COVID19 casualty: the modern organisation and great resignation – Series 2 of 2

Who should have warned the world of the ‘great-resignation’?

Did the HR fraternity miss the great resignation? Why did they assume that the COVID19 pandemic would come and go, and we would all return to the status-quo pre-pandemic? Is HR missing in the boardroom, and the accompanying investment in analytics and forecasting (like it’s done for marketing and finance) is not available? But even if the latter were true, how could discourse (even if internal to the HR fraternity) have missed obvious causations/correlations like:

  1. COVID19 and its remote work culture forcing us to change the way we organise and oversee labour.
  2. Economies were overheating, and in dysfunctional mode, certain things had to change.
  3. And even before the COVID19 pandemic, the emerging discourse on climate matters and the unsustainable mercantilist culture raised questions on the status quo.

There were cues everywhere, or we th!nk at the Effectiveness lab.

Is it HR ineptitude? We don’t think so. Is it that the HR function’s place on the corporate decision-making table is not as secure and that they couldn’t voice the impending danger even if it were on their radar?

We can only speculate what happened – but what is clear is that the ‘great-quit’ wasn’t anticipated till it started. It hasn’t been talked about enough at organisations till now. Consulting firms, much used to face to face working, are yet to tap into this highly potent cash pot. Academic institutions must be at work but are yet to produce a critical mass of analysis to educate the world on the causations and correlations of the so-called ‘great-quit’ or ‘great-resignation’.

What we know is that most organisations aren’t ready for what is unfolding

Some organisations have chosen to resist the push by white-collar workers to continue working remotely. Some organisations have chosen the win-win option of asking workers to work 50% of the workweek from home and spend the other half in the office. Of course, those in charge of macroeconomics in the nation-states would worry about ghost cities and what that means for the real estate industry and economic recovery.

However, we have to accept it’s a new world for us all.

The opportunity

Yes, we may choose to whine, but what about looking at the opportunities this new status-quo brings:

1. Organisations:

  • For organisations, may this be the time to deal with an endemic white-collar worker challenge – stress at work, the ensuing burnout and hidden under productivity? Employees working from home are much more relaxed and generally give employers higher productivity returns. They avoid the dreaded commute to and from work, look after their children simultaneously as work, the apolitical steer clear of work politics and its harmful effects. If all these result in better ‘well-being’ outcomes and more productive humans, why don’t we consider setting up systems for the new normal? What are we trying to hold on to by asking employees to continue working at the office all week, like it were pre COVID19 pandemic? Why accept to lose highly skilled staff to the great-resignation? Have you considered the replacement cost and whether the replacement think any different? Is it us at the Effectiveness lab missing something? We agree that working 100% from home may not always be the right thing, but combining both approaches is something to consider.
  • If it’s a systems challenge, knowing that any owner has to be comfortable with the entity’s people-oversight configuration, there are options to consider as fixes. What organisations need is to invest resources in studying alternative people management systems. There won’t come a better opportunity to take advantage of digitalisation like today. Even traditional methods in countries like Uganda that depend on the housemaid system to raise our babies are under a lot of pressure and aren’t sustainable long-term. The modern and western style day-care units aren’t mushrooming in cities like Kampala for no good reason. The traditional system is crumbling.
  • People have joined the great resignation movement even in a non-western setting like Uganda. Apparently, the education sector has been hit the hardest so far with the loss of faculty. Teachers have chosen to do other work than teaching. What about allowing the mothers (and fathers) to work from their homes, save them the commute and childcare bills, and keep them longer in employment?
  • A legitimate question is how much productivity is lost when we (esp. Ugandans) are allowed to work from home? Get systems in place to control and mitigate the productivity loss, if any.

“With the right strategy, structure and system – you don’t need a face-to-face work system and accompanying supervisory authority to get quality work outcomes from a knowledge worker. Individuals, especially the millennials and z generations, have the brain ‘code’ to give you what you ask of them without being policed and watched over. As long as what is required of them is articulated and logical, they will likely meet their part of the bargain.“

2. Nation state:

  • City authorities may lobby for policies to decongest cities at the nation-state level, with a positive ripple effect on many other factors. If less than 50% of white-collar Kampalan’s drive to the CBD daily, the time lost in traffic jams would significantly reduce. If employees get to the office in a superstate of mental wellness as a result of the tension-free commute, employers would certainly increase productivity by having much more focused and sane individuals at work. The same would apply to family happiness after-work hours. What about the environmental benefits of less pollution and the positive effects on human health and the environment. What about growth and new jobs in the city, satellite towns, etc. Should we not be working to ensure change happens?
  • Education approaches need to be reset. Should we keep the pre COVID19 status with all its problems? Are we missing the opportunity to change the way we educate our children?

“We opine that there has never been opportunity as apparent as now, especially for the middle-class parent in Uganda, to change the way we teach our children. COVID-19 has grounded Uganda’s education system for almost [two years]. There [was] no sustained formal education since March 2020. Save for a few privileged parents that [could] afford costly private tutors and schools.“

“Many of you have home-schooled children and know it works – right? So why go back to the hustle and bustle of the urban education system with all its pains – traffic jams, early and late days, mental stress to children and adults, and most of all, a less than appropriate product offer? It’s not far fetched to write that the incentive for change abounds, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis.“

We could go on and on re.: this opportunity discourse.

Let’s end on the question:

  • Are individuals, organisations and nation-states ready to tap into the abundant opportunities for positive change due to COVID19 and the ‘great-resignation’?

Do nation-states appreciate the convening role they have to play since different initiatives need policy change and formulation before putting them to work? We can’t take advantage of remote working and homeschooling when all schools (even those that can do remote teaching) define attendance as physical presence at school and daily. Given the costly and poor-quality internet connectivity, we can’t do effective remote learning and work. We can’t work remotely if employers still have the right to fire you if you choose to remote work, etc.

A multi-stakeholder and systems approach is required if the potential of the great resignation is to be taken full advantage of. Nation-states need to lead on relevant policy formulation. Organisations need to accept change and set the ground to change traditional work systems. Employees, especially the white-collar sector, should support win-win approaches and a more organic switch to the new normal.



Categories: People, Strategy

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