WTF   //   February 14, 2023

WTF is the Great Betrayal?

The Great Resignation was mostly about finding a better job. The Great Betrayal has been described as an employee realizing that stability and loyalty in the workplace are an illusion, and workers are better off betting on themselves and renting out their skills across multiple clients. 

Over the past few weeks, the term has popped up across sites like Fast Company, LinkedIn and Mission, a blog produced by the members-only product builders network A.Team. 

Now for a deeper dive.

Why has the Great Betrayal become widespread?

Raphael Ouzan, CEO of A.Team, describes the Great Betrayal as “a rise in workers choosing the freedom and flexibility of freelancing over full-time employment after callous layoffs have shattered the illusion of stability and loyalty from one employer.”

This mindset has become so common as mass layoffs in the tech sector, in particular, have dominated headlines. While layoffs during the height of the pandemic were seen as an unprecedented, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime event, the latest wave of job cuts have come just years after companies enjoyed record profits, Ouzan pointed out. “Once again, layoffs often had nothing to do with job performance,” he said. “Workers are fed up and have lost faith in the stability and security of full-time work.”

The sentiment is bolstered by the tight labor market, as workers, despite financial concerns and rumors of a recession, continue to be in high demand. The U.S. jobs report last month saw 517,000 new jobs added, besting expectations.

What are its effects on the workforce?

Eric Mochnacz, operations director at the HR consultancy Red Clover, notes the accelerating erosion of trust between employer and employee. He offers the example of a candidate hired for a company he is led to believe is positioned for growth, only to be laid off a month later. “It’s a slap in the face,” as he put it. 

With laid-off workers posting about their experiences on Glassdoor, LinkedIn and other platforms, people begin to question whether their employers are as loyal as they say they are, Mochnacz added.

Angelique Bellmer Krembs, CMO in Residence at A.Team, noted the many businesses that sell recent hires on the power of company purpose or the emotionally compelling story of being like one big family. “But when that say-do gap grows, the trust dissolves,” she said. “If you have been burned by surprise or harsh layoffs at one company, you’ll enter your next opportunity more tentative, less emotionally invested.”

Ouzan noted that workers have pressed for greater work flexibility, as well as greater meaning and purpose in work, mentioning that more than one-third of the growth in the labor force since 2020 has come from self-employment while more than half the workforce is expected to be independent by 2027.

“Things are not going back to the way they were,” Ouzan said.

What can companies do to identify employees feeling betrayed?

Mochnacz proposed that if management is engaged with its people and effectively managing teams, it can begin to sense if there is a shift in how an employee feels about the company. This will usually manifest in how the person approaches their work.

“If someone is normally engaged and regularly contributes to meetings, and all of a sudden they are quiet and don’t contribute, it could mean they no longer trust the company or are wary of the company’s intentions,” he suggested.

Ouzan pointed out three major factors driving people to independent work: flexibility, meaningful work and financial gain. If you aren’t offering someone this trifecta, he stressed, they are likely a flight risk. 

A.Team polled more than 500 independent workers in its network and found that nearly three-quarters (74%) have greater job satisfaction working for themselves versus full-time for a company.

How can companies make employees feel more valued?

Mochnacz proposed that whenever a company is experiencing change or facing uncertainty, employers can control the narrative by owning it and clearly communicating to their workforce. Meanwhile, “if the prospects and future look good, communicate that to your teams in a way that helps them feel confident in their future with the company,” he said. 

“The saying goes that people join companies but leave managers, which means companies need to make sure they are investing in manager training and prioritizing principles of their workplace culture to make sure most people have the experience they intend,” Krembs added. 

Company leaders should ensure cultural principles are maintained at every level, themselves included, she said. “As managers reinforce the role model from the top, employees can start to trust that contract again.”