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The biggest shifts in US worker priorities from 2021 to 2023

This is a modified section from Workable's comprehensive new survey report on the Great Discontent in 2023 in the United States. Visit here to see the report in full.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

What’s happening in the evolving US job market right now? We have data for you on the biggest changes from 2021 to 2023 in the worker mindset.

What do US workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the US have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

View the report highlights

Top 3 takeaways

  1. Workers aren’t outright looking for new jobs as much as two years earlier, but company culture is more important now than before
  2. The benefits of remote and flexible work options are even clearer in 2023 than in 2021
  3. Stabler times in 2023 mean less importance put on leadership, day-to-day support, and job security

The whole idea behind conducting nearly identical surveys two years apart is so we can understand what’s changing over that two-year period in the worker mindset.

Lenin once said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, it really does feel like a lot happened in the span of just a few years – and no less so in the workplace. So if you’re looking at worker priorities in 2021 and then again in 2023, you’re sometimes going to feel like you’re looking at two different epochs entirely.

OK – that is an exaggeration. We didn’t have an actual revolution (although some may talk about the “workplace revolution“). Some things did stay the same – for instance, the importance of flexible work. But there were some pretty significant changes in our dataset.

For instance, workers in 2023 are much more likely to be only passively open to new work opportunities (51.1%). They’re not as aggressively looking as they were two years earlier (37.3%). That’s a 13.8-point upward change – not insignificant at all.

“Overall company culture” is far more important when considering new jobs in 2023 (48.3%) than it was in 2021 (34.7%) – an upward shift of 13.6 points. Employers should take note – maybe you’re not finding your ideal candidates, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested. They’re just not actively applying – and you can bring them out by showing off your stellar company culture in your careers page (and living by that culture, of course).

What else? As discussed in other parts of the report, we pointed to how the benefits of flexible work really started to rise to the surface after years of experience. The integration and balance of professional and personal lives and the absence of the need to commute are even bigger benefits today for those working flexibly. Again, employers should take note.

Now, that doesn’t mean everything grew in importance. Many elements of the workplace fell in importance between 2021 to 2023. For instance, management and leadership as an area of improvement dropped as a key item in the worker priority list, from 38.7% to 31.3% – a 7.4-point negative change. This also dropped in terms of what’s attractive about a new job opportunity – from 33.1% to 28.7%.

Day-to-day worker support also came down in importance from 14% to 8.5% – not big numbers, but a big drop – as did job security (27% in 2021, 21.5% now).

Evidently, in 2021, we were in the thick of the pandemic still – which meant that worker morale was likely heavily dependent on leadership, support, and security during a very uncertain and scary time for many.

We’re seeing more stability in 2023 – even as economic uncertainty remains top of mind, it still pales in comparison to what felt like existential instability in 2020 and 2021. So, now, worker priorities are shifting.

Frequently asked questions

What do US workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the US have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

View the highlights

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