Amid the Great Resignation, Curiosity Is an Increasingly Important Skill for Employees, According to New SAS Study

  • While Curiosity Can Address Critical Business Challenges, Many Organizations Struggle to Develop and Harness This Skill

In the age of the Great Resignation, curiosity is increasingly recognized as a valuable skill by business leaders. Curiosity is increasingly sought by employers to address some of the biggest challenges facing organizations 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 analyzed data from LinkedIn over the last year.

One way to mitigate these challenges is to look to organizations and managers who rate high in curiosity. Organizations 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, including 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%).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 organization. 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%).

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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,” said Jay Upchurch, CIO at SAS.

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Most managers agree that curiosity is particularly valuable when innovating new solutions (62%), tackling complex problems (55%), and analyzing data (52%), making it an important trait for fueling 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 organization 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.

Categorizing managers into curiosity-minded segments

The report also categorizes 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 leads 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 organizations 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 organizations, with the potential for a clear competitive advantage among those organizations 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 organizations struggle to effectively foster and capitalize 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 organizations’ potential to harness this skill among employees.

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