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Forget the Great Resignation, why leaders need to focus on the Great Realignment

By Andrew May | |7 minute read

The so-called Great Resignation was less a reflection of reality than it was a reflection of the hysteria surrounding monumental changes over the past three years.

We all participated in the “global experiment” called COVID-19, being forced to make multiple adaptations to both our personal and professional lives. Right now, we are still trying to find ways to use these changes to our advantage, which is what I think is more correctly known as the Great Realignment.

In 2022, more people changed jobs than in the previous decade. But not by much. To put it into perspective, 1.3 million people (or 9.5 per cent of employed people) changed jobs. Compare this to the average of 8.35 per cent over the last five years. While the “great” resignation was hyperbolic, the reality is that the pandemic has disrupted our working lives and caused many people to question why, how, and what they are doing.


Consider that before the pandemic, half of the participants in a Swinburne University survey described themselves as “work-centric”. After the pandemic, most of these participants switched to classify themselves as “family-centric” or “self-centric”, which means they are more focused on family time, leisure, and other personal pursuits.

This has led to experimentation with the way we work: of 10 Australian and 16 overseas companies that recently trialled the four-day working week, only one workplace has not continued. About half of Australian workplaces now offer hybrid work options.

Flexibility takes many forms

Many workplaces have created the physical and digital infrastructure to support flexible working. This, of course, allows people to get their work done and to be there in the moments that matter in their personal lives and to engage and disengage with work in a way that fits with their life.

As Adam Grant, professor of organisational psychology at Wharton School of Business, put it recently: four days of focused work a week or six hours of engaged work a day beats eight hours of distracted work or five unproductive days each week.

Previously, employees felt they had to choose between work and being there for their kids, or relationships, or a workout or personal hobbies. The changes in the workplace, driven by the pandemic, mean many people don’t feel like they have to make that choice now. What workers are also hungry for now, according to McKinsey research, is trust, social cohesion, and purpose. There are tangible benefits to facilitating this.

The McKinsey research shows that people who report having a positive employee experience have 16 times the engagement level of employees with a negative experience and are eight times more likely to want to stay at a company.

However, embracing change, even when we know it will ultimately benefit us, can be challenging. According to the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, the majority of business leaders believe new models of working are vital for the success of their organisation and the engagement of teams. Yet only 24 per cent felt their organisation was ready to support the necessary changes to achieve this.

Making new ways of working, work

Despite the great potential for new ways of working, they don’t come without teething problems.

One example I regularly hear from clients is the lack of boundaries between work and personal lives now that we can work from anywhere at any time. There are also concerns about less access to the resources people need to do their jobs properly, the degradation of culture, less connection to the organisation, and more fragmented and less connected teams with less collaboration and coordination.

Many workers, after an extremely challenging few years, are also feeling depleted of energy, with more than 50 per cent of workers reporting that they have felt burned out in the last year.

While we navigate our way collectively through this continuing period of change, we need to realign ourselves, and leaders need to “lead loud” and embrace changes to operating rhythms and the way and where we work. In summary, we are undergoing the greatest realignment of our working lives, and this requires a few guard rails to help embed new habits and new ways of operating.

1. Sustainable operating rhythm

Adapting your operating rhythm and workflow is essential to sustain performance over time. Taking lessons from publicly listed company reporting cycles, being the father of four children, and learning from the school semester: a sustainable operating rhythm involves working hard for 10 to 11 weeks (about two and a half months). Then, over the school holiday period having one week to down regulate. Detaching psychologically and relaxing the body enables you to then head back to work focused, energised, and ready to perform for the next quarter.

2. Focus on connection

During the COVID-19 pandemic, connection was all about broadband technology. One of the lessons we’ve all learnt is the power of human connection. Prioritising both personal and professional relationships is one of the great products COVID-19 has taught us.

3. Set clear boundaries

Now we have the capacity to work from anywhere, anytime, it is paramount we set up clear boundaries around when we work and when we have a life outside of work; otherwise, we put ourselves at a higher risk of burnout and fatigue. Getting this balance right is especially important when working from home.

4. Learn to down regulate

From a science perspective, Dr Tom Buckley and I refer to down regulating as a combination of switching off the brain (psychological detachment) and relaxing the body (parasympathetic activation). I often teach my coaching clients strategies and tools to down regulate regularly depending on how much time they have. Thirty seconds or 30 minutes is a sufficient opportunity to down regulate using evidence-based activities and tools.

5. Train performance intelligence

Performance Intelligence is the ability to adapt your physical, psychological, and emotional state to enable you to perform when it matters most. This is important when you turn up to communicate with a large group, when you turn up to be a partner, father, mother, lover, parent, flatmate, colleague, etc. Performance intelligence are a totally trainable skills and requires you to do reps and sets, practising these skills in a non-pressurised environment so you can draw on them when you need them most.

By Andrew May, host of the Performance Intelligence podcast, leading speaker, best-selling author, and a regular on ABC TV’s News Breakfast. Andrew is also the founder and chief executive of StriveStronger.com.



Resignation is the employee-initiated termination of employment. In other words, the employee willingly decides to leave their job and informs the company of their choice.