Framing is how we package and communicate complex thoughts and ideas to the world around us. How one chooses to frame a particular viewpoint can influence how other people perceive it and converse about it. This means that how we say something can be far more impactful than what we say.
In May 2021, Anthony Klotz, associate professor of organizational behavior at University College London’s UCL School of Management, coined the term "The Great Resignation" to describe the trend of people leaving their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic by framing the conversation from the perspective of the organization, and not the employee. This term has made way for other similarly framed buzz terms like "The Great Reshuffle" and "Quiet Quitting," which puts the onus on the employee for leaving, rather than on the organization for not giving them a reason to stay. In this way, organizations are perceived as the victims whereby the exiting employee is doing something to their employer, rather than for themselves. We must reframe the conversation from the employee perspective, otherwise we are undermining their experience and demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of what it truly means to resign.
A common definition for the word resign, and the one we most associate with the employee/employer relationship is, "to voluntarily leave a job." However, resign can also mean, "to give up," "concede defeat," "surrender oneself," or "accept that something was undesirable but inevitable." Given that the argument is that people are leaving their job because they are unhappy, experiencing wage stagnation, limited career advancement opportunities, hostile work environments, and inflexible remote work policies, then I argue that not leaving is the true resignation.
During the summer of 2020, I was in a place where I no longer felt fulfilled or even happy, my personal and professional growth was being stifled, I was being asked to compromise my values, and I felt commoditized. As a result, I left. Did I concede defeat? Did I give up? Did I surrender? Did I accept something was undesirable but inevitable? Is that why I left? Did I resign?
In fact, quite the opposite is true. I was unwilling to surrender to my undesirable reality. I wanted more, I deserved more, and I was not going to settle for less. I saw the road laid out before me and neither the journey nor the destination was appealing. Choosing to stay would have been my "Great Resignation."
As I found myself unemployed during the height of the pandemic, without any job prospects, I had two choices. I could either nourish my bank account or nourish my soul. In times of unemployment, modern convention dictates that the correct course of action would be to go back to school, add something to my resume that might make me more competitive in the job market, a more desirable commodity. I had spent too many years making decisions based on the financial benefits that might be seeded as a result. I decided that how I lived my life was more important than how I funded it.
Rather than follow convention, I chose myself over my career. I put my job search on the back burner. I dedicated my time, money, and energy to something that I had always been interested in but had never given myself the opportunity to explore, building electric guitars. Though I had played guitars, I had never built one, and the most woodworking experience that I had was when I built a banana tree in shop class over 20 years ago, but I was determined to learn. It was not an easy journey.
As an adult, learning something new can be extremely hard. To be good at something, you must first accept that you are going to be bad at it, at least at first. To make an electric guitar, I had to be bad at a lot of things, all at the same time. Over the following months, with literal blood, sweat, and tears, I was able to create a product that people wanted to buy, and more importantly, it made me a better, more resilient person. I had not only learned a new tangible skill, but I had learned more life skills than I would have had I taken the more conventional career-focused learning path. And ultimately, when the career opportunities started to appear, I was ready for them in a way that I was not 9 months earlier.
When I look back on that time in my life, what did I do? I re-evaluated, I rethought, I reassessed, I reexamined, and I revised my thinking on what was important to me and, ultimately, I reengaged in my life. I put myself first and focused on what I needed to feel fulfilled. I was able to consider the type of life I wanted both personally and professionally. I became a more actualized person.
What does all this mean? We need to reframe the conversation. People are not resigning, they are choosing more, they are choosing themselves. They are redefining their values and finding themselves in the process. What is really happening is "The Great Rebirth," as people are taking charge of what is important to them and telling their employers, "I need more, I deserve more, and I’m not going to settle for less."
This reframe creates opportunities for organizations to explore new ways to engage and invigorate their employees who are seeking meaning and purpose in their work life. Instead of seeing people as commodities to be refined only as tools, helping them develop as whole human beings could also provide growth opportunities that spark creativity and drive innovation. This "great rebirth" is not about losing entitled talent, it is a chance to embrace a renaissance that will allow us to shed the industrial mindset once and for all and truly modernize the workplace.