People + Strategy Journal

Spring 2022

From the Executive Editor

What role does your job play in the rest of your life? For many—from the front line to the C-suite—the answer to that question is different and more nuanced today than it was pre-pandemic. The implications for leaders and talent pipelines are complex.

​The Great Re-Evaluation

What role does your job, and your relationship to your employer, play in the rest of your life? For many employees—from the front line to the C-suite—the answer to that question is different and more nuanced today than it was pre-pandemic. The implications for leaders and talent pipelines are complex.

We see this playing out in the gap between the Labor Department’s monthly data on resignations versus its report on new job creation. We see it in the neighborhood restaurant that now closes on Saturdays due to staff shortages, and in the $17/hr posters plastered in the windows of Goodwill stores, oil-change service centers and fast-food places. 

Shift the lens to the C-suite, and a new pattern has emerged among people who were high on the next-CEO shortlist in 2019, but who have turned 50 in the intervening years. They are 30% wealthier simply from the stock market’s surge. For the first time in their professional lives, they have seen their families almost daily for two consecutive years. And they are increasingly likely to put their hand up, knowing the road-warrior grind that awaits them as the pandemic eases, and say, “I don’t think I want to be the CEO.”

At a human level, some underlying realities have driven this tendency to re-evaluate. First, COVID-19 brought a heightened awareness that either we, or those closest to us, might die at any time. Yes, death is always a presence, but the scale and unfamiliarity of a new virus, combined with the sights of refrigerated trucks serving as temporary morgues and field hospitals set up in parking lots, effectively rubbed our faces in our mortality. 

Second, the logistical scrambles required of nearly everyone to accommodate changes in work, school, parenting, and self- and elder care brought not only stress but also a fresh awareness of just how much we can adapt and endure, when pressed. True for organizations, yes, but also for communities, families and individuals.

Third, our imposed isolation triggered a global wave of reflection. Is this my forever spouse or partner? Is this the place I want to live? Are these the colleagues I want to have? Is this role the way I want to spend my time? Does this company reflect my values?

What is my relationship to work?

While economic and social privileges allow some of us to examine those questions with greater leisure and more options than others, a reality of the Great Resignation is that it is not only the privileged who are reconsidering the employer-employee contract. Aspects of these questions lurk behind every unfilled job opening.

For this issue of People + Strategy, our driving goal was to find leaders, practitioners and thinkers who are dealing with this problem set head-on, daily. Who is finding successes, new obstacles or—as our guest editor Roopa Unnikrishnan writes in her editorial—opportunities in helping their people and their organizations address the challenge of these large-scale shifts in the workforce?

On this expedition, we could not have a better guide than Unnikrishnan. Her work as a senior HR professional, and her strategy career as both an executive and an external advisor, give her a unique, pragmatic and broad perspective. 

We ask you to join in the dialogue, and we welcome your insights and takeaways. Because one thing is certain: in this period of reflection and churn, we have much to learn from one another.   

David Reimer
Executive Editor