YOLO (You Only Live Once) as a societal force has been a part of the culture, and also a part of the customer and employee experience landscapes, for close to two decades. The idea, though, has been around for much longer – in Clavigo, a 1774 German play by Goethe, an 1855 waltz, “Man Lebt Nur Einmall” (You Only Live Once) by Strauss II – and in a 2011 track called “The Motto” by Canadian rapper, Drake. Reflective of what is going on in the world of business and society, YOLO has recently become even more widely known and more consequential, to the point that it aligns with, and even drives, much of trending employee and customer behavior, particularly among Millennials and those in Gen Z, but even extending to Gen X and Boomers.
Though there’s little doubt that the pandemic has been both a contributor to, and catalyst of, YOLO, its drivers have been around for a long time, in fact for decades. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s classic book on societal and sociological evolution which was originally published in 2000, he accurately predicted much of what we are witnessing today in YOLO outcomes. Putnam followed and reported rapid participation rate declines in most things that would be considered ‘group social’, both at work and outside. These have been largely replaced by factors – self-expression, personal growth and learning, employment equity, recreational, etc. – important to the individual, again especially with those trending younger.
With customers, YOLO represents the changing dynamics of consumer decision-making, and the greater need for more immediate personal gratification and perceived value, With employees, YOLO represents the soaring lack of employee connection to, trust in, and perceived fairness of their employer.
YOLO is directly contributing to historically high rates of employee churn, almost irrespective of industry, job function, or location, which are expected to continue well into the future. And, with this level and constancy of resignation, employer continuity with customers is directly impacted, organizational cultures are impaired, and costs related to acquiring and retaining employees in this ongoing ‘leaky bucket’ becomes astronomical, impairing many companies.
Business writers have been chronicling the YOLO/burnout effect, as employees (and their customer alter-egos) search for post-pandemic fulfillment. We see quotes from all kinds of folks, such as:
– A 33 year-old lawyer in Orlando, FL: “I realized I was sitting at my kitchen counter 10 hours a day feeling miserable. I just thought: ‘What do I have to lose? We could all die tomorrow.'” He took a job with a small firm, and got to spend more time with his wife and dog.
– A 29 year old reporter: “I was so drained and depleted that I didn’t feel like I knew how to do my job anymore.” She moved from Brooklyn to Sarasota, FL, and has been doing freelance writing and enjoying new hobbies like painting and kayaking.
There are plenty of data points to support the You Only Live Once effect. Here are just a few of the most representative YOLO-related stats:
– A survey by Indeed among 1,000 people who voluntarily resigned from at least two jobs since March, 2020, found that 92% of this group said the pandemic made them ‘feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about’. Half of the respondents reported the need to move if the company didn’t offer remote or flexible work options. Over 75% reported that the labor shortage was a positive thing, because it offered job opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise have been available. About 85% said they were seeking roles outside their current industry.
– LinkedIn recently reported that Gen Z is changing jobs at a rate 134% higher than in 2019. Millennials are switching 24% more. About 25% of those in Gen Z say they hope or plan to leave their employers within the next six months, compared to 24% of Millennials, and 18% of Gen X. About 75% of Gen Zers are willing to switch career paths and look for jobs in new industries.
– Meaningful work is desired by 75% of Generation Z employees, 70% of Millennials.
– Opportunity for career growth, owning/customizing their own career plan, straightforward and in-person communication from peers and superiors, and ability to perform in multiple roles were all important to 75%, or more, of employees in Generation Z.
– What Gen Z wants from the workplace – 91% want technological sophistication, 93% cite the company’s impact on society, 77% want high diversity.
As a result, both the impact of YOLO, and the tools for defining, measuring, and understanding resulting customer and employee behavior have become a high priority for organizations. Companies are working on morale and fairness, major root causes of burnout and churn; however, the engagement-related approaches to these factors – why is there an Employee Appreciation Day (March 4th), when every day should be Employee Appreciation Day? – are fairly tactical and reactive, and seem to have resulted in only minor effects, if any, on the rates of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X employee turnover.
Today, these employees want to function as valued, proactive, and contributory enterprise assets, performing meaningful and appreciated work. Employees want to have passion for what they do, and they will seek to land where they think they can find it. Employers, if they are serious about wanting to create desired employee commitment and advocacy behavior that positively impacts business outcomes, are due for a major protocol reset. Paying attention to YOLO can help show them the way.