A Tale of Three Resignations

Image of people leaving workplace

Image of people leaving workplaceAfter any significant life event, it’s normal to gain a new perspective and make major life changes. What’s unique about this year is the world went through that significant life event together as we battled a global pandemic. As the workforce enters into a new version of normal, more and more individuals are pursuing career changes as they reflect on the past year. In the past 2 weeks, three of my friends have submitted their resignations. Each of these individuals are successful, mid-career professionals who were relatively happy with their employer/career before the pandemic.

These are their stories:

  1. Marie has worked for an architectural design firm for over 10 years. She is well-respected and has consistently been promoted to higher levels over the years. She enjoys working with her colleagues and values the relationship she has with her boss. In 2018, if you asked Marie how long she was planning to stay with her company, she would have said at least another 10 years. But last week she resigned. Before the pandemic, she rarely worked from home. She enjoyed the culture in her office and believed that being in-person was critical for effective communication and collaboration. And while the transition to remote life was a challenge for her initially, she eventually grew to love it. Instead of losing two hours of her day to a commute in heavy traffic, she now reads more and can exercise or meditate before work. When she received word that she would be required to return to the office by July, she reached out to her boss to ask for an exception. She explained that she had become more mentally and physically healthy while working remotely than she’d ever been. She also explained that she was surprised how easily she has been able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues while working remotely, so she no longer sees value in being in the office full-time. When her request to continue working from home was denied, she contacted a headhunter and received a better offer from a competitor within two weeks. Her employer counter-offered with an option to work remotely part-time. She declined.

For Marie, while she enjoyed her work, her boss, and her colleagues, the importance of her mental and physical health outweighed any value that being in-person in the office could provide. By the time her employer realized how strongly she felt, she had already found a new job.

2. For Jarrod, the experience was different. During the pandemic, his organization struggled financially. For the business’s health, they instituted a 20% reduction in pay for four months and stopped matching 401k contributions. The reduction in pay forced Jarrod to adjust his lifestyle. He stopped ordering takeout, canceled unnecessary subscriptions, and curbed his online shopping habit. Once his company reinstated 100% pay, Jarrod realized that he hadn’t considered leaving his job out of fear of taking a pay cut. He had always considered changing careers but knew he’d take a short-term hit on his salary and was too afraid to make the change. The short-term reduction in pay showed Jarrod that he was more than capable of surviving on a lower salary with better budgeting, so he resigned to pursue a more fulfilling career.

3. Finally, surviving the pandemic made Mischa realize she lacked a healthy work-life balance. While she had always worked from home, she never worked an 8-hour day. She frequently worked late hours and weekends but mentally justified the hours because she enjoyed the flexibility working from home provided. As her company laid off several team members, Mischa took on more work, which resulted in even longer working hours. In July, she was diagnosed with Covid-19 and experienced a long road to recovery. While her employer was understanding and gave her appropriate time off, the experience made her question if the stress involved in her heavy workload was worth the paycheck. Without a new job lined up, she resigned without a second thought. She said the tipping point was her first thought after learning she was positive for COVID-19. She thought, “I don’t have time to be sick right now. I have too much work to do.” And then she thought, “Will I ever have time to be sick? Will I ever have time to take a break?” That line of thought and her COVID recovery time gave her the space to re-evaluate the value she’d placed on her career.

While each of these individuals left their employer for a different reason, they all share a common experience. In many ways, surviving a global pandemic is traumatic, and it forces you to re-evaluate your values and priorities. While you may not be able to meet all of your employees’ new needs, it is important to check in with them to identify what has changed in their world. It may provide you an opportunity to better understand what motivates them to stay or will drive them to resign. Open honest communication, empathy, and flexibility will be your best tools in resisting the Great Resignation in your team.