A record number of 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, and more than 40% of those currently employed are actively job hunting. This phenomenon, coined The Great Resignation, has business leaders and academics alike pondering its root causes and searching for potential remedies. At its core, The Great Resignation stems from something quite simple: the pandemic provided people with a pause – time and space to rethink the purpose of both their work and life. The conclusion for many is that going back to business as usual is simply not an option. This appears to be as true for executives as for people on the frontlines and is particularly prevalent for people who are mid-career.
As I see it, the Great Resignation has been a long time coming, but was accelerated during the pandemic. The psychological contract between employees and employers hasn‘t been healthy for decades, perhaps best evidenced by Gallup‘s research that year after year finds a mere third of employees is engaged at work .
When I think back to my early career in corporate America in the 1990s, I had countless conversations with high achievers who questioned the impact of their careers. I came to know many on the brink of burn-out and some who were beyond saving. Only a few found the courage to quit, but I noticed that women were more likely to leave successful careers behind. This trend was coined in the early 2000s as the „Opt Out Revolution.“ At that time, the news media posited that women were leaving their careers for the „mommy track.“ Maybe there was some truth to that as care infrastructure was (and still is) lacking in America.
That explanation never resonated with me, not even after I became a mother of two myself. Rather, what I came to discover was that pivoting from a corporate career to becoming an entrepreneur allowed me to better align work and values. It was also an opportunity to be in service of the greater good. While being an entrepreneur certainly requires one to work hard, entrepreneurs can shape their organizational culture to provide more meaning and better support the integration of work and life.
This human need to align one‘s work with one‘s values and the desire to better integrate work and life are at the heart of The Great Resignation. There is a widespread awakening underway. Now more than ever, people are in tune with their human need for meaning in work and life. A return to work life as it was, whether that be long commutes, long hours, or long meetings driven by office politics, is not an exciting option. That ‚old work way‘ showed little respect for the wellbeing of people, communities and the very nature our lives depend on.
Organizations that want to attract, retain and regenerate an increasingly burned out, but enlightened workforce, need to move beyond helping employees survive during these challenging times and start empowering people to thrive. And while much of the conversation about the future of work centers around professionals who are more often able to work from home, the data shows that expectations are shifting as much, if not more, for employees on the frontlines of healthcare and services. In those areas, workers are now less willing to give up their own wellbeing for jobs where they face little respect and less than a living wage.
To meet this moment that calls for regeneration, we need a New Leadership Playbook. This Playbook challenges conformity in leadership and sets out to transform business culture by placing humanity at the heart of its purpose, principles and strategy.
When I co-founded an investment firm in 2007, I had lost faith in the way finance was conducted, with too little care for people and planet. We had a vision to incorporate feminine values into finance, and set out to create an organization that placed both personal and planetary sustainability at the heart of our strategy. Setting up a private equity fund with a gender and ESG lens provided me with purpose beyond that of the typical corporate career and also the opportunity to create a culture where the definition of success was broader.
We came to discover that many professional women in finance shared our sentiments — and some were even willing to give up successful careers to join our little start-up. When our investment firm survived the financial crisis in 2008, and went on to thrive, it also attracted many men looking for a more sustainable approach to both work and life. This experience ultimately encouraged me to dedicate my life to catalyzing the systemic transformation we need in this world, a quest I now serve as the CEO of The B Team.
I‘d venture to say that this transformation is under way and has been further accelerated by a shift in power, where employees increasingly shape the business agenda by choosing where to work, who to do business with and where and how to invest their money. We have a long way to go to realize a more inclusive economy, where shared prosperity on a healthy planet is our reality. But few business leaders would argue that the solution to The Great Resignation and the many challenges we now face is to double down on a broken system, the one that has driven inequality and failed to prioritise inclusion. In fact, most are hard at work in rethinking the future of work and how they can unlock human potential in the new normal. One thing is clear: there is no future for business on a burning planet and few opportunities for people and society with a broken social contract.
The pandemic can serve as our wake-up call, that is if we consciously choose to see it as such. It can help us to seize and meet this moment with brave actions, radically transforming the way we lead and do business. Business can neither survive, nor thrive, without attracting, retaining and regenerating talent, nor can it go on to create jobs and growth on a dead planet. Organizations that want to avoid falling victim to the Great Resignation must place the wellbeing of people and planet at the heart of their agenda.
The B Team‘s New Leadership Playbook uplifts stories, insights, questions and resources from business leaders and companies who are choosing to lead with brave actions at this critical time for humanity. We don‘t think we have all the answers, but we are certain that our ability to attract, retain and regenerate talent is key to unlocking the power of human potential. Our times demand that we do nothing less than unlock leadership in everyone, everywhere.
In the race to rebalance our economy for people & planet, we need business leaders committed to systems change & an inclusive economy. To achieve this, The B Team has launched the New Leadership Playbook: a collection of stories, insights and resources on 21st-century business leadership—challenges and all. It’s time to unlock a generation of leaders equipped to drive concrete action to deliver shared prosperity on a healthy planet. Our children and future generations are depending on us.
Explore the New Leadership Playbook at www.newleadershipplaybook.org