Heart-Based Resignations – Here to Stay?

In the pandemic’s wake, we saw a wave of resignations — a workforce trend that came to be known as the “Great Resignation.” During the peak of this industry-agnostic trend, employees at varying levels, from entry-level associates to senior leaders and even CEOs, evaluated what they were doing with their careers. In turn, many chose to leave what they might have otherwise considered a perfectly fine job in favor of something better aligned with their skill set, talents, desire, potential and/or personal values.

For those following workforce trends, it has now been said that we have entered the “Big Stay” — characterized as a cautious period amid some economic uncertainty in which some employees who contemplated an exit (or participated in the exodus and found new roles) may settle in for the foreseeable future.

Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics can confirm that job quits have fallen below pre-pandemic levels, those of us in the search trenches can also confirm that when the gut speaks, the heart listens. While more common in core pandemic months, our team takes calls each week from senior-level leaders who have resigned from long-tenured roles — without another job in hand. These leaders are seeking a new challenge, a new culture, an opportunity to make a true impact.

Every call starts the same … the now free-agent leader offers up a fast acknowledgement or perhaps disclaimer out of the gate: “I made a conscious decision to resign without another job …”; “I decided to make the leap…”; “It was a big decision, I was there a long time. I didn’t make this decision lightly.”

In every case, we are assured that if money was the primary object of desire, each leader would have stayed. Similarly, even if the title they held or the visibility they had within the organization was compelling at the time, those once coveted tenets of an employee value prop simply weren’t sufficient.

Whether it’s about making meaningful use of the next chapter of one’s career or a heart-based pivot away from misaligned cultural values, these powerful exits reflect a strong desire to make a tangible impact, to lead authentically, and or to align personal values with organizational culture. And, this is a trend we believe is here to stay. While the Big Stay may ease turnover concerns, the front lines of recruitment continue to suggest that organizations would be well-advised to lean into what certain senior leaders are saying with these decisions.

We’ve always seen a healthy dose of senior-level leaders giving back in a final chapter of their careers, but the heart-based decisions we stand witness to at this time are being made by key leaders and senior-level individual contributors in the thick of their careers — presumably in primary earning years, where one might expect them to make career decisions based on maximizing the compensation package. Compensation and benefits will always be table stakes, however, those considerations cede the top spot to others — cultural alignment, authentic leadership, transparency, and an ability to make a visible impact, to add intentional value to an organization through talent gained and experience earned.

What are the implications for employers? For now, we’ve identified two primary ones:

  1. You must continue to engage and calibrate. Even if your current leadership team seems solidly engaged and loyally satisfied in current roles, a growing number of senior leaders have managed their personal finances well over the years, allowing them to make a heart-based decision when alignment is lost. If cultural values are misaligned with their own, if they’re unable to lead authentically, if their talent isn’t being fully utilized in a meaningful manner — they may look to start a new chapter elsewhere.
  2. Authenticity and transparency matter. Are your values more than mere words on a page? Does your company’s culture match the as-advertised culture in its job postings? If so, you will be well positioned to add aligned talent to your organization. If your recruitment process mirrors the authenticity and transparency within your organization, employees seeking the same will self-identify, and, you may just find yourself on the winning side of the battle for talent — in any environment.

Culture still matters. The Big Stay may be in motion, yet it’s clear that the hearts of some senior leaders are still beating strong for alignment, craving a home that enables them to serve in a manner they miss, have lost, and or were convinced didn’t really exist.

In the end, heart-based resignations are not all that complex — they boil down to pretty simple alignment. Today’s leaders are making conscious, brave, thoughtful, and intentional decisions to set loyalty aside in favor of finding organizations with which they feel better aligned. They are more willing to listen to what they’ve defined as an inner reality and simply less willing to stay in positions of misalignment than in years past.

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