The Great Resignation? A Welcome Realignment

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In 2021 we saw widespread changes and shifts in sentiment from the global workforce. It has been termed “The Great Resignation” by North American academics but that’s a misnomer for what we have seen in job markets across Asia-Pacific, Europe and the United Kingdom. What we’re seeing instead is a shift in priorities for professionals, and a desire to align their new focus with their organisation. We’re calling it the “Welcome Realignment”.

As we approach the end of 2021, there’s no doubt there has been heightened and extended commentary around movements in the global workforce. This started in April of this year, where some US experts predicted a widespread upheaval of the workforce and coined the term “The Great Resignation” (read the Bloomberg interview with Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Management at Texas A&M University). This prediction had been bolstered by several separate studies that surveyed workers on their attitudes and desire to leave their current job – with some reports showing as high as “one in four workers” indicating they were planning to move on within six months.

However, evidence for actual massive job turnover, outside of the US, is thin on the ground. In the UK there has been a jump in junior lawyer attrition numbers – but nothing staggering. Labour flows in Australia and New Zealand are ‘entirely unremarkable’ and have been at record lows. So, what exactly are we seeing?

A noisy re-evaluation

We’re likely witnessing a reassessment of our relationship with work more broadly. What do we want from work and how does it fit into our lives? Kathryn Hymes’ article in Wired Magazine summarises it best when she wrote:

“Taken on its surface, the Great Resignation foregrounds the language of job status, but misses a parallel, arguably bigger story: the radical realignment of values that is fuelling people to confront and remake their relationship to life at home, with their families, with their friends, and in their lives outside of labour.”

All the surveys, studies and press coverage of “The Great Resignation” are a loud testament to this re-evaluation of what we want from work. During the pandemic, many people discovered the joys and pitfalls that arise from working from home. More deeply, when faced with a situation as grave as COVID-19, many people have been forced to reckon with what they want out of their life. In the crucible of the pandemic and lockdowns, it is little wonder that people started looking at their options. And let’s not forget, a slight jump in job turnover would be expected as pent-up demand during the height of the pandemic is inevitably released onto the job market. So, what is the noisy re-evaluation leading to?

Realigning work with life

One might instinctually think the issue driving the re-evaluation is centred on wages. Employers who had flat-lined pay levels (or even reduced them) now need to boost the salaries they offer. However, pay is widely considered a hygiene factor – something that does not foster job satisfaction in itself, but rather prevents dissatisfaction. That is to say, paying someone in line with the market is only table stakes.

There is something deeper driving the widespread unsteadiness in job satisfaction and perhaps it has something to do with the forced experimentation of radical flexibility that many have experienced for the past two years. Newfound freedom has enabled people to work in ways that suit them better and a return to the commute and the office isn’t going to be welcome return for many. This isn’t universally true of course – some people are keen to return to the structure, psychological separation and amenities of the modern office. But this realignment also goes further than just the location of work – it’s also about the type of work.

The right kind of work

We also know, from an Australian study by Seek, about 20% of those looking for new work attributed their reason to the fact they were currently doing “uninspiring work”. In the monotony of lockdowns and general languishment many faced during the pandemic, dealing with boring work is harder to stomach than before. Repetitive and low-value work, especially for legal professionals, feels increasingly like a waste of time. Lawyers want to work on interesting projects, for leading clients, in a flexible way. And this isn’t a COVID fever-dream, many lawyers have tasted radical flexibility and seen how technology can boost (rather than frustrate) their productivity. We can’t simply snap back to how things were before.

Around the holiday table

As many of us prepare for the common (and sometimes dreaded) career discussion with family and friends around the holiday dinner table, there is likely going to be increased chatter on what we’re doing with our lives. This reckoning isn’t uncommon around this time, but it has been further boosted by the lingering impact of COVID-19. This year the answer might not be “same old, same old”, but rather an intention to take a new career step and reorient their work life relationship. An active commitment to find the type of work that fits the shape of their life – rather than the other way around.

Conclusion

More than ever, people want work that aligns with their values. For many of the secondees at LOD, they’ve had an ‘aligned’ professional career for years now – trading traditional legal jobs for more flexible and more inspiring work. Tech-enabled, trusted and independent, LOD professionals have been ahead of the curve and benefitted from the new normal before it arrived. So, if you’re considering a shift to a job that better aligns with your priorities, you might want to take a leaf out of their book – or even join them.


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