NEW YORK — Companies may be more at risk of losing labor than they think, as even individuals happy on the job would jump ship for the right opportunity, new global research from Zeno shows.

A New Mindset at Work: The Evolving Workplace in 2021 found that 48% of satisfied employees are open to new opportunities with many actively searching for them, counter to the widely held belief that disgruntled employees are the ones putting companies at risk of high turnover.

Respondents also said they don’t think their employers are aware of that reality. Just 21% of the 4,000 workers in four markets (US, UK, France and China) who participated in the study said they believe their employers know individuals are looking for jobs elsewhere.

“Everyone is talking about the Great Resignation, but they're framing it as a population of employees who are unhappy and not getting to work remotely, forced to return to work, so they’re quitting,” said Mark Shadle, Zeno’s managing director of global corporate affairs. “That's only half the problem. The other half is the employee base who have been happy, but stuck. It's too easy to overlook them or forget about them. This is a big takeaway for companies today, especially now that there are labor shortages in many industries.”

The study, designed to explore employee/employer relationships, found the global workforce is optimistic about the future.

Employees, however, also expect to work on their own terms, with 54% saying now is the time for companies to consider making major changes for the benefit of their workers. In addition to hybrid work and flexibility (both of which employees expect to be permanent options), the research shows employees put a premium on professional growth and mobility.

US respondents said interesting work (79%), opportunities to grow (78%) and the ability to move within the company (73%) contributed to their company loyalty. In all markets, workers were most satisfied with the safety and security they feel on the job; they were most dissatisfied with job growth/opportunities outside their current employer.

“Today perks, policies, benefits are all table stakes, not competitive offerings any longer. Everybody wants them, but every employer has them,” Shadle said. “The new battleground is advancement, growth and job mobility. You have to be a company that helps people advance.  You enable and empower them to achieve the next rung of the economic ladder, and importantly, not just for themselves, but for their families too. It's not about paying them more, it's about helping them move up into jobs that pay more.”

The research also found that economic and future prospects are shaping employee views of the workplace. The study suggests employees perceive missing out on the economic recovery with employees seeing a better economic future for their companies than for their own families. US employees were nine points more likely to say their employer was “headed in the right direction” than their own family’s economic situation; The gap between perception of employer and family trajectory in both the UK. and China was 13 points. 

Across generations, US millennials reported they are far happier with their jobs and work life than any other US generation. In fact, they are 21 points higher than respondents 55 years and up. While in China the opposite is true: 69% of people 55+ rated work life highly compared to 47% of Gen Z respondents.

The study shows how employees’ values are shifting and how these changes shape their views  on the workplace. Out of 37 values, “power” was one of the top three declining values in the US, UK, and China. Instead, people chose “protecting the family” as one of the top values in all four markets (U.S., U.K. and France no.1, and no. 4 in China).

Other key findings include:

Values Shaping the New Mindset

While employees continue to say that work is an important part of their identity (71%), protecting the family, enjoying life, and health and wellness are the top rising values. By contrast, the top declining values are power, status and adventure.  

Family Time Matters 

Respondents across all markets wish they spent more time offline with their family: US (78%), UK (77%), France (79%), and China (95%).  

A Strong Company Purpose is Important, But Lacking for Many 

In all markets, employees were more likely to work at a company that operates with a clear and strong purpose. Across all regions, over 70% of employees say they would perform better at their jobs if they had a clear understanding of their company’s mission and values — a 21-point increase from a 2015 Zeno Group study. 

Additionally, more than 80% reported they would be more likely to work at a company that lives by a clear and strong purpose, yet only around 50% of respondents felt their current company had one. Among US Gen Z respondents, 76% would be willing to accept a job earning less money if it was for an employer that shared their personal values and had a strong social purpose.

Employers Are Not Meeting Employees’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Expectations  

DE&I is a top concern for most employees across all markets when evaluating a potential employer. In the US, 73% identified DE&I as “extremely” or “very” important to employment decisions. In every market, a double-digit gap exists between the percentage of employees who view DE&I as important and those who believe their employer performs strongly in the area.

DE&I and company purpose are deeply intertwined. In the US, U.K., and China, nearly 50% of employees consider having a diverse workforce and inclusive company culture one of the most important elements of a purposeful company, trailing only proper treatment of employees in that category.