they would do something extra if requested by a superior. A small number (2%) of surveyed U.S. executives said they are coasting and “checked out.”
"When we think about CFOs balancing the heavy responsibilities of their roles with their own well-being, the truth is you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself,” Mullen said. "As leaders, we should [be demonstrating] that our well-being is important. We [work] better for our teams when we are well taken care of. You can't do your job if you don’t have the energy or the mindset to be productive and engaged.”
Developed Employees are Retained
With almost half of all employees sharing they wouldn’t recommend either their profession or employer (50% and 48%, respectively), financial executives who are looking to avoid labor troubles to must seriously consider allocating funds to employee development programs, according to Mullen. Executives who provide professional value alongside employment may have an advantage over other employers.
"If your people don’t see a way up, they’re going to see a way out,” said Mullen. “Learning and development is a huge retention tool. People are hungry to enhance their skill set, move into their next role, and advance their livelihood. It’s not a corporate ladder anymore. People need more flexibility and more opportunities to take their careers in the direction that’s right for them."
Based on the findings, Mullen also instructs CFOs to build an atmosphere of approachability and authenticity in their management styles. If an organization can authentically define its employee’s value through culture and management style, more employees will choose to stick around regardless of economic conditions or the state of the labor market.
“Retention hinges increasingly on organizations allowing employees to be their authentic selves at work, and leadership has to take the first step,” he said. Employees want to bring their full selves to work, and their ability to do that is dependent on seeing their own leaders as authentic and vulnerable, too.
With 64% of employees saying they would switch jobs right now if they could, executives must dive deep into the issues their employees face and prioritize retention. For CFOs who are concerned about members of their own teams leaving, Mullen advises them to use their ears to fix the problem.
“Listening to employees is a critical way of understanding their needs, wants, and concerns,” he said. “If you can make this a mainstay in your organization, on one hand, you’ll gain valuable insights to act on and improve the employee experience, and [on the other] you’re more likely to help your people feel they are cared for. You will be more apt to retain them.”