What’s Fueling the Great Resignation?
The short answer is that corporate culture is broken, and people are awakening to their own power.
The backstory is that for years companies have been built on the concept that the organization holds the power over employees – from determining compensation to the predominant leadership style, employees have not been considered true stakeholders for a long time.
The pandemic rocked the accepted way of doing things across the board. On a mass scale we have all been reminded how fragile life is, and when this happens, well that’s when we genuinely start living.
Employees are now asking existential questions, like:
- Do I really have to sacrifice so much to make a living?
- What else could be possible for my life?
These kinds of questions are leading them to discover what they truly want and need and (thank you lawdy) people are finally aligning with deeply held values. Now, more than ever in our history, people are willing to make a change rather than hold on to a job that isn’t serving them. Like other great migrations, people are choosing to find more freedom for their hearts, minds and spirits.
Why are there so many toxic workplaces?
- Power-Over Leadership. The predominant executive leadership style is power-over, which essentially means ‘I get to dictate the what and how because I have the power, and you do not’. It’s the default, lazy way of managing (I don’t actually consider it leadership) which has been rewarded over and over again. Why? Because the focus has overwhelming been on WHAT leaders produce as opposed to HOW they get those results. These leaders often don’t have the tools, training, role modeling, or accountability structures to support a different way of leading. When a manager is operating from a power-over mentality, those they are managing will, over time, feel powerless…to share ideas, to push back, or even be themselves.
- Ignoring Mental Health. Let me just reframe this term to more closely represent what we are really talking about here. Poor Mental Health = Human Suffering. Companies are ignoring the fact that their employees are suffering, in large part because of the environment they have created and the unrealistic expectations that have been set. It doesn’t take much to bear witness to this suffering and yet it is ignored. At a basic level, evidence of how employees’ mental health is ignored can be seen in the absurdly low vacation and sick days allocated. Beyond these basics, there is a huge lack of mental health benefits, such as talk and somatic therapy and coaching and access to educational programs. On the day-to-day front, the lack of conversations between employees and management that go beyond productivity and output is more evidence to show that workplaces are operating without a real heartbeat.
- Lack of flexibility. This often occurs when the masculine way of doing things becomes the accepted way of working, which, to be clear, is detrimental to ALL genders. What this means is that certain skillsets and ways of doing things are shunned and shamed, creating inflexible workplaces that are unable to support diversity in all of its forms. Let me contextualize this for you; is your boss more likely to say/imply; ‘do it yourself, get it done and get it done fast’, or ‘collaborate and seek creative solutions and garner support in the process’?
Clearly there is more to be said about what drives toxic environments, as we haven’t touched on racism, bullying and a host of other behaviors and beliefs present in the workplace. My hope is that this sheds a light on the fact that virtual vs in person questions are surface level and that truly addressing the heart of your company culture requires a much deeper dive.
All of this said, I want to pause to say that what IS beautiful about this moment is that all this toxicity is becoming harder to ignore, creating a tremendous opportunity for employees and employers to RESET and do that deeper work that I am referencing.
How Are Employees are Taking their Power Back?
- Resetting Boundaries. Collectively, employees have reached a breaking point and are seeing the consequences of not creating or holding boundaries. While things were not sustainable before, it is even more evident now with added responsibilities, pressures and the increased unpredictability of the times we are in. Many people find it easier to reset boundaries by starting with a clean slate, rather than beginning in their current place. Think about it; expectations have been set, you’ve already trained people how to treat you, and now you want to CHANGE and do things DIFFERENTLY. That is very difficult for a lot of people to even consider as an option, let alone put it in to practice. When employers haven’t had a track record of supporting healthy boundaries, it can feel even more difficult to re-draw the line. And so, what people are doing to take back their power (and essentially find a true work life balance) is that they are walking out the door (or shall I say virtual screen) so they can have a fighting chance at setting new boundaries and expectations elsewhere.
- Questioning the Status Quo: Another way employees are taking their power back is by speaking up, instead of staying silent to avoid suffering the consequences that come with rocking the boat. The move towards challenging the status quo is becoming stronger among some segments of the population, like the intentionally ignored and, more specifically, BIPOC communities. With all the toxicity rising to the surface, including racism and violence in all its forms, people are experiencing re-traumatization and other kinds of mental health challenges. Unfortunately, rather than employers taking this opportunity to truly see the impact of all of this on their employees, they have been either taking actions that are void of any real change (i.e., hollow press releases) or continuing to ignore what is draining the life out of their people. When people don’t feel heard or seen – let alone when they feel dehumanized and belittled – they will eventually decide to walk away (at least I sure as heck hope so). This is what the great resignation is all about – employees are sending the message that if employers don’t change, they are no longer willing to accept status quo.
- Finding Places They Feel Valued: Employees want to be compensated and treated in a way that honors and supports them to be exactly who they are. And they are leaving in the hopes that they can find a place that will provide these fundamental needs. Employees want to feel valued day in and day out as the humans they are – who have feelings (eeek, I know so scary in the workplace!) and ambitions and dreams. Expressing appreciation (in a way that honors how they want to receive it), providing desired growth and learning opportunities, heart-led relationships and a proper paycheck are just some of the ways that they will know they are truly valued. If they aren’t finding these things where they are, then you tell me, why should they stay?
What Can Employers Do?
- Listen: Listen to the people that have stayed. Understand why and what it is they need right now to continue to invest their lives into the company. What ideas do they have to stop the leaky bucket of employees leaving? Have real, live conversations and truly hear them – without getting defensive or finding band-aid solutions in the moment.
- Prioritize: The folks that have stayed are likely overworked right now, and perhaps teetering on burnout. Ruthlessly prioritize RIGHT NOW, not later, but NOW to actually reduce the workload. This can cannot be kicked down the road; difficult choices have to be made now if you want to keep who you have. It’s time to see that overburdening the system is not a recipe for success; the industrialization age is over.
- Amplify what’s working: Ask yourself what is currently saving your butt. Celebrate those wins, those people and the initiatives that are moving the needle and changing the game. Make time and space for the good stuff and I guarantee you, it will grow.
Companies have an unbelievable opportunity to seize this moment and invest in putting the heartbeat back into their culture – which is what generates motivation, community and creativity. This might mean it’s time to get an outside perspective so that you can see the forrest through the trees.
Are you wondering how I might be able to support you in your personal or organizational transformation? If so, let’s get right to it; book a complimentary 30-minute exploratory call.