Resignation

A strength overdone becomes a weakness. Too much resilience can make us fragile. Maybe instead of breaking, it is time to talk.

Winning does not tempt him.
His growth is: to be the deeply defeated
by ever greater things.

Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Edward Snow).

The Great Resignation

Tempers are wearing thin. Frustrations are running high. Purpose and passion feel distant as the days roll on relentlessly similar.

I’m frustrated by discussion of the Great Resignation, an anticipated wave of coming resignations. Employers are presented as the victims of this Covid inspired act of their employees. What if there was something we could do to change the inevitable? Would you be prepared to discuss it?

Covid lockdowns and changing work might be a catalyst but it is unlikely to be the reason. People are resigning or planning to resign because many businesses have handled a crisis environment poorly. In particular, they have ignored it and stiffled discussion of how to better address the challenges. Action to make needed change has not been prompt enough.

Too many people I know felt that pressures increased and work expanded into their life through the Covid period. Because business was hard and stressful, interpersonal and business pressures increased. Too few organisations even considered these implications, let alone open up conversations on how work can be more rewarding and sustainable. Where change is needed, it is not coming fast enough. Relying on resilience alone made these work relationships brittle.

My door
opened on the new unknown
I threw stones

At the houses of starlets,
then ran off, colorless
into the shadows.

Jon Anderson, The Monument to Resignation

After delivering the capability to work from home, many organisations went back to focusing on when furloughs should be triggered, whether bonuses be cancelled and how else the bottom line could be improved. Those managers who had partners to provide care or older children gave little consideration to those employees struggling with younger children, those coping with grief, caring obligations or illness and those alone. Employees are not considering resignation because of their disloyalty.

We have stretched the resilience of our people by not discussing the real manifold pressures. My personal realisation came this week at the end of yet another busy day interrupted by a 5.9 earthquake. As the stress responses welled up and overcame me at the end of that day I realised that perhaps I had been unwise to roll on resiliently. I hadn’t listened to my own body until late in the day.

Dear Colleagues, now these years are filed
in the infinite oceans of bureaucracy.
Everything bleaches or fades. In other words,
goodbye. Sometimes it’s possible to walk,
although you’ve been told inside the oyster
shell of your heart there is no soul.

Jehane Dubrow, Fairytale with Laryngitis and a Resignation Letter

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. 
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

These pressures in our organisations are not new. Engagement has been an issue for years. We have ignored the pressures and responded with resilience training, mindfulness and more employee communication. We pushed the breaking point a little further out. A pandemic has pushed us beyond that new marker. We pushed ourselves into Hemingway’s realm of “gradually, then suddenly”.

Albert O Hirschmann’s classic treatise, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, examines a range of consumer, employee and political relationships from an economic and political perspective. Hirschmann’s point is that exit (not purchasing, quitting or resigning) and voice (as exemplified by speaking up to provide feedback or make change) are alternatives. If we want to reduce the number of consumers, employees and others leaving, we need new conversations to hear their issues and we need new action as a result of those conversations. Community can be a key part of coping.

For many years, I have been a passionate advocate of enterprise social media because it both enables employee voice and employees ability to solve their own challenges collaboratively. Platforms like Yammer or Facebook at Work can create open enterprise wide conversations from the bottom-up, from the quiet corners and from the agitator to start change for the better. These platforms themselves are not enough, politics, power, decision making, inclusion and the allocation of resources (ie all the forms of power) within organisations will be incredibly influential countervailing forces. Hence the need to consider psychological safety, engagement, participation, respect, ability to make change and other elements in the implementation of any social network in an organisational context.

In recent years, these platforms have been captured to some degree by organisational communicators looking to refresh the declining influence of traditional broadcast channels like email, video an the intranet in new ways. The products seeing new markets have focused on this top-down opportunity and the endorsement it brings. Often, this official endorsement comes with a desire to discourage the messiness and dissent of the bottom-up voice and to ensure that employee action remains within the tightly constrained world of the organisation chart. Power does what power does. At the same time the rise of chat channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams has returned the focus to the immediate, the urgent and the private group discussions within teams, rather than across the breadth of our organisations. We have started to lose the domain of the voices for change.

Our new world of work in a pandemic pushes employees beyond the organisation chart. They are working harder than ever in more roles than ever. Give them the voice and the tools to make change. Provide employees with the support to make work better. The alternative is to wish them well in their next roles.

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