By now, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Great Resignation.”
While the term has been part of our vernacular only since early last year, a quick Google search on it will generate more than two billion results. That’s billion, with a “b.”
Nearly 70 million people leaving (or losing) their jobs over a 12-month span will do that, I suppose.
According to MIT research, the top five reasons people quit their jobs during the Great Resignation (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says nearly 50 million departures were voluntary) include toxic culture, job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation (“innovation may be interesting and inspiring, but it can also burn people out,” says the research), failure to recognize performance, and poor response to COVID-19. I imagine this isn’t shocking information to anyone who leads or manages people, but it is unsettling, nonetheless.
What has helped me reframe the Great Resignation is its lesser known (i.e., only 339 million Google results) but perhaps more insightful and important counterpart, the “Great Aspiration,” a term coined by Whitney Johnson, CEO of Disruption Advisors. Johnson’s view on why people have left or may be leaving their jobs is a positive one—better pay, better work/life balance, and better and more fulfilling opportunities. Power to the people, if you will.
This positive view of job changes is one I think we can learn a lot from going forward. We’ve talked throughout the pandemic about reframing, remotivating, and reengaging our employees. Efforts around our value systems, team building, different benefits offerings, increased focus on DEI and pay equity—all of it is critical. But what Johnson talks about most is creating an ecosystem of growth opportunities. She calls this the “S-curve” of learning—the “S” serving as a visual model of what growth looks like. Johnson says the S-curve is a way for people to avoid stagnation by choosing to learn and master new skills for personal and professional development as they move through the organization.
In the future of work (which is closer to the present than the future, I might add), people not only want to grow but now, particularly post pandemic, are ready to grow. We have data showing that employees value purpose over paychecks, coaches over bosses, ongoing conversation over annual reviews, life over jobs. This is what Johnson means by the Great Aspiration. Not resigning from but aspiring to something more.
Our roles as leaders will never be what they once were. I believe that’s a good thing. As our employees are becoming aspirational, so too, can we.
In a session on organizational change with a focus on human-centered culture presented at our Legislative & Working Groups Summit this past February, consultants Warren Wright and Farzin Farzad dug into the new demands of leadership in a post-2020 world. What people wanted from leaders before COVID, according to their research, included things like collaboration, vision, strategy and professionalism. What people want from leaders post COVID? You guessed it—empathy, transparency, clarity, honesty and guidance.
As we grow our people, we grow our organizations. So don’t be afraid to ask your employees where they need support, if they feel a sense of purpose in their position, and where they would like to grow. You may not be able to address everything at once or everything to their liking, but open communication is a great step toward creating a highly engaged workplace. It’s something worth aspiring to.