Recruiters say more executives are seeking more meaningful work, while a survey finds two-thirds of managers are considering leaving their jobs
High-powered communications whizz turned social entrepreneur Tracey Bridges has her fingers in a ton of pies.
Aside from working as an organisational consultant, she sits on a number of non-governmental organisation boards, including Plunket, and chairs the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency.
She’s also the co-founder of social enterprise The Good Registry, and still finds time to volunteer at Arohata Women’s Prison through the Howard League.
Bridges didn’t always have her life set up like this, particularly with her focus on strong social causes.
Previously, she was a managing partner at SenateSHJ, a PR and communications firm with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, and Melbourne.
But in 2017, after 25 years in the corporate game, she decided to walk away from it.
One day she woke up and realised all of her professional time and energy was being poured into helping already well-off people and organisations get another step up the ladder.
“While it was really rewarding and I don’t regret it, I did get to a point where I thought maybe I should be doing something else with my time.”
She’d had quiet concerns about increasing social inequality humming in the back of her head for some time.
“My realisation was that I was part of that. Every year, I’m getting paid more, and paying the people around me more, and getting better off.”
At the same time, she thinks salaries are a nuanced issue. While she believes people should progress in their careers and take pay rises as they come up, she thought it was time for her move on.
“I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be on the bus, but I did get to the point in my life that I thought it was time that I got off.”
Leaving a legacy
Bridges isn’t the only corporate leader rethinking their role. According to recruiters and HR workers, the pandemic has revved up the number of commercial leaders looking to head into NGO roles.
Tribe Recruit head of leadership search David Hammond can’t put numbers on it, but he is noticing an increasing number of commercial candidates willing to take a pay cut and apply for not-for-profit roles.
He thinks people begin to reevaluate as they get into their 40s and 50s, and start to consider what legacy they’re leaving.
“They realise no one is going to write on their gravestone that they worked hard for the company, no one’s going to care about what car they drove.”
AUT professor of human resource management Jarrod Haar thinks the pandemic has spurred on feelings of burnout in the workforce.
“It makes corporate leaders reassess where they’re at and think, You know what, I don’t want to be leading this big company for another five years and die of a heart attack at my desk.”
Haar has led AUT’s Wellbeing@Work survey, which polled just over 1000 workers on their feelings towards work. This shows 61 percent of managers were having serious thoughts about quitting their job as of November last year, compared to 45 percent of employees.
At the same time, he says well-off executives will have a good nest egg to fall back on if needed, and they’ll pick work that they enjoy.
“Let’s be honest, nobody on $500,000 is lining up to do minimum wage work for a charity.”
Human Focus Consulting director Frances Bearne is also seeing this trend unfold. She encourages people to stop and think before they jump ship, and consider what a move would actually mean in practice.
Leaders with itchy feet should clarify their values and what they want to get out of a new role before moving, as people will often seek more meaningful work without considering the nuances of a new role.
“They might think they can financially do it, but what are the other pros and cons of moving? Do you have an understanding of the speed of the organisation, the budgets, the staffing?”
She also encourages people to do their research and make sure they’d enjoy a new role as much as they think they would.
“Reach out to networks, ask for feedback from people you trust, and interview those organisations that you’re applying for,” she says.
Tracey Bridges ended up quitting her role and taking a year off before exploring new opportunities.
While she hasn’t looked back, there were points when she did second guess herself. She’s hesitant to say it, but she did grapple with how her identity was wrapped up in her work.
“I was worried I would miss the status that came with my old job. I didn’t like worrying about that, but I was really honest with myself, I thought maybe I’ll hate that I’m not anybody anymore.”
Bridges admits that not everyone will have the financial freedom to follow a similar path, but she urges people to change their situation if that’s in reach.
“If you’re having that moment of thinking, ‘I’m sick of this’, then no matter what, you need to do something different. We spend so much time at our jobs, so if you have the choice then you should be choosing to do something that excites you,” she says.
“Everyone should always do what gives them joy, because inevitably that means they’re going to do that well, and hopefully that means using their power for good.”