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Amid the Great Resignation, curiosity is an important skill for employees, according to new SAS study

By Contributor
Thu 2 Dec 2021

While curiosity can address critical business challenges, many organisations struggle to develop and harness this skill

In the age of the Great Resignation, curiosity is increasingly recognised as a valuable skill by business leaders. Curiosity is increasingly sought by employers to address some of the biggest challenges facing organisations today – from improving employee retention and job satisfaction to creating more innovative, collaborative and productive workplaces. This is according to the SAS Curiosity@Work Report, new research from analytics leader SAS which surveyed nearly 2,000 managers globally and analysed data from LinkedIn over the last year.

The report defines curiosity as the impulse to seek new information and experiences and explore novel possibilities, highlighting the importance of this trait no matter an employee's role or level within their organisation. The research found that nearly three quarters (72%) of managers believe curiosity is a very valuable trait in employees, with more than half strongly agreeing that curiosity drives real business impact (59%) and that employees who have more curiosity are higher performers (51%).

The report highlights how curiosity has gained traction amid growing demand for this skill. According to LinkedIn data, year-over-year, there has been a 158% increase in engagement with posts, shares and articles mentioning curiosity, 90% growth in job postings that mention curiosity, and 87% growth in the mention of skills related to curiosity.

In today's environment of the Great Resignation, managers are finding it especially challenging to keep employee morale and motivation high, with 60% of managers citing this as a difficulty. Over half of managers face challenges retaining good employees (52%), getting employees to push beyond just basic job duties (51%) and driving cross-collaboration with other teams and departments (50%).

However, many of the benefits associated with curiosity directly address these key business challenges. The managers surveyed agreed that the very valuable benefits of curiosity include greater efficiency and productivity (62%), more creative thinking and solutions (62%), stronger collaboration and teamwork (58%), and greater employee engagement and job satisfaction (58%).

"Our research paints a powerful picture that curiosity is no longer just nice to have. Rather, this skill has become a business imperative that helps companies address critical challenges and foster innovation," says SAS CIO Jay Upchurch.

Most managers agree that curiosity is particularly valuable when innovating new solutions (62%), tackling complex problems (55%), and analysing data (52%), making it an important trait for fuelling data insights and integration. Focusing on managers who are considered more curious, these individuals note their employer is significantly more advanced in digital transformation (56% of those who rate high in curiosity vs 29% who rate low). They also frequently use more data sources in their roles, particularly those that help them better understand their customers (58%), performance (60%), and fellow employees (63%).

For their business to succeed in the next three years, managers say their organisation needs employees with technical expertise in areas of artificial intelligence (63%) and data analysis (60%) as well as personal attributes like creative thinking (59%) and problem-solving (59%). However, managers also say they struggle to find new hires with this combination of necessary technical skills (65%) and personal attributes (60%) – like curiosity – that their departments need to succeed.

Categorising managers into curiosity-minded segments

The report also categorises surveyed managers into four curiosity-minded segments:

- High Curiosity Collaborators (35%): Value collaboration, teamwork driven, relentless in finding answers; believe curiosity leads to improved performance and job satisfaction.

- Flexibility Driven Opinion Seekers (26%): Embrace challenges and value the opinion of others; believe curiosity leads to flexibility and adaptability in times of uncertainty but do not believe curiosity leads to greater efficiency and productivity.

- Productivity-Focused Leaders (24%): Believe curiosity helps in efficiency and productivity as well as leading to stronger collaboration and teamwork, though are less inclined to believe it drives inclusion and diversity of thought.

- Anti-Curiosity Leaders (16%): Do not believe curiosity adds any value to performance.

Many organisations risk falling behind due to an inability to develop and harness curiosity

While there is growing recognition of the value of curiosity in the workplace, there is still progress to be made in many organisations, with the potential for a clear competitive advantage among those organisations that can effectively tap the power of curiosity as a skillset among their employees. However, not all managers consistently agree with its inherent value, and many organisations struggle to effectively foster and capitalise on it in their day-to-day operations.

While most managers surveyed believe curiosity is valuable, many face challenges fostering and encouraging this skill. In fact, more than two in five managers admit they feel only somewhat or not equipped to identify curiosity in job applicants (47%) and direct reports (42%). Even if managers feel they are equipped to identify this trait, many say it is challenging to develop curiosity in employees who don't naturally have it (47%) and struggle with connecting curiosity to job performance (47%) and business impact (43%). These findings highlight a disconnect between the perceived benefits of curiosity and organisations' potential to harness this skill among employees.

One way to mitigate these challenges is to look to organisations and managers who rate high in curiosity. Organisations and managers who have embraced curiosity often encourage curiosity across the enterprise, including company training and development (79%), employee performance reviews (76%), promotion (74%) and hiring (74%) criteria, and corporate mission, vision, or values (70%). These managers also use a variety of methods to further encourage this valuable trait in their direct reports. These methods include rewarding curiosity in performance reviews (71%), allowing the use of work time to explore passion projects (60%), one-on-one coaching or mentoring (59%), and publicly praising employees who demonstrate curiosity (69%).

For more insights into the Curiosity@Work report findings, please visit the Curiosity@Work website.

Methodology

SAS conducted a global survey of managers to understand curiosity's value, impact, and prevalence within organisations. Managers were defined as individuals with three or more direct reports. The managers currently work in one of five industries: financial services, retail/consumer goods, manufacturing, healthcare/life sciences, or government. This study took place in six countries: Brazil, Germany, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. In total, 1,973 managers were surveyed online from August 19 to September 5, 2021.

In conjunction with this original research, SAS also partnered with LinkedIn to analyse the conversation surrounding curiosity on its platform. This was accomplished through an analysis of posts (including job postings) and jobs skills over the last year (periods July 1, 2019 – July 31, 2020, and August 1, 2020 – August 30, 2021) for mentions of curiosity keywords and engagement with posts mentioning these themes.

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