The Future of Work – The Great Unveiling

Tom GibbonsComplexity, Future of Work, Leadership, Organization Development, Uncertainty2 Comments

As I have interacted with people over the past months, one consistent topic tends to emerge; the phenomena of people leaving their current jobs.  Labeled as the ‘great resignation’ it seems almost every organization has felt the impact.

The great resignation is a result, a consequence of something, it is not just randomly happening.  What that something can be described as, is the great unveiling, due to the pandemic, of so many unneeded, frustrating and damaging management practices.

As so many people extended their unexpected virtual working environments from weeks into months into years we discovered we could quite effectively do our jobs without referring to our job descriptions and the ‘behavioral guidelines’ attached to them.  We discovered that the performance management system was no more than an exercise in propping up the compensation system.  We discovered that when budgets went out the window we still moved on and found ways to focus on business continuity. We discovered meetings did not need to be daily time wasters. We redefined culture, engagement, teamwork and what working relationship meant. We discovered our bosses weren’t nearly as important as we (or they) thought they were. And in too many unfortunate cases we discovered that our bosses had not wanted to discover the above and resorted to the worst forms of management practice, abusive power plays.

What was also unveiled was the real purpose of what organizations have to be; viable economic entities. Without being a viable economic entity, organizations don’t exist.  What they do, their people, their mission, their impact does not matter if they are not economically viable.

So as all this has been unveiled, one of the consequences is the great resignation.

Yet much of the conversation about changing this consequence is focused on the same old and worn out pattern of management practice; do the same things better. Do your best to put the veil back on, update your performance management system and get on with things.  And more people leave.

I have written extensively on this topic of challenging organizational theory and practice, but here I want to add another dimension.  Not about the organization, but those who have left their organizations; those whose veil has been lifted, they didn’t like what they saw and left.

I suspect many of those that have left did so with good logic and good hopes.  They were moving away from something not liked and toward something better.  I also suspect that the something better, over time, will not be that much different.  Even a 4 day work week or working from home just gets you away from the craziness for longer, it doesn’t change it.

But this is not an exercise in despair and hopelessness. We may be a generation from organizational theory being seriously challenged but we can be very realistic about what organizations are, what they need to be and how we can change things locally, in our small organizations and in our small parts of our larger organizations.

We can unveil the craziness, look at it honestly, play the game where necessary and realize it’s a game, and change the game or the rules where we can.

The great unveiling is the primary cause of the great resignation. The great resignation is not the answer, it’s one consequence with a short shelf life.  What can we do to find better solutions? The first step is to honestly look at what has been unveiled in our organizations.

Author – Tom

2 Comments on “The Future of Work – The Great Unveiling”

  1. So true, Tom. I have just resumed work after 9 months of maternity leave (my second one). I realized that those months off right after dealing with many of the unveilings you mention also helped me see things with new lenses and reassess priorities based on my core value system. I couldn’t have articulated my current mantra better than this: “look at it honestly, play the game where necessary and realize it’s a game, and change the game or the rules where we can.”

    1. So good to hear from you Ludmila and thanks for the comment! Also congratulations on your new arrival! It’s a slow journey in changing the game or the rules in our organizations but it is so important. It helps to make our organizations better for our kids! It’s nice to be on the same journey with you!

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