For many corporate leaders and employees, the global pandemic offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reevaluate the role of work in their lives. For those who are part of the Great Resignation, their places of employment came up short. For some, that reevaluation led to a search for a new job. For others, it led to a search for a new career. How did we get here?
A lot of traditional companies are more interested in their balance sheets than the well-being of their employees. These companies concentrate on products, systems, and tasks that directly affect their bottom line. Employees are hired to do a job -- to make a sale, manufacture a widget, or serve a client -- designed to help the company accomplish its revenue goals. In exchange, they receive a paycheck. Whether they are content or not is irrelevant. The relationship is purely transactional.
Traditional leaders and employees are still part of the workforce, and many traditional workers appreciate the fairly predictable routine and balance between their work life and personal life. They have little interest in sharpening their coping skills, understanding the impact of trauma, increasing their self-awareness, or learning how to be a better communicator (at least not at work). They are most comfortable when work requires nothing more from them than to produce results in accordance with their job descriptions.
But that traditional model doesn't fit everyone.
Many leaders and employees who worked for traditional companies before the pandemic were doing something I refer to as "soldiering." When we're soldiering, we keep moving forward, striving to complete whatever tasks lie in front of us. Sometimes that forward-moving behavior is at our own expense, whether that means decreased sleep, limited time with family, or not making time for self-care or stress-reducing activities. Over time, we get used to this level of stress and unhappiness, and it becomes our new normal.
Before the Great Resignation was the Great Awakening.
The global pandemic changed everything about the way we work. One benefit of the pandemic was that it forced us to stop moving.
The stopping forced everyone to move slower.
The stopping allowed everyone to fill the time with other things and thoughts they might not have considered otherwise.
The stopping showed everyone how and why they need to change their priorities.
For many people, that new way of thinking and doing helped them realize that they were soldiering. It gave them time to think about their lifestyles and the central role work plays in their lives. They started asking, "Is that okay? Do I want work to dictate my entire life? Am I happy?" Few individuals questioned their lifestyles until the pandemic gave them time to do so. It never occurred to them that their lives could be different.
The stopping made them realize that they want to slow down, reduce their stress, and take better care of themselves.
The stopping helped them see that they want to enjoy life more, spend more time with loved ones, and hang out with their children, the little people in their lives who kept growing up while they were at work, soldiering.
The stopping reminded them that they don't want to give up more of their time, whether for travel, hobbies, or enjoying time with family and friends.
The stopping reminded them that the quality of their lives matters.
The pandemic offered everyone a new way to evaluate their relationship to work.
While employees were slowing down and figuring out how to navigate their families, quarantine, and remote work, leaders were navigating additional uncharted territory. Suddenly, you could no longer gauge your team's emotional state simply by observing them in the office. You could no longer walk the floor to know whether your team was working together effectively or if something was out of alignment. You could no longer rely on visual cues and informal conversations to keep you abreast of how your team was functioning.
Some leaders quickly realized that they had to be intentional in what, when, where, and how they communicated to their team. They learned to reach out and check in with their team, not just about work but also to see how they were coping under these new circumstances. Many of these leaders found that their team valued even the smallest attempts to interact, reach out, and connect with them. Over time, these leaders cast aside the old transactional leadership model in favor of a relational leadership model.
But many leaders struggled to make this transition. Those who did not make an effort to connect and express care or concern for their employees are seeing the cumulative results of that omission. Regardless of why they failed to reach out, their employees noticed. And as they stopped soldiering, they looked back on the years spent working for a company that didn't seem to care about them, during the worst of times, and decided it wasn't worth it.
Forging a new way forward.
Everyone needs to hear a kind word now and then, especially during difficult times. Everyone wants to be acknowledged.
Two Key Elements of the Relationship Protocol communication model are required for all healthy relationships and companies: commitment and turning towards one another. When you reach out to a member of your team and tell that employee that you will support them during this difficult time, that is commitment. Whether you offer your team flexible work schedules, new computers or office equipment, or new internal channels to increase communication amongst staff doesn't matter. It's the gesture that builds trust by demonstrating care and concern.
And when you shift your thinking, turn towards your employees, and ask thoughtful questions to understand their circumstances better, your team feels connected to you and valued by the company. This act shows your team that you are all in this together.
Being kind doesn't cost anything other than your time, but it makes a huge difference to your team.
Communication is the key factor to determining whether your company will thrive in the coming years or if it will fall prey to the Great Resignation. We hear it time and again: The success of any company depends on its people. You must acknowledge any missteps and demonstrate that you care about your team and their circumstances. That's what leadership is truly all about.