In recent news, the lead story featured on an episode of 60 Minutes focused entirely on the Great Resignation and the problems the work world is currently facing with mass exodus of employees in traditional roles, seeking more flexible or more independent opportunities in light of the pandemic. As informative and equally alarming as this segment was, one vital piece of information was left out…

The solution

60 Minutes addressed what many of us are living through in real time, but it failed to shed light on how to remedy our challenges when it comes to talent recruitment and retention.

It boils down to one thing: leadership.

It’s more than just meaningful work

In my book, Gen Y Now: Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership, I feature a conversation with the CEO and general manager of a California water company. This company has been in operation since 1955 for the sole purpose of providing water and wastewater collection services for 186,000 customers in an area of about 47 square miles in four Southern California cities. 

I had gotten tired of hearing people dismiss the concept of “providing meaningful work” when Millennials entered the workforce in 2009 (when the book was initially published). Many curmudgeons at the time pointed out that sometimes “you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.” So when it came time to write the book, I took the term quite literally and intentionally used this particular case study of a team that actually cleans sewers. Not exactly one of the cleanest jobs in the world.

“This isn’t a glamorous job,” the CEO said to me in our conversations. “But I’ve never met a prouder group of individuals.” The board and management staff at the company are dedicated to the organization’s founding principles—people, service, water. The solid cultural fabric of the company that is reinforced from the top down empowers leaders to get the best out of each worker.

The purpose of this story is to highlight a leader who points out the meaning of the work. As consultants, we bear this in mind when we work with any of our clients. What is the end result of their labor? Why are they doing it? Why does it have meaning? Why will it endure? Why will it be part of their legacy? 

Leaders need to link their employees’ work to why their efforts will endure. There is nothing more significant for the construction industry than a long-term legacy. The highway they are paving today will endure and improve people’s quality of life, save lives, enhance commerce—there are so many benefits of that highway they are working on.

And the water company executive from the case study? Turnover was a non-issue. He was constantly linking their work to the community and how what they did had an impact beyond the company’s bottom line. It kept schools open, commerce moving, hospitals moving, and so on. I certainly have never thought of anything like that before, and it really is meaningful work.When 60 Minutes is running a lead story that directly connects to a leadership solution, one has to stop and think that the development we help companies do is needed, meaningful, and extremely important. Especially now, when employee retention is more vital than ever.