Leadership Boost: Understanding “the restart of the workplace”

Is the Great Resignation real? A colleague posted this question on his LinkedIn feed and within minutes, over 4,500 people had responded; all with a resounding yes! Now that question is probably swirling through your mind and probably causing more questions. That same curiosity has led to the research and understanding that The Great Resignation is part of a larger conversation: The Workplace Reboot.

Employers and employees are all trying to figure out how the workplace got to this point, whether it is just a pandemic and, more importantly, what comes next. Workplace Reboot takes a holistic view of the past, present and what the future may look like through:

  • The great awakening
  • The great resignation
  • The big shot
  • The great reinvention
  • The great mix

You are probably wondering why so many “greats” if there is nothing wonderful about some of them. This is because these states / events are significant in terms of magnitude and impact for you and your workplace.

The great awakening

Americans didn’t wake up one day and just decided to quit at the same time. Many factors and events led to this point. Before the pandemic, the industry faced what was called the war for talent. There were vacancies, but hiring managers felt that there were not enough candidates with the skills, abilities or culture to fill them. Why? Because many of the candidates who could fill these roles were not doing the moves and those who would be doing the moves had not been properly trained and therefore lacked skills and abilities. It could be traced back to the Great Recession, when companies laid off many companies, slashed their training, learning and development budgets, preferring to let a generation find out for themselves.

This resulted in a decade where employees began to feel that their employers didn’t value them or wanted to invest in them. This led to hiring managers, or those on their teams, being overworked because they were doing their jobs in addition to the one to three open roles they had on their team. This resulted in a workplace culture that was once made up of ‘lifers’ and ‘jumpers’ because the feeling was that if employers wouldn’t be loyal then why should the employee be.

So what does all of this have to do with Le Grand Réveil? All. Before the pandemic, you had a workforce that worked long hours, having to choose between job responsibilities and time spent with family. They did so knowing that they could lose their jobs regardless of their performance due to budget cuts, resulting in economic insecurity. Once these employees were all sent to work from home due to the pandemic, they had a chance to reflect on their lives and many asked, “is that all there is?” They realized they existed and wanted a better place to work and live. A 2020 LinkedIn study found that employees want work aligned with their purpose and values, linked to positive social, environmental and gender impact, and which offers community, collaborative and personalized learning experiences. Wow, did you hear that? Learning experiences. In summary, employees want to align with their beliefs, ownership, interconnection, be heard and be where their contribution is valued and matters.

With time to be introspective, to wake up, employees decided it was time to make a change they had put off or were too overworked to even think about it. This inaugurated The Great Resignation.

The great resignation

Can you imagine if 41% of your team decided to quit this year? Where would that put your business? Wiley conducted a study this year which found that 41% of individual contributors and executives are considering quitting their jobs. This is in addition to the millions who have already done so. In August 2021, 4.3 million people left their jobs, the largest part being in the restaurant business. This has an impact on all aspects of the restaurant industry.

If you consider what was shared in The Great Awakening, you’ll notice that money isn’t the main factor in quitting. Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at Texas A&M, who first coined the phrase The Great Resignation, says this is due to many epiphanies linked to the pandemic.

Considering this, what epiphanies become evident to your business? If there was a talent war before the pandemic, now there is a talent crisis. Add to that the number of women who have had to leave the workforce to care for children who have gone overnight from the classroom to the living room to the home school, and you not only have a big resignation, you also have the female recession.

The big shot

Think back to that time last year. The employees who run your factories, fill your delivery orders, stock your shelves, run your customer services, and drive the trucks were all considered essential and presented as heroes. They made this nation and these businesses work, making sure American families were fed. Politics aside, those same essential employees now face The Great Firing.

With mandates and OSHA looming, many employers and families face tough decisions. This only exacerbates the talent crisis and the shortages the industry faces. For employees who have reasons not to take on mandates, some of whom have years in their companies, the understanding that they will be fired draws on their emotions and thoughts of economic insecurity. Is it improving?

The great reinvention

Many sectors are optimistic that the situation will improve, and doing so will require reinventing. Just as individuals wake up, employers need to wake up to how they can run their businesses and teams differently. Habits form in about 120 days, and the new habit of working from home instead of driving to work took about 610 days to set in. Will you reinvent a workforce that continues to work from home or becomes hybrid?

Companies are reinventing that and thinking about what a hyper-hybrid model might look like. Employee performance plays a role in this. In a McKinsey 2021 study, it was determined that during the pandemic, around 50% of the companies surveyed saw their performance increase. The rest saw no significant change or decrease.

Keeping performance in mind while reimagining can mean how you train your team or how you value your silver workforce. Could they contribute in different ways than in the past? What about job sharing? What technology could you adopt to enable better communication? Reinventing opens up avenues that you might never have considered before, because you didn’t have to or didn’t want to. It’s safe to say that maybe now is the time to allow yourself to reinvent yourself, because there is no turning back.

The great mix

There has been a lot of talk over the past 20 months about resilience. By definition, resilience returns to an original state. The changes experienced during these 20 months have changed the original state, so we are talking more about evolution. By re-imagining, you don’t have to go back to where you were. Marshall Goldsmith declares that “what brought you here will not get you here”.

There will be a The Great Shuffle between industries, companies and roles. Leaders will need to develop new habits to be successful. They will need to think about how to reuse or redefine roles while valuing each person’s contributions and understanding what motivates them. Someone who was your best salesperson before the pandemic may have awakened to wanting to serve in a different way in the future. Ask the questions and connect with your teams and future employees beyond the superficial questions asked in the past. Knowing that The Great Shuffle is happening and will happen, reimagine what it may mean for you and your business and how you will grow.

We are living in a pivotal time that will define what the future of your business and your role will look like. Knowing that this reboot won’t be as easy as hitting Ctrl-alt-delete, what magnitude are you going to reinvent and step into?


Laura Bonich is the founder and CEO of The leaders’ lighthouse. Laura has over 20 years of leadership and sales experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry with brands such as Burger King, HJ Heinz, Campbell’s and more. His areas of expertise are leadership development, solution-based selling and emotional intelligence. Laura also hosts the Nourishing Talk podcast, published on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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