The Great Resignation: An HR Problem or a Revolution?

Forbes recently published an article titled “What Leaders Can Learn From the Great Resignation” outlining some reflections on what leaders can do to attract and keep talent. TLDR; Their insights boiled down to the following:

1. Create belonging: This is important for underrepresented groups at work who may overtly or covertly cover aspects of themselves, leading to code switching self-closeting. While some people choose to keep an appropriate professional boundary with coworkers, can they still bring who they are to that setting if they chose to? (e.g., bringing a partner to a holiday party)

2. Pivot away from business as usual: Recognize that unreasonable rigidity and the inability to be flexible drives people away, especially for structures that are only set in stone because of tradition.

3. Create a culture of caring: It’s important to be vulnerable and feel safe to seek out one’s manager for support without fear of reprisal or shame. Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead validates that vulnerability doesn’t just belong in the realm of personal relationships, but that it also impacts people’s ability to take risks and be autonomously creative.

Therapist’s Take

As a psychotherapist who’s trained in social work (grounded in the philosophy that healing and growth is both an internal and external process that necessitates being in the right environment and relationships to thrive), my primary reaction (or hope) regarding the Great Resignation is that it’s more than just an HR problem as framed above. Rather, I hope that it’s a revolution of workers claiming their power and voice, especially as the discourse around unionizing more industries grows. It’s less of a matter of politics and more of a hope informed by my profession’s person-in-environment systemic perspective.

While having more policies around inclusivity, equity, mental health, and managers as mentors is important, this movement also points us to larger systemic issues. Some of the more visible ones include the diminishing of living wages, the power dynamics created by employer-tied healthcare (now considered a luxury that can be snatched at any time with the rise of gig-work), a culture of rewarding burnout (Americans notoriously underuse vacation time), and predatory housing prices across major metropolitan areas. It’s not as simple as “just moving” like some of the disconnected financial gurus may advise.

When people struggle to meet their basic needs, they also lose or dilute access to the parts of the psyche that allow access to creativity, spontaneity, play, and accessing the so-called “higher rungs” of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the ones that are intrapersonal (internal) and relational in nature, the ones that allow people more time and resources for the things that give them personal meaning, and the ones that allow a more multi-faceted relationship with their identity beyond the trappings of a job title or career ladder.

In the early days of psychoanalysis, Erik Erikson and Sigmund Freud were said to have captured the nature of psychological thriving as the ability “to love and work”. While there’s nothing wrong with striving to focus one’s potentialities in this direction (after all, I’m basically writing this in a professional capacity if we want to get meta), even those two aspects of life need the element of play and spontaneity that comes with having more access to our humanity. We access more of our humanity in the form of more free time, in the form of supportive workplaces (supervisors with the heart of mentors), the ability to explore interests and hobbies, and the ability to have relationships inside and outside the walls of an organization.

Image credit: airpix/aboblist.com from Flickr. Creative commons license.

Published by Raymond Batista, LCSW

Psychodynamic and humanistic clinical social worker and educator.