Before the Great Resignation There Was the Great Disconnect


Before the Great Resignation There Was the Great DisconnectThere is no doubt that the Great Resignation is occurring. The voluntary resignation rate continues to rise, reaching another record level in November. But how did we get here? Aite-Novarica has observed that the Great Resignation did not emerge out of thin air. The “Great Disconnect” is one of the causes.

The Great Disconnect is revealed by the “role reversal” in many corporate debates. Employees may argue for the improved productivity and higher effectiveness of more flexible work models, while CEOs and HR may argue in favor of the “softer” things like hallway conversations and birthday celebrations. Some employees see hybrid models produce “dual green,” saving both money and energy, consistent with stated corporate goals. CEOs and other corporate leaders may point out building amenities and the cultural benefits of in-person interactions.

This shift in employee-employer relationships has emerged over time. The pandemic, along with demographic shifts, poured gasoline onto a fire that was smoldering under the surface.

Let’s explore two points tied to the disconnect between employees and employers:

  1. Benefits of traditional corporate offices. Working from home, which is really a euphemism for working anywhere but the traditional office, introduces an array of new challenges and stresses. Anyone trying to work with children in their environment or battling with residential internet service providers has had to develop new skills. Despite these challenges, many employees found them a fair trade-off, achieving new flexibility and balance. 

    For many, having more control over their lives is a notable upgrade over working in offices where privacy came at a premium and Zoom-style calls generating background noise was anything but productive. While many appreciated aspects of the office, positive points may have been exaggerated in value, given some of the aforementioned challenges. “The Office” was not popular because it was science fiction. Benefits of traditional offices are a definite disconnect, making a return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo unlikely.

  2. Value of “hallway conversations.” The disconnect here may be especially hard for CEOs and other senior leaders to see, especially because some of the aura of executive positions is defined by the size of an organization. Visibility of that authority is most clearly demonstrated when it is assembled in large-scale gatherings. When CEOs wander the halls, they are engaged by team members who will be upbeat and positive. It is logical to conclude, “This is an invigorating place to work!”

    However, if you are, say, a young technologist cornered daily by “veterans” complaining about how much better things were in a bygone era, the loss of hallway conversations may actually feel like a benefit. There is a strong possibility of a disconnect here, likely exacerbated by different generational views on the relative merits of these informal interactions.

There are other examples of operational disconnects, but these two are instructive. The remedy is to ensure real connection while looking for a new and better balance between competing demands. Reconnection requires actively listening to what employees want today, not what worked in the ancient past—like 2019.

With baby boomers in their final decade before full retirement eligibility and older Gen Xers planning for the same, this is a critical topic. If root causes for the disconnect aren’t identified and addressed, the resignations will continue. To learn more about how financial organizations are addressing disconnects with their employees, please email me at [email protected].