The Great Resignation or the Great Awakening?

The global pandemic continues to rage – thrusting experiences at us that rattle our brains and make us sit up and take notice. I won’t attempt to summarize the collective COVID experience here – we all know what it is, the destruction it’s causing, and what our own unique circumstances are.

What I’m pondering is… the “Great Resignation”, and the troubling trends we are witnessing in the labour force. I think most people would describe this trend as negative – we will see gaps and shortages in our workforce that will hit our economy hard. Businesses are closing because they can’t hire staff. Flights are being cancelled – not for mechanical error – but for labour shortages. 

The Health Human Resource (HHR) shortage is resulting in patients not getting discharged from hospital, surgeries being cancelled, treatments not being given. This has become a matter of life and death and it will likely get worse before it gets better.

As an advocate for a great employee experience, I desperately want to help organizations find solutions to these HR challenges. But given my long experience with performance management frameworks and identifying indicators to measure results, I am curious about how we will measure the impact of this societal trend.

When a Board of Directors hires someone other than a white male, they get a checkmark – they can count the number of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of colour) and women on their teams and claim some progress on increased diversity. 

But what happens when scores of people – women primarily – choose to leave the workforce because they can no longer juggle the demands of work and home (…. and home schooling, and caring for aging parents, and managing the household and …) OR because they are seeking more meaning and purpose in their life and no longer feel connected to the values of their organization? 

Is this a failure? I suspect some people will see it that way.

But what if… this trend results in more dinners eaten together, more walks with the dog, more movies watched together or games being played, more time exercising instead of commuting, more laughter, more joy, more sleep, better health, more breath? How will we measure the overall impact of those individual results?

I wonder if, perhaps a generation from now, we will look back on this time with some new perspective, and regard this period of time as the Great Awakening? Was the impetus for this ‘revolution’ the disturbing murder of George Floyd and far too many others like him? Was it the #MeToo Movement? Was it something else? Or will we clearly identify COVID-19 as the giant finger that made the ripple in the water?

I like to think that COVID-19 is Mother Nature’s way of saying: “GO TO YOUR ROOM!” So we could all sit by ourselves and think – long and hard – about how we are: destroying the planet with our selfish and destructive behaviours; hurting and (even killing!) people that don’t look like us or sound like us; that we are ungrateful and entitled and spoiled. 

Maybe HER hard lesson in the midst of this pandemic is that – it’s okay to demand better, to look out for yourself and set boundaries, to shift priorities, to choose to work for organizations that have decent values and treat you with respect, to take time you need to care for loved ones or for those that are less fortunate, and to find greater purpose and meaning in your life. 

In the end, perhaps it isn’t the paycheck, the number of followers on social media, the size of our home, or other material possessions, that should be used as the measuring stick. What matters more is that you are healthy, happy, find purpose and meaning in your work, and that you make life better for those around you – by being a good person, a kind parent, a patient customer, a loving spouse, a compassionate boss …

Can we actually measure those intangibles? Perhaps not – but I am hopeful for a better, greener, kinder and more compassionate world twenty years from now. I applaud every one of the women and men who choose to stand up for what they believe in and to make the difficult choice for their own situation – which should ultimately benefit all of society in the long-term. 

I am grateful for this collective awakening and I applaud each of you ‘change makers’ for your courage, your clarity of thought, and your leadership. 

You are the change we need.

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