It’s being called The Great Resignation – this sort-of-but-not-really-post-pandemic economy. Almost every sector is finding it challenging to fill open positions. I spoke with a friend recently who is a tall ship captain and her organization can’t find enough qualified crew members – if it’s happening in such a niche and ‘alternative’ career path it’s happening everywhere.
The terminology itself, however, is ironic; people are not saying no to jobs; they are saying yes to other things in their lives that after 18 months of reflection they realize matter more to them.
Don’t see the connection? Stay with me for a minute…
Resignation is a Business Perspective
Calling this trend ‘The Great Resignation’ gets at something fundamentally flawed in how organizations react to the world around them. Resignation is how the organization perceives the issue – with them in the center as the primary actor. But the main actors in this saga are employees and potential employees – not the organization. People are not making decisions because of organizations, they are making decisions because they see a path in which they can live happier and more personally fulfilling lives – and that happens to include resigning from workplaces that take them for granted, demand too much, and generate anxiety.
Talk to anyone who is actually in this position, which is to say most of us, and you find a very different motivation – summed up well for me in this tweet, although the solution is unlikely to be going into food service and hospitality.
The pandemic has dramatically restricted the scope of our focus and in doing so, has forced a reckoning with ourselves, our situations, our choices, and our families. We’ve had a lot of time to observe and think about these things.
Many of us have come to the conclusion that our work lives are not working for us.
Organizations Devalue Value
Organizations are structured to maximize financial output and this is hardwired into governance. Technology has ‘optimized’ this output but it’s come with consequences for people; things which were once mere annoyances are now intolerable – there is no space to recover from the unremitting focus on money and transactions. We are constantly bombarded; do, do more, now do even more.
Without people, organizations would generate no value, they would have no customers, and they would have no revenue. But people are pesky things – with emotions, relationships, and energy. People’s energy and motivation are quickly becoming more valuable than their ability to produce. Financial and legal departments have no capacity to hedge against emotional exhaustion and stress. That gap is becoming a chasm. Employees have been stretched and stretched and then COVID gave them the push that sent them over the edge.
All the glue that keeps organizations connected between transactions has frayed. Employment, partner, and customer relationships are not switches – they do not suddenly turn on and off. They develop or erode based on a huge range of large and small interactions. Metrics, all architected around financial value, cannot help the organization see this kaleidoscope of interactions – and misses so much value in the process. The impact is ironically corrosive to creating financial value and it has two significant issues:
- The objects we track look at the past, rather than help us see the road in front of us.
- Our metrics rarely show us how to change the way the organization works in order to generate more value of all kinds – or how it is changing over time.
So we continue on – churning out more and more rather than stopping to consider whether those outputs have really had an impact on the way the world works. The only thing that changes economies is changes to behavior. We are operating blindly – and breaking humans in the process.
The Disconnect Between Organizations and People
When did organizational leaders stop talking to their employees and customers like humans? I feel like they are metaphorically throwing a whirlwind of paper at people, hoping some of it sticks while individuals try to brace themselves against it.
The cumulative effect is that employees are drowning because they cannot process all the incoming streams fast enough. Customers feel like they send requests and issues into a black hole that is impenetrable. Managers are just trying to keep up while evoking a sense of calm – the proverbial ducks whose feet are treading frantically under the water while swimming serenely. Meanwhile, governance groups and leaders sit back and look at the organization and its market as abstractions, and put them into neat, organized charts – completely ignoring the chaos on the ground. After all, it is the only way to ‘scale.’ But in ignoring what is going on at the lowest levels, they can’t really see what is wrong because to them, things look like they always have. Until recently.
Organizations are Broken; Humans Can Fix Them
My pet peeve is both simple and complex; organizations ignore humans, emotions, and relationships. This dynamic has always been there but it has been accelerated thanks to technology. To address it is both simple and complex. At the individual level, we just need to care, be interested in each other’s perspectives, value differences, and slow down. At the organizational level, we need to tear apart our databases, metrics, professional development approaches, management hierarchy, leadership approach, and financial systems… no big deal 😬.
COVID and The Great Reevaluation are giving us the opportunity of a lifetime and the motivation to fix issues that have always existed in our organizational structures but are now dramatically worse. How many boards and executives are going to waste a good crisis? How many will have the courage to dig deep and rethink fundamentals?
Those leaders that seize this opportunity will find that their organizations slowly – and then much more rapidly – attracting the best talent, the most creative minds, and people who care.