26 September 2023

It can be hard to consider why people would CHOOSE to stay in a role that makes them unhappy. Many working professionals will at some point during our career get stuck in an environment that does nothing for your progression, bank balance or your mental health, and will all of the above as signifiers that it's time to make a move. 

However, as Sarah O'Conner reported for the Financial Times, the choice is not as simple as it may appear. What drives people to stay with "bad" companies? How can market insiders support those stuck between a rock and a hard place?

The Finance Angle - an obvious place to start

Unsurprisingly, O'Conner's financial times piece draws particular attention to the "macroeconomy" that been born out of high unemployment rates and limited options. The financial ties to a specific role or company are obvious; leaving a role without a stable alternative position to step into places those already struggling in these uncertain economic times into even murkier water. However, it's important to understand that salary is not the only ball-and-chain tying people to a certain company. O'Conner identifies that leaving a role can be particularly difficult for professionals who's VISA sponsorships are tied to the company. Suddenly, leaving becomes not only a question of short-term financial instability, but a much greater sense of unsettlement. Disturbingly, it seemingly suggests that people who are tied to a company through their settlement status have little choice but to tolerate bad cultures, pay and mistreatment or risk losing their overall stability in the UK.

Accessible Support

Off the back of this, O'Connor also points to the accessibility of workers rights in the UK as a key point of consideration. Particularly when moving from a toxic environment, individuals are often convinced that the grass wouldn't be greener elsewhere, and that there's the potential somewhere new could be worse than the last. This culture of fear walks hand in hand with O'Conner's description of workers rights, emphasising that it is a key consideration for many who know full well that, should they chose to leave, they will be vulnerable to short term dismissals and minimal workers rights.

"For many, the fear is that the next job will be worse, or that it won’t last. In the UK, it takes time to build up job security. Paternity leave, maternity and paternity pay are only accessible after 26 weeks; protection against unfair dismissal only after two years. It can also take time to secure stable shift patterns that fit with your childcare and other responsibilities."- Sarah O' Conner

Welfare and Stigma

When taking into consideration in-place support systems, it's impossible not to refer to the UK welfare system, which ironically often limits the support available to those who have left a role without 'good reason'. O'Conner states that "UK unemployment benefits are the lowest in the OECD", in terms of the amount of lost income that is actually replaced, and the 90 day sanction that further limits entitlement if you've decided to leave a role due to a pay cut, or anything the benefit guide deems not a good enough reason to have left. From a financial perspective, this is a clear indicator of why many would chose to stay in a bad company rather than battle a system which feels stacked against them. Understandably, the Financial Times doesn't fully flesh out most human aspect of unemployment, which is pride. With stigma still existing around those receiving welfare benefits, it's hardly surprising that this amalgamation of factors results in people staying in these environments, whatever the mental cost.

The "Bad Guys"?

It's key that we make pains to emphasise- whilst there are definitely toxic cultures and work environments out there- many businesses are also the victims of wide spread changes in the financial landscape. Whilst it's always the people on the ground who feel the impacts most deeply, cutbacks in client spending, rising costs and inflation pay rises have forced businesses to make tough decisions just to stay afloat. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier for those impacted, but it does go some way to explaining why internal cultures and dynamics may have changed from what they once were. Often, smaller businesses are acquired by larger networks, leading to often unsettling internal changes and shifts in the pre-existing culture. Going from an independent team to a wider conglomerate can be difficult for many who thrived under a business' previous status as an independent, but at the same time will have made them keenly aware of the internal changes made within the sector to ensure it's survival. In a sea of redundancies, fewer freelance roles and general uncertainty, it's little wonder that many chose to cut their losses and attribute any unhappiness to an overall symptom of a struggling economy, rather than the failings of a specific team or business.

A med comms case study

In our sector specifically, we've definitely seen a lot of changes and unease over the last 12 months. With decreases in spending across the pharma sector, many agencies have been forced to cut back or-at the very least- stop advertising new vacancies. With less of an internal push for new talent, it's no wonder that candidates who are seeking a new role are put off by the sound of crickets in a normally lively sector. This is why it's so key to emphasise that even if the sector seems quiet, there is certainly a lot going on under the surface. With the financial year coming to an end for several agencies in September, many will be quietly taking stock and re-evaluating their needs, with a view to taking on new talent with an updated budget. Even though it's daunting to consider a move when the market feels different to the one you know, as progression partners we are privy to the plans and changes on the horizon for top agencies in the sector, so don't despair just yet.

How can we support those who feel as though they have to stay?

Patience: A careful balance of patience and empathy is the foundation of beginning a conversation about moving. With recruiters often having the reputation of being pushy and invasive, it's important to keep to view the individual as a person, and not just a candidate. Whilst it may be easy for those of us not in their situation to to come to the conclusion that they should "just leave", for many it is not that simple. O Connor's article scratches the surface of the financial implications of change (which are already incredibly daunting), and if we take into account the plethora of interplaying factors that contribute to making the decision, it's little wonder that many opt out of considering it, let alone actively searching for a new role.
By being empathetic to each individual situation, it is possible not only to find the best way to support one candidate, but to better understand the trials and tribulations faced by those within your sector. As articulated at the beginning of this article, most of us will know what it's like to work as part of an environment that isn't good for us, but each of face different pressures to stay.

Empower: Remember, candidates who have had multiple negative experiences can feel like the odds are stacked against them, and that considering a new role could place them back in the same- if not worse-situation. It's key in this case to support candidates to access the resources available to them, such as ACAS and YourRights (links at the end of the article) who can help to inform them of their rights (whether they've been with a company for five years or are still in their probation) and empower them by giving them options in what may otherwise feel like an "all roads lead to Rome" scenario.

Build Trust: If professionals feel backed into a corner, endless recruitment calls aren't the solution. Take the time to get to know your prospective candidates, outside of the role they could fill. Taking them out of a bad situation by shoehorning them into a new role is a recipe for disaster, as it may push a candidate to make a move before their ready, jeopardising their mental health and career to meet your KPI. By taking the time to understand talent's drivers and motivations, you're more likely to find a culture fit for them that remedies the wrongdoings of their previous company, and ensure the longevity of a placement.

Listen: At the end of the day, these deeply unsettled economic times mean that search partners like ourselves often approach our candidates at their most vulnerable, and it's important not to lose sight of the life that goes on outside of the choppy waters of the UK jobs market.
If you're feeling unsettled, unsure, or like you're out of options in the healthcare communications market, then our team at CM Consulting are here to listen. We'd rather form a relationship over weeks, months and years than push you to do something you're not ready for, and our consultants are on hand to offer candid market insights and access to resources, regardless what stage you're at.

 To find out more about workers' rights in the UK, visit; 



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