As the great resignation continues, it’s clear that things will need to change more, not less. It’s a new consciousness that is arising, that just won’t put up with meaningless work, armored hierarchies, unresponsive leaders, excessive work and deadline pressures and all manner of inequities and workplace unfairnesses. People will go. They just leave. They are not sticking around for bullshit. People have kind of had it with leaders who aren’t listening and don’t get it — don’t get them. How people feel treated is why the resignation continues.
This is not an easy place to be for anybody, and I tend to see things through my own filters, one of which is the notion that it’s never actually been that easy. There’s been a lot of cover-up; there’s been anxiety that the pandemic and political polarization and collisions of values have blown up. The lid is off a very old pot, so to speak. So now what?
I think most people — at least the ones I work with — just want to do a good job, see progress, be treated fairly; feel less anxiety and dissatisfaction. They want to have a life. Is that so much to ask?
There are, in this new world, expectations that have not yet been worked out. Demanding that workplaces be psychologically safe and reasonable at all times and in all ways is one of those expectations that’s probably not going to be sustainable. There’s been and I believe there’s likely always going to be risks, painful moments, tough decisions, uncomfortable feedback, awkward stuff that doesn’t easily get resolved. People doing work together are interdependent and interdependency creates stress and conflict as naturally as it creates the chance for fulfilling collaborations. The point is that there can’t be too much stress, especially where interdependency is entwined with mistrust, and not enough collaborations where trust is cool, work might be hard but it’s also fun and fulfilling, and people sense they belong.
In some workplaces the response has been to bring in training about resilience, but this suggests it’s still the individual who is more responsible for handling the stress than the organization is for creating it. It’s nice, but resilience is only as useful as crises are temporary. You can’t ask for endless resilience. A little darkness, okay I can handle that; thanks for the help. A little more darkness; okay I got that, too. But endless night? I’m thinking not.
People end up in a place where they pressure themselves and get stressed out trying to manage themselves according to some hyped vision of self-improvement and corporate responsibility. This is the same old story. If only they — those managers, those staff — were better, there would be no problems. The result still has been: “I’m out of here!”
I’m particularly worried about middle managers who acutely feel responsibility to “do something,” and tend to get blamed when they don’t actually know what to do, or do, but are blocked in doing it. All too often they go home and get sick. They just keep trying to put themselves aside, and it doesn’t work.
There has to be hope of something better.
People must have the time to take care of themselves. It’s summer and I’m kicking my clients butts to take the vacations that they want — and need — to take. You should hear the excuses. “Yes, but the new division chief won’t be here for another two weeks. I want to make it easier for her.” “Yes, but there’s so much going on with the team. We’re down people and I’d feel bad if another pipe broke and I wasn’t there for people.” Reasonable excuses but unreasonable to the health and sanity of the person telling themselves this is all there is.
See that thing over there behind you, I’d like to say some days. That big rectangle. That’s called a door. Please go through it. I promise you, if you do reasonable due diligence about being gone for a week (five days), somehow the place will survive without you.
And beyond time, the bigger issue is really one of self-nourishment as an act of rebellion against the voices in our heads saying “be good,” “be responsible,” “make sure every damn other thing is covered before you think of yourself.” Those voices need to be put aside, and the way that happens is not so much about thinking of yourself; it’s more about thinking for yourself. How about going with that?
Yes, the bigger issue is this not so subtle thing, to listen to this interior wordless, less conscious but highly conscientious original source of your own human being, clear and cold as a mountain stream after a day-hike in hot weather, your own quiet spring . Drink deep, let yourself be beloved and decide for yourself what you need. Use your native inner strength and goodness to do what they were meant to do. Think of what you are modeling for others if you yourself do not stop.
Well said Dan. Pretty much mirrors my own thoughts and feelings on the subject.
For far too long, decades in fact, so much has been brushed under the organizational rug and has been allowed to remain hidden. Thankfully the pandemic has made this impossible to do now and everything hidden has now been brought to the surface, for everyone to see. So the pandemic is just revealing decades long issues, not creating them so much, as some people believe.
The primary issue is that people have been pushed by expectations that increase each year with a sense of creeping normality until they’ve become completely unrealistic to all but those in leadership positions. For example, my wife, as a school teacher, has found her workload increase to the point that her and her colleagues are facing burnout.
Yet the leadership at her school just “markets” individual mental health practices on one hand as a potential stop gap, while increasing workloads on the other hand, literally in the same breath at times.
What’s truly needed, as you said, is for people to have some breathing room, the time and space to actual think, reflect, and feel like a human being rather than a mindless machine.
But if the leaders don’t provide the critical time and space that everyone needs right now then people will take leadership over their own lives and create it for themselves, as the Great Resignation is already showing.
At the same time, I think about my own actions and how I need to detach and turn off from old patterns that are no longer serving me as well (ie blaming others for actions I see myself doing as well but in a different context). It’s almost like we’re addicted to them, the stability and normalcy of them, even though we’re beginning to recognize how harmful they are to us.
Perhaps it’s just our fear of walking through an ambiguous space of not knowing what to do and a time filled with not feeling in control that holds us back. Or perhaps in relation to that, it’s just our fear that our base needs of wanting to belong and contribute will be shattered if we step into a new paradigm where everything feels like it’s being reset to zero.
Nolind, it’s great to hear from you. Thank you so much for your elegant additions here. Your wife’s experience is truly an example of what I’ve observed, as well — the notion that leaders put out such mixed messageing. Let’s have mental health training while I go ahead and dump on you and run. What kind of management is that?
I was particularly moved by your last paragraph. You accurately spell out the greater dilemma — the deep ambiguity and there risk — of us seeing our own patterns. But, you know, maybe that’s the thing that will save us, too — our capacity to tap our own inner strengths, our capacity to heal ourselves while the weirdness goes on in the world, and maybe because of it. There’s nothing like seeing and thinking for yourself, feeling and having the experience of self-trust coming into the mind, body and heart, acting on that and riding that wave, even when it goes against the System.
Thanks again for your profound reflections, Nolan. All the best to you