Managing Director & Senior Partner
Attrition risk should be on every corporate leader’s radar. According to the BCG Henderson Institute’s recent survey of 1,000 office-based workers around the world, nearly half (45%) are at least passively job searching. This finding is even more pronounced among younger and more diverse populations, jumping to 51% for people age 25 to 34 and to 54% for ethnic and racial minorities. All industries are affected, but the travel and tourism (71%), legal (70%), food and beverage (67%), and consumer goods (67%) sectors face the most risk.
Of course, retention is a complex issue unique to each company. But the good news is that our survey insights also suggest a universal solution: doubling down on employee joy. As intuitive as it sounds, the concept of joy has often been left out of the discourse on productivity and retention in the business world. Indeed, while companies are becoming more attuned to issues of health and wellness and employee engagement, they often try to address those challenges by adding benefits without an exploration of the employees’ day-to-day work itself. Most company leaders simply aren’t thinking deeply—or strategically—about whether their employees find their work interesting, rewarding, or fun. It’s a blind spot that could result in the loss of key talent.
We designed our “Making Work Work” survey to better understand the impact of employees’ feelings of enjoyment and effectiveness in their role. We found that joy has an outsized impact on retention: employees who enjoy their work are 49% less likely to say they would consider taking a new job than employees who don’t enjoy their work. This finding echoes insight from another recent BCG study of more than 11,000 workers that identified “doing work I enjoy” as the factor with the third strongest correlation with retention at the one-year mark, behind only job security and feeling respected at work.
Among our “Making Work Work” respondents, individual contributors have the highest risk of leaving, and they exhibit the lowest enjoyment ratings. On a scale of zero to 100, where 100 means “I enjoy my job as much as anyone possibly could” and zero means “I do not enjoy my job at all,” individual contributors rated their work enjoyment at 55 on average, compared with a score of 76 among executives.
Interestingly, the relationship between joy and retention holds even for employees who don’t consider themselves very effective at their job. Roughly a quarter of our individual contributors identified as “high joy and low effectiveness,” and this group exhibited a similarly low attrition rate (38%) to their “high joy and high effectiveness” peers (35%). Closer inspection reveals that 60% of these high joy and low effectiveness employees work in tech, financial services, and professional services, and they tend to be slightly younger and shorter in tenure than their counterparts in other sectors. It’s possible that their self-evaluation results from lack of mastery: roughly one-tenth of the qualitative responses from this cohort indicate newness to the role and lack of training as barriers to effectiveness.
Team-driven, hybrid work models—that is, hybrid models in which schedules for on-site or remote work are decided collectively by teams (those closest to the jobs)—yielded the most joy and effectiveness across the different types of activities (for example, administrative, focus, or collaborative work) among our survey participants.
However, while most companies seem to have embraced hybrid models (reported by 58% of our respondents), only 13% of total respondents were part of teams that are able to determine their work models together. By contrast, 59% of respondents say that they receive work model mandates from above. This is a mistake, as team-decided models yield a 13% boost in joy over top-down mandates.
Critically, companies with team-driven, hybrid work models also perform better than their peers across key business metrics. Earlier this year, our analysis of company revenue data alongside work model policies taken from Scoop’s Flex Index showed that a structured hybrid work model—meaning companies that allow their employees to work remotely some days and require them to be in the office for others—grew twice as fast from 2020 to 2022 as firms that required their employees to always work in the office.
In our prior survey, we shared how much time employees spend on different types of tasks. For example, we found that, on average, individual contributors spend just over one-third (37%) of their time on work they believe is done most effectively in person, such as affiliation and collaborative tasks. By contrast, managers and executives spend nearly half their time (49%) on work they believe is best done in person, such as onboarding new hires and giving feedback. We’ve been able to add a layer of analysis to show how much joy people find in these jobs—and have found that people are spending too much time on tasks that chip away at joy.
This is especially true for individual contributors, who spend only 5% of their time on high-joy work, compared with managers and executives, who spend 56%. To name one particularly egregious example, administrative work takes up 29% of individual contributors’ time and yields little joy, while individual development takes up only 5% of their time but yields high joy. Compare this with the experience of managers and executives, who spend nearly one-fifth of their time (19%) on interactive work—a task that consistently gives them joy.
These findings should guide efforts to rethink how work gets done. For example, given the volume of administrative work that many employees report doing, firms should consider using technologies like generative AI (GenAI) to automate this type of work while allowing people to reallocate their time toward more joyful tasks.
This is particularly important given organizations’ focus on integrating GenAI into their processes. Such efforts are primarily geared toward the technology’s potential to boost productivity or creativity, but companies also need to explore its potential to boost employee joy. Preliminary studies seem promising: in the BCG survey of 11,000 employees, 46% of those who used ChatGPT regularly for administrative duties reported being “very satisfied” at work, compared with just 18% of those who did not use GenAI tools for these tasks.
Leaders also need to roll up their sleeves and identify what’s standing in the way of their employees’ enjoyment of work. Our “Making Work Work” survey revealed that joy and retention have the same top two blockers: motivation and support. With a better understanding of what employees need—similar to the depth of knowledge that companies seek about their customers—leaders can start to design programs and policies that flip the script. Joy looks different for everyone.
When virtually every organization today is reshaping work, it’s paramount that firms recognize the importance of joy. Their ability to attract and retain top talent depends on it.
The authors wish to thank Jacob Smith, Jessica Lao, Caitlin Arnold, and Sophia He for their contributions to this article.
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