The Great Resignation: Lack of Leadership (Part 1)

The Great Resignation is in full swing, as people search for jobs to support their needs of flexibility, increased wages, and alignment between personal goals and institutional mission (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnet.com/google-amp/news/the-great-resignation-is-changing-work-in-america-and-its-here-to-stay/).

The Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 created a vacuum - the regular activities no longer being required (or allowed) - and without the usual noise people were forced to slow down and take stock of their life.

For many, they realized they no longer wanted the same level of hustle and bustle.

They no longer wanted a traffic-infused commute that added hours onto their day and kept them away from their personal life.

Many enjoyed the ability to have a picnic lunch in the backyard with their children and their pets snuggling close while attending yet another Zoom meeting.

They loved the flexibility of remote work and began to lean into the joy of wearing house slippers under their home desk.

Now that the intensity of life is ramping up, the joy of what was is rapidly disappearing.

Enter the Great Resignation.

I have a bold thought about The Great Resignation - an undercurrent to the data show employees are speaking with their feet in response to leadership behavior and decisions.

In short, leadership decisions and behavior influencing organizational culture and processes are being evaluated and responded to by looking for other options.

Covid-19 accelerated a lot of change in a very short period of time - some was temporary and messy, while some needed to happen.

The difficulty employees are finding is when leaders choose to go back to what was done before Covid-19 without incorporating flexibility.


For example, when everyone worked and attended school remotely, there were a lot of approvals that suddenly moved into the electronic realm. Workarounds were created, new ways of accepting approvals were birthed, and it worked for months to years.

Then, infection rate numbers started declining and all of a sudden what was acceptable for a long period of time was no longer appropriate and physical interactions or in-person processes returned.

Employees feel the disconnect.

Employees look to leadership to be thoughtful about the future of work and expect logical updates to existing processes.

This doesn’t mean that all changes must continue to exist, what it means is that some innovations need to be upgraded to our current situation.

Leadership should not expect to return to what was if that is a step backward in service (e.g., requiring coming in person when a work-around allowed for an electronic process during the lock down).

Since our premise is that The Great Resignation is a response to leadership decisions and behaviors, I predict leaders who dismiss or reverse lockdown innovations will experience higher turnover than those who review their processes and maintain or adopt flexibility.

Here are three steps leaders can take to incorporate flexibility and bring their organization into the post-Covid workplace:

  1. Quantify flexibility - The empty freeways glaringly declared much of the workforce was able to work remotely in some capacity. Leaders need to review job descriptions for accuracy and quantify which responsibilities can successfully be accomplished remotely. Tally up the percentage of remote-possible tasks and offer that percentage of remote work opportunity.

  2. Purchase flexibility tools - Some responsibilities can happen remotely with rudimentary changes. For example, instead of using desk phones where someone has to be physically present to answer a call, a basic phone VoIP software purchase allows employees to answer calls remotely through their computer. Other remote tools include chat bots for brief interactions, online queues for Zoom appointments to move physical lines to a device, and a team communication tool that isn’t email (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams) to convey brief information bites, accommodate walk-up questions, and store shared knowledge.

  3. Identify Absolute In-Office Time - Flexibility of in-office time is key for employee mental health and productivity. Simply punching a clock and sitting physically at one’s workstation doesn’t equate to good work. Studies have shown that flexibility in work hours allow for better employee well-being (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8004082/), which leads to higher productivity. Honing business hours down to the absolute necessary time allows flexibility around start and stop times. This puts the power into the hands of the employee to select when they begins and end work around the required “present” hours.


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