Is the Great Resignation the Tip of the Iceberg?

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By Suzy Forrest, guest contributor

From personal experiences to corporate tendencies, I have been invaded by the sensation that we are in the midst of a major social transformation still to be acknowledged.

We are presently facing a trend where people are resigning from their jobs due to burnout; searching for fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and meaning. This movement  has been named the “Great Resignation” or “Great Reevaluation.”  While this may be true, what else is happening in the corporate field as a reflection of social transformations in the world?

Throughout the pandemic I have been driven, again and again, to Johan Galtung’s work (often mentioned as the father of peace studies, Ph.D. in mathematics and sociology, founder of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, professor at Columbia University), in which some concepts create a sense of uneasiness, and an inevitable association with what we are living in the present moment. 

Galtung explores how people interact in society, and the changing nature of these  interactions. Thus, he briefly explains how

models of social interaction have changed over the course of human history, from the earliest (primitive) societies of hunters and gatherers, through the development of traditional structures of age or caste based power within agricultural societies, to the modern industrial order.

In this progression, a crucial aspect is that relations become increasingly hierarchical and impersonal.  

Furthermore, those human relations are organized into Alpha and Beta structures. 

Alpha structures are basically human interaction vertical structures with norms of submission, and are organized as the three pillars of society, State, Capital and Civil Society, in the form of huge bureaucracies (including armies and universities), corporations, and people organizations.

Beta structures are the small informal structures within the Alpha structure, which we choose to be part of, not only family, but our work colleagues, the people we hang out with, etc. 

Alpha structures (corporations) have weakened Beta structures due to excessive work loads, time consumption, competitiveness, and submission. Therefore, “Alpha structures are triumphing over Beta, and Ratio over the Sacred as dominant moral guidance.”  

This imbalance creates a situation where people have material abundance which comes from their relationships with prosperous Alphas, but lack nourishment and meaning in their lives.

Galtung forecasts that modern society will give way to postmodern society. In this kind of structure there would be a weakening of the Alpha structure due to automation, information, and technology. Additionally, individuals will be more isolated, and self centeredness will motivate actions. “What is there in this for me?”  would be the driving force for individuals. It is important to note that postmodern is not perceived as an evolution of modern, but a complete antithesis. One system collapses, there is a complete social disintegration, and the other structure comes into  place with no soft transition. 

What exactly would be the catalyst for this shift? 

Anything removing human beings from direct interaction would affect or accelerate this transformation.  

As a result of lockdowns, video calls, and remote work, Beta relationships within corporations have become thinner, not yet a complete lack  of social bonds, but nowadays, even the water cooler interactions are scarce. Although seeing people with pets, kids, and family can humanize them, the bonds did become more fragile and the  sense of belongingness was, to some extent, lost. Research is pointing to the fact that financial compensation is not enough to keep people from quitting their jobs, which indicates that there is an underlying search for something that is missing, such as the perceived protection provided by the Alpha structure and true bonds. Without those bonds people feel disposable and a sense of dehumanization and emptiness kicks in.

To avoid a state of total disintegration, Galtung suggests that there should be strengthening of the Beta relationships within the Alpha structure.

It would take a complete shift in perspective for corporations to review their “modus operandi”, and provide fertile soil for a new structure to bloom. Maybe Agile Leadership or similar models,  which really enhance these bonds and the work cooperation in a Beta “way of functioning”, could be an option to  avoid the complete disintegration of the structure. 

As Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Maybe this trend towards resigning is, to some extent, the rise of a new consciousness, the questioning of old habits and old beliefs necessary to keep the system  moving. New approaches are surely welcome and called for. 

Are we at the tip of the iceberg? Is there a new, emerging structure? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Suzy Forrest is a Mindful Leader certified workplace facilitator, Newfield certified coach, MBSR Teacher, holds a Master in medical Qigong and is currently training in MBCT at Oxford Mindfulness Center. Her life purpose is to create mindfulness programs that can reach and benefit larger populations, through wide scope programs such as Meditate Together. Instagram: @suzy.forrest_mindfulness  Linkedin

Photo credit #dawnlaureljones

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1 comment

Brian Knox McGugan

This is fascinating; exactly the nature of human interaction and changing behaviour that I have been observing and deeply considering every day.

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