The Great Resignation: Proof That We’re Not What We Do
When we ask someone, who are you? They will most often, and not unreasonably, respond with their name. A name that, in most cases, someone else gave them. If we push past their name, they will likely tell us their occupation. But again, what we do is not really who we are, and that’s the crux of the issue.
For decades, our lives have revolved around our work and our status as our identity. We planned our lives based on our work calendar. We met friends only on weekends, socializing only on days off. We all know people who skipped weddings and celebrations of joy because work was the priority. We even prioritized work meetings over parent-teacher meetings. We compromised our families, our hobbies, our health, and our vacations. We did it all willingly because we believed in the ever-unattainable brass ring of “I’ll be happy when….”
Suddenly in March of 2020, without consideration, priorities shifted because of the Covid pandemic. A virus somehow held up a mirror and showed us what we had been in denial of. It forced us to face the unpredictability of life and reflect on what truly matters. Now millions have realized work, or at least their present work does not give us the meaning we were promised.
People around the world are quitting their jobs. As I write this a massive 41% of the world’s working population is planning to switch jobs in the coming year. A shocking 95% of Americans are thinking of quitting their current jobs this year. In the United States, 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August of 2021. That’s 2.9 of the US’s working population. Twenty million Americans have left their job since April of 2021.
But it’s not just the US. Skilled job vacancies data collected from the OECD shows that in 38 member countries, at least 20 million workers have not returned to work since the pandemic struck. In India, the attrition rate in the tech sector is up 23%. In the Caribbean, one in six workers aged 18 to 29 just up and left the workforce. Even in China, there’s a shortage of workers in the tech sector. In 2021 Microsoft conducted a survey, and it found that 41% of employees worldwide are looking to quit their jobs over the coming twelve months.
We are in the middle of what organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at May Business School at Texas A&M University, has termed “The Great Resignation.” And the impact will be felt by everyone in every sector of society.
Resigning, Rethinking, and Exiting Wage Slavery
Around the world, millions of people have found themselves using this government-mandated stay at home to time to rethink everything. People have especially had to reconsider how they are living in the context of how they work and the cost-benefit ratio that goes beyond income to a personal, relational, even soulful level. Although slavery, as we knew and once defined it, may not be a part of most people’s lives (although modern slavery does exist), many have become awakened to the realization that they had been shackled to a system that made them and kept them as “wage slaves.”
This isn’t the only reason people have been quitting their jobs. The reasons are multi-faceted, ranging from inadequate living wages, poor work conditions, bad leadership, and more. However, fear of in-person interaction is an important and unexpected component. Being isolated, having to “socially distance,” doesn’t fit with the human psyche. We are social animals, and we need each other, and isolation made that very real. The upside of isolation is that only when we can step away from the distractions of the world do we get the opportunity to sit with our thoughts, with our feelings, and discover the things that we’ve been distracting ourselves from.
What About Top Ranking Leadership?
Among more than 9 million employee records from 4,000 global companies, those between the ages of 30 and 45 have seen a significant increase in their resignation rates. However, the resignation wave is primarily noticeable in the upper ranks of business. Simply increasing the executive compensation package will no longer provide a sufficient response.
The number-one concern of every board and executive team must be: In an emotional and mental way, how are the people who are running this firm doing, and what specifically are we doing to facilitate their emotional/mental wellbeing?
The senior leaders I advise and guide are telling me in no uncertain terms: Purpose matters. I, we need meaning, or else what’s the point? Your people need to know that those who are aligned with your culture and values/maxims can realize their potential and that of the business in a meaningful way.
A Great Reinvention
We may be in the Great Resignation, but this is also the great self-reinvention and as people like Arianna Huffington have said, The Great Revaluation. For example, in 2020, the year the pandemic struck, 1.4 million start-ups were registered in the US. India added 1600 start-ups in the tech sector alone.
It’s Not Just Us
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s garment factory workers is surprisingly part of the Great Resignation. The people once moved from the country to the city looking for prosperity. Today they are trading poor living conditions and horrible human rights abuses in the factories for a life of potential economic struggle at home in their villages where they will at least have a family.
The legacy of the pandemic is that it has given all of us an elongated moment to question the meaning of who we are and what we are doing. In turn, people are discovering newfound respect for themselves and their lives.
The Great Resignation is the death rattle for those clinging to the belief in a return to “normal.”
This elongated moment, this psychological pause is something that doesn’t come along very often. It has brought about a long-awaited, and desperately needed crisis of meaning. As a result, people today don’t want their lives to revolve around their jobs anymore. They want their jobs to fit into the kind of life they want to live. Employers are being forced to realize that they no longer have the power to control workers.
The Hidden Gift
For the last ten-plus years, we have been speaking about the importance of having a purpose-driven organization, where employees feel a deep sense of meaning and recognition in what they do. This once nice idea is now the life raft. If a company is going to survive the Great Resignation, it must take a deep dive into an employee’s heart and mind and see what that person truly wants. Today a paycheck is no longer enough. Companies must recognize this and also realize that employees are tired. Many are grieving and need to be given a meaningful reason to return to work every Monday.
Now it’s time to reimagine work, reimagine corporate culture, and most definitely reimagine leadership from a foundation of purpose and meaning. This is the hidden gift of the Great Resignation, if we as leaders have the courage and curiosity to take it on.
I sincerely look forward to your feedback and insights on this.
With gratitude, respect, and curiosity, Dov…
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Dov Baron, Actualizer: Meaning Authority, Advisor to Leaders and Icons:
“Control Meaning You Control The Group”
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