There’s been a lot of “Great Resignation” talk in the past year.
And for a good reason.
The 2020 experience created a backlog of regular job movements. More importantly, 2020 forced many of us to evaluate our current job (and career). Many people found some life reprioritization was necessary.
Two separate realities are driving these job and career transitions. Workers are either:
- Running to something, or
- Running from something.
Running To Something
I know many people who made job changes in the past year on purpose, for purpose. People changed careers to better engage in their passions. People changed jobs to relocate closer to family. People even made changes to pursue health (lifestyle, emotional, etc.).
The pandemic expedited these purposeful changes. Crisis always exposes and highlights what’s not working or broken in our life. For many, the past two years exposed or highlighted a disconnect between their current job and their desired life. Hence, their resignation.
Running From Something
On the other side of the Great Resignation, we find people changing jobs and careers specifically to leave a current situation. This version of job change is founded from the same place, though. Our 2-year pandemic-induced crisis highlighted everyday job frustrations en mass. The pandemic exposed poor leaders, unhealthy cultures, and stressful lifestyles. In many ways, poor leadership, unhealthy organizations, and unnecessary job stress were present before the pandemic, but as crisis always does, the pandemic exasperated, exposed, and punctuated the problems.
You’ve heard the phrase, “people don’t leave jobs. They leave bosses.” Take that statement and multiply it by ten during a crisis. The pandemic exposed bad bosses and poor leaders, fueling the great resignation. Perhaps people were more tolerant of the leadership gaps before the crisis, but not any longer. I fear much of the Great Resignation is driven by what people have seen in and from their leaders.
What should we do about all the resignations?
I suppose there are multiple applications for this aspect of the Great Resignation.
If you are a boss or leader of an organization…
It’s time to look in the mirror. The recent crisis exposed much about the people working with and for you, but it also revealed you. The pandemic was brutal for everyone — especially leaders. The last two years put your leadership gaps on display for all to see. And everyone saw them. Every leader has deficiencies. Side note: That’s why we create (or should create) executive teams with complementary strengths. You are not a holistic leader. You are great in some areas and weak in others.
If you’re experiencing an organizational exodus, don’t blame the people leaving. Look in the mirror. Ask the best people remaining in your organization what gaps or issues they see in your leadership. Seek out difficult feedback. And, when the people around you are honest, refuse to push back. Listen and believe they are all correct (because they are). Sure, it may be just their perception. They don’t understand all that you do. All for which you are responsible. They don’t have your packed calendar. And none of that matters. What they see is what they see, and what they believe is true to them.
Last thing. If you are a leader asking for feedback and all you hear is positive compliments, it may be too late. The honest people might already be gone. Those willing to speak truth to power left when you as the power didn’t listen the first (or second, or third) time. If you try to look in the mirror and can’t see anything, the end is closer than you can imagine.
If you are a manager or leader within an organization…
Many of us are not leading the entire organization, but we are leading within the organization. Perhaps you manage a department or division. It would help if you spent some time with a mirror, too. But it’s equally important that you speak the truth to those above you.
If that scares you, join the club. Speaking truth to power can be terrifying, especially if your leadership has shown a propensity to retaliate. Here’s the deal, though. If you speak up and suffer a consequence, you’ll join the “running from something” category of job change. What do you suppose will eventually happen if you don’t speak up? Any guesses? You will end up “running from somebody” as you exit the organization.
You are the mirror for your leadership. Before you leave in utter frustration, you owe it to your boss to be honest about what you’ve experienced on the other side of them. If it goes well, perhaps they improve, and you can remain. If they refuse to listen or own their piece of the problem, so be it. You’ll leave, anyway.
If you are running to something…
If you are considering a job or career change that places you closer to purpose, go for it. What’s stopping you? My assumption is fear. I plan to write a lot more about this soon, as this was my experience deciding whether to leave my role at Woodstock City Church. Here’s the quick idea: You’re going to face fear. The good news, though, is you get to decide what you’re afraid of: taking a risk or living with regret — more on that in a future post.
If you are running from something…
Before you leave, please be a mirror for your leadership. Not in an unhealthy or unloving way — that’s unhelpful for you and them. But, if you can simmer your frustration enough, set up an “honesty is the best policy” meeting. Enter prepared, having thought through your experiences and disappointments. Nobody responds well to an attack, so communicate clearly, directly, but graciously. Good leaders will react positively to thoughtful feedback.
Of course, some bosses will not respond well. But don’t assume that will be the case before you attempt. If you care at all about the organization’s future, you owe it to the leadership to be honest and forthcoming about your experiences. They know that crisis reveals and exposes, too. Yet, they may be blind to the experience on the other side of their leadership. You are the mirror for them to see.
One more thing. Once you know, you know. The moment you realize you can’t stay, you need to begin the process of leaving. Remaining in a role or at a company after deciding to go only leads to (1) anger or (2) apathy. Both will kill your soul in time. In anger, you’ll burn every relationship and bridge while you remain. In apathy, you’ll slowly lose part of your heart. Again, more on this in a future post, too.
As a leader: Listen now more than ever. The only people who know what it’s like to work for you are those working for you. So listen to them. Create a psychologically safe place for them to be honest about their experiences. Every leader who is willing to improve can become better, but only if they are willing to look in the mirror, acknowledge their gaps, and strive to improve. Your other option is to see everyone else as the problem. But come on, if dozens of people are walking away from the organization you lead, who do you think is the real problem?
As a leaver: If you know, you know. If at all possible, run to something rather than away from something. Run to a better job in a passion point. Run to a preferable lifestyle. Run to family. It doesn’t matter what you run to. Just name it and more toward it.
If you can’t run to something, pause long enough to find a healthy way to exit. It’s all too easy to run away angry. But, you will eventually regret it. You may have to apologize for it. Be ever gracious. If at all possible, be kind. If you have nothing nice to say, at least say it nicely.
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