The Great Resignation: A Search for Compassion

A popular phenomenon is rearing its head, it’s called the “The Great Resignation” and it took me right back to the summer of 2018 when I put in my last resignation.  I was trading a life in Investment Banking for an arbitrary and somewhat uncharted path of a Writer. Today, as I watch every major media outlet like The BBC, CNBC, Thrive Global, The Guardian and Forbes offer varying amounts of insight on the topic, I cannot help but wonder at the missing angle of compassion?

What is The Great Resignation and What’s Compassion Got to Do with It

“The Great Resignation” was first discussed by an associate professor of Texas A&M University, Anthony Klotz in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. According to his assessment of a number of resignations, people held on to their jobs during the lockdowns and the rise in resignations is on account of natural attrition combined with overdue attrition. He has, however, highlighted that working from home has changed people’s attitude towards work and employers may do well to re-assess their culture and policies. He also warned employees against being hasty and risk becoming ‘boomerang’ employees.

Now, his explanation of the rise in resignations may be sound, however, I wonder why should it come as a surprise that employees are quitting jobs where they have not been respected or valued? According to reliable sources, major Wall Street banks where I once spent my time are insisting that people return to work and have gone so far as to offer vaccination and testing on-site. Of course, the views of certain Banking CEOs have been published, discussed  and debated to death. Whilst I cannot disagree with some points raised by the CEOs, I do have to say that their stances distinctly lack compassion.

Employer Double Standards Driving People to Take Charge 

The pandemic ruthlessly pulled back the veils of hypocrisy some organizations had donned. In organizations devoid of compassion, competition drives the days and team-work is overlaid with backstabbing. Competition has the potential to be healthy but when it causes mistrust amongst colleagues, it is toxic. Meanwhile, the townhalls, recruitment fairs and performance reviews brazenly claim that the organization values employees and their well-being. Obvious contrasts exist in what organizations claim on paper and what they put into practice.

Distance from the ‘rat-race’ gave people some time to have perspective. They took a deep breath and engaged in much needed introspection. Faced with their own mortality, people developed a renewed appreciation for life and family. This would have been the ideal time for all employers to ‘walk the talk’ on employee well-being and show compassion. However, some of them failed miserably and people have felt the contrast in their new desires with their old life. Where the unaffected and the transformed could no longer get along and where they could, people simply quit.

The Attitudes that Drove the Decisions

2020 was a defining year and it should have been amply clear that people need their employers to step up and some have done just that! Empathetic employers have recognized that empathy yields higher results and have been constantly consulting with them on their well-being. They operate on equal parts passion for work and compassion for their colleagues. In stark contrast, there are tone-deaf opinions, berating and patronizing people for being human and wondering how people have the means to quit. 

To quote the WHO,  the pandemic is not over and even if it was, it was a time of great uncertainty, loss, pain and worry for the majority. Why then, is it so unimaginable that as the pandemic worries ease, people need a minute to catch their breath? It should not be a surprise that a patronizing attitude at this point will only hasten people’s decisions to go where their life and safety hold some value.

Having said all of the above, I would like to end on a thought all corporate leaders are constantly pushing, ‘Change is the Only Constant’. The order of the day is compassion, so make the change. This is not the time to glorify pre-pandemic work cultures and explain away ‘The Great Resignation’ as a seduction towards freelancing. This is the time to stop belittling grown adults, introspect, consult your resignation numbers and embrace the idea that human beings need more than just money.

Although, I have them to hand, I will not quantify the time it takes for a new person to hit the ground running. People are not machines and an entire article on compassion will not end by quantifying their worth. I will however leave you with a thought by Plato:

Be Kind for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle