For the past several months, we’ve been reading, hearing, and talking a lot about the Great Resignation aka the Big Quit, or what I like to call the Great Awakening.

Businesses are frustrated because “no one wants to work,” but is that what’s really happening?

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we live and work, and what is happening right now in the job market isn’t as cut and dry as people want it to be.

It partly stems from the whole “us vs. them” mentality and how that manifests itself in our workplaces.

Our work environments are ecosystems with many layers in many categories, but really what it boils down to is power and control.

Businesses who can’t fill open positions right now are frustrated because in the past, maybe they had the upper hand when it came to getting people to do what they wanted.

The people who make up the workforce are no longer in fear of losing their jobs because essentially, that’s pretty much what happened with the onset of the pandemic, and so that leverage is gone.

People were furloughed or laid off or worked from home, and now that this new normal has been experienced, they’ve figured out that maybe work isn’t all there is.

We are realizing that money might not be our top motivator anymore.

We are retiring early.

Households are getting by on one income, even if it’s temporary.

People are downsizing their lifestyles and living on savings.

Job seekers are taking longer in their searches because they have more clarity around what they want, and are being more selective.

What people value is different, so what jobs have to offer has to be different.

The old way won’t work anymore.

Think of it this way…

Let’s say in early 2020 you had a team that would work for bananas. But suddenly they developed an allergy to bananas, so bananas are no longer valuable to them anymore.

You can’t fill the open positions, even though you’ve increased the number of bananas you are willing to trade for labor.

What gives? People must not want to work anymore.

“Back when I was starting out I worked twice as much for half as many bananas!”

Things have changed since then.

Think about all the drastic changes that have happened just in the past year.

I know this analogy over simplifies a complex situation.

The point is, things change. And when they do it’s futile to try to fit an old key into a new lock.

So what’s the solution?

Throw away the old key and work on creating a new one.

Start by asking a few questions:

  • Would you want to work at your organization if you were looking for a job right now?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, why?
  • Is flexibility in work schedules and locations offered?
  • What does your team value about working there, and how can you expand on those things?
  • What do they want to see more of?

If you want to make REAL changes, have conversations with team members about what they think would attract new people to your organization, and start making those kinds of changes for the entire team.

Asking the team for input is not giving away power, it’s good business combined with humanity.

If these kinds of things make you uncomfortable, some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What is my relationship to power?
  • How do I view my role here?
  • What does being an effective leader mean to me?
  • What is the purpose of the organization and how am I helping us get there?

Think about the dynamics that currently exist between you and your team and if those dynamics help EVERYONE thrive.

This is why work culture is SO important to work on and maintain on a regular basis, so when things like the “Great Resignation” happen, you have the tools to weather the storm.

Here are some tips for navigating your organization through the Great Resignation:

  1. Release what doesn’t work anymore. Leading a team in 2021 won’t be effective using 2019 methods and perspectives. Our brains resist change, so this might be a tough one.
  2. Have honest conversations with the team. You know how you find out what people want from their work lives these days? By asking them. What do they value? What are their goals? What is their ‘why?’ Then use that info as a starting point for designing a different work culture.
  3. Be transparent in your hiring process. If you haven’t been paying attention to work culture until now, that’s ok. Talk with candidates openly about what things are changing and why.
  4. Hire experts to help. We can’t all be experts in everything. This is why self awareness in leadership is critical. Recognize where the weaknesses are and hire experts to come fill in the gaps. Work culture experts, DEI strategists, and change facilitators might prove invaluable in getting the business on solid footing.

Prioritizing the cultures of our organizations is the best way to build resiliency, attract new talent, and keep them on the team.