Guess What? Leaders Are Losing Motivation — And Reevaluating Their Careers — During The Pandemic, Too

Philippe Clarinval, is a mentor, executive coach, advisor and expert on employee engagement. He coaches CEOs on transformational leadership.

People call it The Great Resignation, perhaps the most unexpected ancillary effect of the pandemic. With the world in transition, it’s no wonder the workforce took a minute to reassess their jobs. Most of a person’s life is spent at work, and the pandemic gave people the time to pause, reflect and ask themselves, “Is this truly what I want to be doing?”

According to Fortune, In November 2021, 4.5 million workers voluntarily resigned from their job, the highest on record. This is in addition to 1.4 million fired or let go, and 377,00 that were separated from their job for one reason or another. That’s a lot of people no longer at their job.

But with so many reimagining their future in the workforce, it might make more sense to call it the Great Awakening or the Great Realignment. The Great Resignation insinuates people fleeing from something, when in fact, it’s actually people searching for greater fulfillment at their work. 

When talking about this shift in work, articles and experts are usually talking about early- or mid-career employees changing jobs or careers, but it’s also executives reconsidering their roles. In many industries, leaders are asking, “Is this what I want to do?” C-suite executives and top-level managers are just as affected as everyone else. Everyone is facing uncertainty and volatility in the work environment, and in numerous instances, it’s resulting in executives losing Sirius, their guiding star. 

This means that the roles of CEO – and even boards of directors – have become more demanding, holistic and complex, and needs much more sophistication from their side to create an environment leaders won’t want to leave. This is a significant shift from how things used to be, to how they need to be moving forward. Short-term solutions aren’t sustainable. Before going back to old habits, CEOs need to think twice.

CEOs and boards must create an environment where leaders have choice and freedom and are empowered to work according to their purpose. Honesty, flexibility, and psychological safety are the characteristics of a work environment people seek. This includes the flexibility to rethink hierarchical structures, and create a workplace that attracts new talent instead of scaring it away.

In practice, leaders need to be intrinsically motivated to keep a business running, particularly during a crisis like the pandemic. In addition to a flexible, honest and safe environment, here are four motivators leaders need, to stay engaged and be successful. 

1. They need to have a valuable purpose.

Looking around the industry, many executives are lacking meaningfulness in their work – the type of meaningfulness you don’t have to think about. For instance, if you’re an ER doctor, you’re saving lives, leading to innate meaningfulness. But if you’re in other businesses, you might have to think about it more. What is your purpose? How are you contributing to society? These are the types of questions hitting executives hard during year two of the pandemic. 

When a leader truly feels connected to the greatest sense of purpose, it’s seen and felt by those around. As Entrepreneur states, employees and staff are invigorated, motivated and inspired by the clear drive emulating from the boss.

2. They need choice in how they want to work.

Wanting work-life balance is not limited to early- or mid-career employees – executives want it too. They want the ability to work remotely as much as their workers. And with many of them logging long hours, the idea of getting some time back without needing to commute, is something that matters quite a bit.

It’s not just about hybrid work, it’s also about being able to work according to their perception/standards of quality without being micromanaged. It’s about including flexibility into the work environment. Not just in where we work, but why and how we work.

3. They need to feel personal competence.

No matter your role – whether line staff or executive – people want to feel confident and have some sense of self-efficacy. Executives need to know they are doing the role – and doing it well. They want to know that they are making a difference. Leaders that see their impact are the ones who stay engaged and lead with purpose.

Leaders must also have the competence and the capabilities to accomplish the purpose. Having a purpose, with misaligned capabilities, won’t help – it will only accentuate the struggle they’re already in.

4. They need to see progress and the impact of their work. 

In addition to seeing their impact, executives need to see ongoing growth and progress to stay intrinsically motivated. The way progress is measured is dependent on the person. It can be increased sales, employee retention, or even more staff engagement. But without progress, it won’t be long before a leader gets burned out, and bails. If a leader is struggling to see progress, even small wins can be powerful to measure. A little progress is better than none at all. 

As the Great Resignation – or the Great Realignment – continues, people need support from their executives, and they can only get support if executives understand what they’re going through. Making sure you’re staying motivated – as well as making sure you’re providing intrinsic motivation for your team – is critical for today’s leaders.

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