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The Great Resignation: Time to Make Our Workplaces Nourishing

Since 2021 the business world has been rife with conversations around The Great Resignation. With a record number of people moving out of their jobs, the discussion around toxic work cultures gained centre stage.

I recently chanced upon an article about Chinese youth in a bid to stand up against the ‘always-on’ work culture who made a lifestyle choice to opt out of it. They lowered their professional and financial ambitions while prioritising their well-being while also financially managing their own essential needs funded by odd jobs and lean savings. This ‘Lie flat’ movement is a defiant rebellion against a culture of being overworked and underpaid.

Whether such movements including The Great Resignation are short-lived or a turning point in history, we’re being forced to wake up and repair a damaged work culture.

Modern work culture has been toxic even before the pandemic began. The pandemic has amplified and brought to light a broken system.

The roots of this toxic work culture can be traced back to the feudal ages and serfdom. This was long before the industrial revolution began and gave it modern packaging.

Our present-day work culture is marked by long hours including weekends and holidays, employers’ inflexibility about working from home during a pandemic, competition, sales pressure, long commutes and no commensurate remuneration.

So you may be wondering why our work culture is so broken? The answer is Capitalism.

Capitalism is a system that puts profit over people. Commodifies people. It measures your worth based on your productivity and fails to see you as human. So achieving sales targets are above an employee's well-being.

Growth at any cost is the mantra.

Not to say there aren’t companies that don’t care for the well-being of their employees, however, the dominant definition of success prioritises profit over well being of employees.

At an individual level, capitalism seduces us into a definition of success that keeps us tied to working in a toxic culture. We’re made to believe that success means owning bigger homes, fancier cars, trendier clothes and gadgets. Aspirations for designations and sending kids to beyond means expensive schools, have become markers of success.

Several successful business leaders model such a lifestyle to us. So we believe ‘indeed this must be the way to success’. Sadly a toxic style of work marked by long hours without breaks, grinding to achieve sales targets or funding, is normalised as the standard way of working. It seems like it’s the only way one can achieve the definition of success that we’ve bought into.

It’s good to honour what we deeply desire and work towards achieving it.

But, if we’re doing it at the cost of our health, well-being and relationships, it’s time to stop and re-think.

Likewise in the entrepreneurship world, there’s an unsaid pressure to grow fast. A large customer base, a company with 100s of employees, a fancy office and VC funding are seen as symbols of success. Venture capitalists invested in the business are keen to see profit sooner so they feel reassured about their investments. Hence hustling, grinding, growth hacking and fast customer acquisition are considered virtues. These often come at the cost of employee well-being and customer relationships.

Paul Jarvis in his book A Company of One illustrates the dangers of an obsessive growth mentality while citing examples of companies that have grown too fast and paid the price. Paul insists that growth should be intentional and not ‘growth for the sake of growth’. He emphasises building a sustainable business that supports the lifestyle you want to live. It's a much-needed conversation, especially in a business world that’s dominated by the ‘growth at any cost’ narrative.

Sadly, there aren’t many companies that model an alternative way of working. So you may wonder where does one begin to make a change?

Offering a restorative yoga class, gym membership or flexible working hours to employees may be well meaning, but not enough.

The issue with toxic work cultures is systemic. It’s not limited to a particular country, industry or company or even leader, though its intensity may vary in different situations.

While the issue may be systemic, any systemic change starts at an individual level.

Ideally, large companies should lead the change to repair toxic work cultures, however, progressive small businesses given their flexibility and openness to change could lead the transition to make nourishing workplaces the norm.

Here are some thoughts on how organisations can begin to move towards creating nourishing work cultures:

1 .Commit to learning and knowledge

    Understanding the systemic roots of the modern-day toxic world culture and its origins in capitalism can go a long way in redesigning organisations with replenishing, happy and nourishing work cultures.

    You will find several resources, books and courses on anti-capitalism online. Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:

    Disclaimer: Sharing resources that I’ve loved. No commissions for spreading this goodness.

    A. Sowing Post Capitalist Seeds (SPCS): This is a 14-week course I took in 2021. While the course is not singularly focused on creating nourishing workspaces, it concentrates on answering the question: “How can we thrive in our lives, work, relationships, and communities as we integrate the praxis of anti-capitalism?”

    The course is hosted by Anuradha Kowtha and Moriah Helms. I found it incredibly enriching and eye-opening. The course helped me get a fine understanding of how capitalism is at the root of toxic modern work culture and some ideas on how I could make my work regenerative.

    The hosts generously shared a ton of resources - books, articles, white papers, podcasts, videos, talks by guest speakers and more as they taught the nuances of capitalism and its impact on various aspects of our lives and work.

    B. The Spell of Capitalism: While I haven’t taken this course facilitated by Toi Smith and Jen Lemen, their Instagram content and the daily email notes have added finer dimensions to my understanding of capitalism and its impact on the modern-day work culture.

    C. The Nap Ministry: Over the years their content on Facebook and Instagram has been instrumental in helping me understand the nuances of capitalism and the hustle & grind work culture.

    2. Redefine what success means to you individually and to your organisation

      Are you committed to a definition of success that puts profit over people and the planet? If so, can you begin to make small changes to shift? 

      3. Listen to your people - deeply, intently frequently and without judgement

      If you can listen to your employees, partners and clients frequently and with empathy you are likely to come up with solutions that have a better chance of working.

      4. Co-opt with others who share your mission to create nourishing workplaces.

      This journey is about creating systemic change, charting new ways and treading unknown paths. Taking this journey with others who have an aligned mission can be incredibly supportive. Work with other organisations within and even outside your industry, who are keen, committed and invested in creating nourishing workplaces.

      Take small steps - you’ll set an example and inspire others to follow. Give them courage and show them a pathway.

      Embarking on a journey that’s about creating systemic change can be a long and challenging one. Especially as you may not see the change you wish to create, in your lifetime. It could take generations of work to bring that change. But now is the time to begin making that change, albeit a small one. 

      Would love to hear your perspective on the Great Resignation and making workplaces nourishing. Please share your views in the comments below. 

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      Are you seeking to create happiness at work? Do check The Happy Work Guide: 8 Steps to Freedom from Toxic Work.