I write from a position of privilege in that I am white. I am also a woman of a certain age which means I’ve had my share of misogynistic bosses and HR personnel who had to look the other way because, at the time, verbal abuse and overtones of sexual harassment were de rigueur. I also grew up in a middle class home with a mother who strained to be more and a father who found solace in alcohol. I have spent plenty of time doing work I’ve not really wanted to do, working more hours than I felt I should for little or no compensation and done so because I believed I had no choice if I was to keep my job, if I was to advance into whatever might be a career.
I’m at the point now that, quite frankly, I don’t really care about many things. I care about doing good work. I care about doing well. I care about being content in what I do. I care about trying to make a difference. But I don’t care to put up with anyone else’s nonsense any longer.
As I read about the Great Resignation, it’s clear the views are incredibly varied. Sure, the people who choose to leave their jobs are putting a strain on those left behind. That’s always been true. What seems to be less true is the ease with which that individual might be replaced. It is also clear the pandemic taught many of us a lot of things, many of which were and are unexpected.
Among those things, many organizations learned that employees don’t have to be at desks or in cubicles in a central location for specific hours. They also learned they don’t have to move employees to a central location and there could be value in having some employees in locations other than wherever the headquarters might be. I suspect even the idea of having a headquarters or “main office” is likely to change.
Education has been writhing and churning under the weight of mandates and expectations from federal, state, and local governments as well as parents. Even before critical race theory became one of the most misunderstood theories on the planet, teachers were already wrestling with trauma-informed instruction and cultural relevance on top of math and literacy mandates and expectations compounded and confounded by parental expectations and misunderstandings about what teachers can actually do in 48 minutes or less when there are over 20 nearly equally needy students in the room.
I have never before heard of so many teachers who are, barely two months into the school year, done. Just done. Done with kids and their attitudes. Done with parents. Done with administrators who are caught between several rocks and hard places. Done with trying to design lesson plans with all kinds of options because there is no way of knowing how many kids will be in the room and how many will have to try to join the class virtually.
The turbulence in education is bound to affect companies of all types and all sizes. That ripple effect is as inevitable as the disturbances on water when a pebble is dropped only there is nothing calm about this water. In fact, the pebble probably serves to amplify the disturbances.
People want to do work that is meaningful and appreciated, they want to be fairly compensated, and they want to work with and for people who aren’t jerks. Apparently that’s a lot to ask for, and it shouldn’t be.
Years ago I had an employee who came to me to complain that I never thanked her. She said she’d noticed that I also expressed gratitude to those who worked extra hours or came through on a project with a demanding schedule and probably demanding customer, but I never thanked her. I remember thinking that it was absurd to thank someone for doing their job, but then I got to thinking about the fact that she was always on time, she was always responsible, she always did her work even if not necessarily exceptionally, and she got along well with the rest of the team and others.
It’s easy to ignore those folks. The ones who quietly do their jobs and do them competently, even well. They’re not the troublesome employees and they’re not the superstars. They are the ones, however, who keep the engines of commerce running. I could stretch that metaphor but I won’t because I’m sure you get it. And so, periodically, I made a point of thanking her for being there and doing her job conscientiously and well.
She taught me to be grateful for all of my team members and to make sure they felt appreciated. There was little I could do about compensation, but I could make sure I wasn’t a jerk.
Based on limited insight and a bunch of reading, I think the Great Resignation is an important shift and that people are tired of unreasonable expectations, a lack of civility, and a lack of appreciation. I think some people will tolerate less compensation if they are valued and if they believe the boss supports them. Whether or not bosses understand this is a very different story.