The Great Resignation

Two stories and both left an impression on me long before the term ‘The Great Resignation’ began making waves. Last month, my housemate left a well-paying job, his friends and a familiar life to move to an unknown country, join a startup and take a pay cut – all because he decided something needed to change. In the second case, a casual encounter led to a conversation with someone who quit his very well-paying job to work for the church. He, again, was moving to a different country and decided to turn his day job into a side gig and side gig into day job; even if it meant giving up on the fat paycheck. These two form a tiny subset of similar stories taking the world by storm.

The past year and a half made us question our life choices like never before. In 2020, I had the good fortune of being able to implement long-planned changes, but for many; the time is now. Countless of current coffee chats revolve around wondering what life would look like if we never stepped into an office again. What if we didn’t work 60-hour weeks? Many have had the chance to witness life without the daily commute and with lower rents. If there was ever a time to imagine a life different from the one we were living in, it was 2020.

Come 2021, while much of it still looks like 2020, we have begun to find answers to our questions. And in some ways, the answers manifest as what we are witnessing today as ‘The Great Resignation’. As Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere says, “We have changed. Work has changed. The way we think about time and space has changed.”

As the world reopens, a combination of self-realization, pent up resignations, increased open roles and competitive pay has all whipped together a massive hurricane. As people begin to walk out the door, it’s time for organizations to answer the very same questions our employees have been asking themselves. What would the world look like if they didn’t have to work 60-hour weeks? What if they never needed to step into an office again? What if they didn’t have to pay 50% of their pay as rent and could live anywhere in the world?

The challenge in answering these questions is that they involve charting unfamiliar territory. This is not how work was done and any shift demands investment in both thought and capital. It involves writing a whole new book, not just a new chapter. It involves a high risk of failure. The safest path is to return to what worked and yet, when top talent leaves, that’s hardly an option. Hence enter, the perfect storm. I, like everyone else, at this point have more questions than answers. However, some things are evident. The trifecta of working five days a week in an office, not revamping compensation and long work hours will lead to failure. I am aware that as I say this; I am sitting at my work desk in an office. But that’s me and not representative of the majority.

Over the past six months, I have come to realize that work can effectively be done from anywhere. What organizations need to focus on is how to enable that and not how to entice people back into an office. What I am struggling to make peace with is why aren’t organizations changing the way they view work? Are they only looking at short-term stock market reactions or do they really care about more than just the balance sheet? Do they have the courage to look ten years into the future? How organizations pivot will answer that exact question.


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