How the ‘YOLO Economy’ Impacts Small Business Owners

8 min read • Jun 26, 2021 • Kayla Voigt

YOLO!

The term, coined by rapper Drake, stands for “you only live once” and is best left behind in the mid-2010s party scene. But New York Times columnist Kevin Rose recently brought it back into popular discourse to describe the newest way that the pandemic has upended traditional career paths. 

40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year, according to Microsoft. In February 2021, 3.4 million US workers quit their jobs. The majority of the disillusioned? 20- and 30-something millennials still saddled with debt and stuck in the corporate grind.

“Dozens of stories poured into my inboxes, all variations on the same basic theme: The pandemic changed my priorities, and I realized I didn’t have to live like this,” he writes. “People…told me that the pandemic had destroyed their faith in the traditional white-collar career path [and] their bosses were drowning them in mundane work, or trying to automate their jobs, and were generally failing to support them during one of the hardest years of their lives.”

Daydreaming of a life of freedom is nothing new. It’s why reels like this one from travel influencer Kelsey J. go viral all the time:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kelsey J. ✨ (@heykelseyj)

Even as millions of Americans are mourning the loss of jobs, family members, financial security, and more, white-collar workers largely spared from the grim reality of the pandemic are making the leap to entrepreneurship, pursuing passion projects, or going after their dream job. Here’s what that means for your business:

Invest in Employee Retention

The top reason why employees plan to leave their current jobs? Lack of support from their employers throughout the year. “A lot of employers and a lot of leaders didn’t cope very well with the pandemic and, as a result, their people have been out there languishing,” consultant Jeff Kortes told Forbes.  “People who weren’t thinking of moving before the pandemic are now because of the way their employers treated them or failed to treat them.”

It’s better late than never when it comes to employee support. Not just because you stand to lose good people—but because turnover can cost up to double an employee salary, according to Gallup

Employee retention looks like:

  • Offering mental health benefits or discounts on subscriptions to therapist apps like TalkSpace or meditation apps like HeadSpace
  • Setting mandatory shutdown or self-care days for the entire company or extending benefits like summer Fridays
  • Fully funding bonus pools and award/recognition budgets 
  • Reiterating growth opportunities, like coursework, job shadowing, and education
  • Allowing schedule flexibility and setting boundaries so employees can turn off
  • Eliminating or re-working performance reviews and traditional feedback mechanisms
  • Facilitating better remote work setups, ordering ergonomic gear, or allowing employees to bring desks, keyboards, and other materials home

Or you can go bigger, with tech companies like LinkedIn offering an extra paid week off and Twitter adding an extra day off per month. In the financial industry, Credit Suisse offered $20,000 lifestyle bonuses, and Wall Street firm Houlihan Lokey offered all-expenses-paid vacations.

Most of all, it’s important to evaluate what matters when it comes to traditional markers of productivity and success. “The past year has been telling of how companies really value their work forces,” career coach Latesha Byrd told the New York Times. “It has become challenging to continue to work for companies who operate business as usual, without taking into account how our lives have changed overnight.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter

The pandemic wasn’t the only flashpoint for 2020. The year brought racial injustices and gender inequality to the forefront of the conversation. Many companies that have previously avoided what many see as “political questions” in the workplace now need to address them comprehensively

Employees of color and women, disillusioned by company policies that fail to support them, are looking for other options. 52% of employees view their employers in a positive light when it comes to diversity, but 61% view their employees in a negative light when it comes to inclusion. Just because you’ve hired a diverse workforce doesn’t mean your employees feel like they’re valued—or that they can speak up. 

The consequences can be disastrous for businesses, and not just because a more diverse and inclusive work environment is good for business—not to mention the right thing to do. Take popular remote work tool Basecamp’s recent fall from grace: a third of their employees quit over an internal memo silencing political discussions, eliminating “paternalistic” benefits, and disbanding DE&I committees. “I’ve worked at Basecamp for a long time because it’s a company full of smart and kind people, and together we’ve always tried to take care and do the right things. I don’t agree with the changes announced today, and I’m sad and upset,” wrote Jonas Downey, former head of design, in a tweet. 

Consider Your Return-to-Office Plan

None of that may matter to employees who are uncomfortable—or unwilling—to return to an office after a year of enjoying remote work. “The number of employees working remotely doubled from mid-March to early April 2020, from 31% to 62%, and most don’t want to return to the office full time,” writes Jenifer Robison for Gallup. “Employees who work remotely 60% to 80% of the time are more engaged than those who work exclusively in one place.”

Source: “Leading Teams Forward, Advised by Gallup Remote Work Trends,” Gallup. 

51% of Americans surveyed by Zippia would prefer to work from home forever, but 58% of respondents to the same survey weren’t optimistic that they’d be allowed. As more Americans become vaccinated and a return-to-work strategy becomes essential, consider your employee needs. Some teams may be itching to return to the office, while others might be less comfortable doing so. 

While 83% of CEOs want to return to in-person full-time, only 10% of employees do. The solution may be a hybrid option that’s more flexible for your employees—the best of both worlds. “This is going to be a major flash point,” consultant Melissa Swift told Newsweek. “There is a belief in our culture that we’ve proven that most jobs can be done virtually. But that’s not the belief within the leadership of organizations, so we’re headed for a real clash.”

Kayla Voigt

Always in search of adventure, Kayla hails from Hopkinton, MA, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can find her at the summit of a mountain or digging in to a big bowl of pasta when she's not writing. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.