What Nobody’s Talking About in the Great Resignation

So, the Great Resignation is more than underway, and it’s transforming how leaders lead, and organizations survive, let alone grow.

Restaurants and stores have cut back hours because they can’t hire staff. Almost everyone is hiring. And millions of people have (apparently) disappeared from the workforce. Millions of other people have relocated and expect more flexibility in their work than ever.

Here’s the aspect of the Great Resignation that no one’s talking about: The impact on a leader’s confidence and the ability to lead a team into the future.

Basically, how are you feeling when you’re the one holding the bag trying to lead the entire mission up the field?

Obviously, there’s no silver-bullet answer, but there are dynamics you’re facing as a leader.

Even naming them can spark some progress in the right direction.

1. It’s Probably Left You Thinking of Quitting Too

So you’re the leader, but what happens if you want out too?

82% of senior leaders and executives go home mentally and physically exhausted every night from work. That doesn’t have a long shelf life.

Barna Group polled pastors twice in 2021.

In January, 29% of pastors said they had seriously thought about leaving ministry in the last year.

In October, that number jumped to 38%.

Dig a little deeper, and almost half of all pastors under 45 are thinking of quitting ministry. Women also have a higher incidence of thinking about quitting than male pastors. (I do a special podcast episode on the stat and what it means with Barna President David Kinnaman here.)

I talked to one leader who said he feels jealous that someone is leaving because, as the leader, he can’t even leave, and yet he feels exhausted and demoralized too.

Sigh… it’s a lot.

But here’s the tension: While all of these feelings of abandoning ship are natural given the situation, there has to be a commitment at some point.

It’s hard to lead an organization you’re no longer fully committed to.

If you’re thinking of quitting, here’s why, in my view, you shouldn’t quit ministry right now, even if you feel like it. The logic applies to other professions too.

2. It’s Demoralized The Rest of the Team

Almost every leader has had someone on their team quit.

But the Great Resignation is about more than just the people who left. It’s about the people who stayed too.

It’s left entire teams scrambling, picking up the slack, and, honestly, shaken.

Whether it’s that your best friend left at work, your boss is gone, or your department is just really short-handed, as a leader who remains, you can’t assume your remaining team is doing great.

In fact, here’s a weird subplot – quietly or publicly, some of the remaining exhausted employees feel trapped on the team because they didn’t leave first and now don’t want to leave the leader high and dry.

In some cases, team members were looking elsewhere but now feel they can’t leave out of loyalty because too many people left ahead of them. And that creates a weird culture.

So they’re in – sort of.

3. You and the Remaining Team are Paranoid (and Drained By) the Thought of the Future

Several years ago, I had a key staff member leave after a few years of high turnover.

I’ll never forget what happened next: I was drained by the thought of the future.

When I was interviewing candidates to replace the leader who left, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder how long until she leaves?” That was during the interview. 

To make matters worse, you know the competition is so fierce, and the talent pool is so shallow that you’re tempted to settle for your next staff member, a thought that would never have occurred to you in the past.

The future now looks even bleaker.

You’re not alone in feeling drained by the future or paranoid about it.

Your remaining staff is feeling it too.

Some of your remaining staff have talked about possibly leaving too…with you and with other teammates. Even though they haven’t gone, it creates an asterisk next to their future.

Whether those thoughts materialize or not, it makes it really hard to plan for the future.

You have thought about quitting. They’ve thought about quitting. And everyone’s having a hard time coping.

So, What Do You Do?

In light of all the tension and the messy moment we’re in, what are you supposed to do? How do you lead?

I have three suggestions.

1. Make a Decision

It’s easy to waffle back and forth daily (or hourly) about whether you’re staying or going.

Instead, make a decision. Either you’re in, or you’re out.

If you’re out, quit. Again, I still think that’s not the wisest decision right now, but at least there’s clarity.

And if you stay (my guess is 95%+ of people reading this will stay), then take leaving off the table for now – kind of like the couple who’s struggling to decide to take divorce off the table.

Why?

Your indecision will make future planning difficult, and your double-mindedness as a leader will leak. Even if you don’t say a word, people will sense something is off.

Ambivalence and effectiveness rarely coexist in a leader.

So, decide to stay. And then lead like it.

2. Name It

Once you’ve made up your mind, call in the team and name what everyone’s feeling.

Be honest.

Tell them you know the Great Resignation is happening. Tell them it’s impacted your team.

Let them express their feelings. Clear the air.

Don’t threaten. Just listen with empathy and let everyone get things off their mind.

Naming the tension doesn’t always resolve the tension, but you’ll be surprised at how healing it can be.

Could it result in one more resignation, or two? Maybe.

But the amount of malaise it resolves will more than offset it for those who remain.

3. Focus on the Future

With the air cleared and your mind made up, move on into the future.

You have a mission. Lean into it, and rally the team around it.

Make plans for the new era. Tackle the challenges together.

Nothing alleviates the ambiguity and discouragement of the present like focusing on a better future.

From the Great Resignation to the Great Resolution (FREE WEBINAR)

According to LinkedIn, 94% of employees would stay longer if their company invested in their career development.

If you’re looking for more practical solutions and a chance to dialogue with me and the folks at Leadr about the Great Resignation, join me and Holly Tate, SVP of Growth at Leadr, for a free online webinar on Tuesday, November 30th at 1pET/12pCT/10aPT

I’ll share some coming trends on staffing, and we’ll discuss how to commit to making the care and development of our teams our #1 priority in 2022.

It’s one hour packed full of practical content and tools to help you better develop your team.

We’ll unpack why we’re seeing so much turnover and what we can do now to build thriving teams that want to stay, including:

  • Navigating flexibility without losing accountability in your workplace
  • Creating a culture that attracts and retains top talent
  • Providing the framework for the most important tool that leaders have
  • Building personalized development plans for yourself and your employees
  • Bridging the generational gap between the five generations in the workforce
  • Discovering what the next generation is looking for in both their boss and their workplace

Plus, when you register, you’ll also receive a free copy of the eBook, How To Start Conducting 1:1 Meetings, which will walk you through why 1:1’s are a leader’s most valuable tool and how to do them well.

Come with questions for Carey and Holly as we resolve to bring an end to The Great Resignation and commit to The Great Resolution by making the care and development of our team our #1 priority in 2022.

What Side of the Great Resignation is Impacting You?

Those are some of the things about the Great Resignation no one seems to be talking about.

How is it hitting you? Scroll down and leave a comment!

What Nobody’s Talking About in the Great Resignation

16 Comments

  1. Ben Killoy on November 30, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Ignoring the elephants in the room is how we got to this place where we didn’t have to face what everyone in the room was already thinking. It is posts like these that really open your eyes to how a vulnerability, truth, and solid leadership can change an organization.

    Thank you for sharing this!
    Ben Killoy

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 30, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks Ben. I’ve led by keeping dissent at bay and it didn’t work. Openness is a much better strategy for all. I want people to love being at work and love their jobs.

  2. Ben on November 29, 2021 at 10:37 pm

    Hi, Carey,
    I am also joining this current trend, although my choice is to retire from a ministry where I have planted and led a congregation (while facilitating the planting of others) during the past 15 years. One of the most accurate comments I recently heard on this topic was that people don’t leave an organization, they leave a person. That certainly resonates with me and with what some of the others here have shared. I agree completely that leaders need to make a decision to commit or go for the good of their colleagues. I almost pivoted a few months ago, but I am so glad that I didn’t. I felt the Lord’s leading to take time to refresh, take hold of numerous writing projects that I’ve left on hold and also prepare for what is apparently a very different future that is coming. (I look forward to good years of ministry ahead, but in different roles than my current one in pastoral leadership.) Like many people in ministry, the pandemic didn’t slow down my demands, they were increased. Also, the technical work that landed on my plate was exhausting. I’m learning that this exhaustion is going right through our employment and education sysetms as well. Personally, I’m very much at peace with my decision, but I will continue reading your very informative and insightful posts.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 30, 2021 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks you Ben. That has to be hard, but it sounds like you’re processing it well. I wish you all the best!

  3. Stew Weatherbee on November 29, 2021 at 7:51 pm

    Ambulance (?) and effectiveness … Did you mean ambivalence?

  4. Sue on November 29, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    I am part of the great resignation simply because leadership refused to care for the staff when we all stated we were burned out a year ago! I recommended that we all read a book together to begin healing and was shot down by the lead pastor. He didn’t want to look back at what we endured during 2020 so we could move on in a healthy way either. Or celebrate that the church survived and even thrived during such trying times. The mentality was “push on!” A year later, I quit. Not even sure if I will do full time ministry again – which is sad. Beginning counseling and trying to heal from burnout. I absolutely couldn’t stay with such poor leadership and feeling like I was losing my soul for the sake of ministry. I wish more lead pastors would take time to read your posts. I wish the church had taken time to take care of the staff. I know the ones left are still struggling.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 30, 2021 at 12:30 pm

      Sue, I’m so sorry…that’s hard. Pushing works for a season but eventually you end up pushing people away. I feel for you and just encourage you not to paint all organizations with the same brush. Healthy churches and employers are rare, but life giving when you find them!

  5. Jessica Perry on November 29, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    I’m fascinated by the stat that women in ministry are leaving at a higher rate. While the circumstances surrounding the ending of my prior ministry are a bit different, I would be curious to see if women are being hired by churches at the same rate as they were pre-pandemic. My experience and observation says that they are not. Has any research been done on this?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 29, 2021 at 5:25 pm

      Hey Jessica. I was interested in that stat too and am not aware of any data about current hiring rates for women in ministry. If any leader knows of such, please share.

      Thanks Jessica.

  6. Rev Heather on November 29, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    I think part of what’s missing from employer’s understanding of the Great Resignation is compassion. My Family and Youth Director’s mother died slowly this past year, so she was away from work caring for her mother for months. A lot of places would have fired her. We allowed her to work online from another state. And when she came back my church Finance and Personnel voted to give her 2 months of full back pay, as bereavement leave. My people stay because they are, first and foremost, treated as fellow beloved children of God.

    Another piece that is missing from this story is how many people are working multiple jobs. My Family and Youth Director is half time and used to work 2 other part time jobs and 2 side gigs to pay the bills. Now they are only working 1 other job. A lot of the service industry folks were working more than one job and have quit the ones that:
    a. didn’t pay enough to be worth it
    b. didn’t treat them like human beings. (zero flexibility, no pto, cogs in the machine)

    The third thing I’m seeing is that businesses complaining about the lack of staff haven’t changed their hiring practices. I’ve been helping recent HS graduates look for jobs because of my church’s connection with the alternative HS. Many employers are still looking for 2-5 years of experience for entry level jobs and won’t give young adults a chance.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 29, 2021 at 5:26 pm

      Heather…well said. The lack of compassion and empathy for people is astounding. I hope we become far more compassionate leaders in the future. Caring for the whole person is the right thing to do…and as a bonus, you get better team members as a result

  7. Ebenezer Generosity on November 29, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Autocorrect errors are going to start a war one of these days.

  8. Donna Schaper on November 29, 2021 at 8:13 am

    I am part of the great resignation — leaving a church I loved for 15 years. I rewired instead of retiring. I won’t say it is going perfectly but it was finally a decision that got me closer to the word liberation than I have ever been. I do worry about those left behind. I also worry about the great urban exodus in which I participated. I am particularly struck by how NOT DRAINED I am. What is it about leadership in not for profit spaces that drains us so much? How many of them do we make up ourselves? I think we need chaplains, someone who takes good care of the spirit leader or organizations.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 29, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Donna I hear you. I think that is as much a cultural statement as a church statement. Corporate leaders often say the same thing. I’m very committed to helping leaders create a sustainable pace and healthy culture. Glad you’re doing better!

  9. Mark on November 29, 2021 at 7:38 am

    I don’t know of any place where the loyalty keeps people from leaving. In most places, no one wants to be the last person out the door. In places with multiple levels of management, the lowest level of even highly educated, highly paid workers are usually not liked. Management only likes other people in management. I have been in the situation where I had to take a colleague’s work who left and then do it again 2 years later. My workload never went down even after new people were hired; yet, my management did not care. During this pandemic, management gave orders but never asked how people were doing or said take a breather. Some said cut personal spending, do without, and do not under any circumstance get sick and need leave. The workload was increased, the performance metrics were raised, surveys were stopped, and virtual socials were awkward. Most managers felt like people had nothing else to do while confined to home so they could just work later and then every Sunday too. When you cannot approach your management, you leave and only communicate when you inform them of your resignation. This is part of what led to people resigning without notice. They are broken.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 29, 2021 at 10:53 am

      Mark it’s so sad to hear this. Culture can get so toxic if you let it. I’m really sorry to hear that, and hope we can help leaders find a better way. That’s why we do what we do.

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