Danielle, Jessica, Alice, and Trudy had met in an evening MBA program in the early 2000’s. While representing a ten-year spread in their ages, they were all at about the same stage of their careers, and immediately clicked at program orientation. This led to forming a study group, cheerleading each other through the program, and all graduating on schedule despite work and life interventions that should have derailed this effort. They were able to stay in touch, had stayed in the same city, at one point Jessica took a position of working for Trudy and would meet together for an extended dinner a few times a year.

That was, of course, until COVID. Now, like so many other enduring friendships, they were finally able to meet face-to-face for the first time in two years rather than a few times eating takeout together in front of a videoconferencing app. This was also the first time they realized that none of them were in the same job that they had each held 18 months ago:

  • The Great Resignation: Danielle had been an IT project manager when most of her company’s offices closed. Deemed an “essential employee,” she was directed to continue working on-site within the proscribed protocols. She loved the visibility and the fact that she knew how important her work was in allowing her company to meet its commitments with most staff working remotely. But after a year of 50-hour weeks (and a few spot bonuses), she realized that she was not enjoying the projects she was being assigned nor working with the staff being designated to support her. “I confess I was a little burned out, too,” she admitted to her friends over appetizers. Danielle explained that one afternoon she just walked into her boss’s office and gave notice, not having planned it more than a few hours beforehand. Her husband was not surprised and was very supportive. Her children were thrilled, “but they’ll get over that.” They have enough funds to support their COVID-diminished lifestyle for several months, and she is confident that she’ll quickly find a new and more fulfilling position whenever she decides to return to the workforce. Alice, who is a manager at a staffing agency (Abel Personnel), agreed with Dannielle’s assessment and will be ready with a placement for her.
  • The Great Sabbatical: Jessica, having been promoted from her job with Trudy a few years ago, had a similar tale. The women agreed that the difference was largely due to Jessica being less spontaneous. When Jessica could see that her interest and commitment were waning, she negotiated a sabbatical, a gap year with her current boss. Her husband did the same at his employment, and the two took off for a year to experience many of the US National Parks, “a very socially distant endeavor.” Jessa explained to her friends that she was “borrowing a year from my retirement. When I’m 65 I may not be able to do this degree of strenuous hiking and camping. So maybe I’ll now retire at 66 instead of 65.” As she was preparing to offload her duties to others just before she departed, Jessica’s boss advised her that he could not guarantee the position would be open when her year away was over. Jessa countered that she could not promise that she’d want to return to the company, either, but if she did, there would need to be some modifications to the position. This exchange was consistent with the total honesty Jessica and her boss had always shared, allowing each to make such an informal commitment, Jessica explained as their main courses were being served. And if resuming her position did not work out, Jessica will be in touch with Alice!
  • The Great Upgrade: Alice’s story was a twist on the same mid-career rethinking of her peers. Her contributions to her (now former) employer’s revenues and profits were not fully appreciated in recognition and bonuses. When the opportunity to be promoted into a supervisory slot was held by an unexpected early retiree, she was excluded from consideration. Inquiring why Alice was told that she’d only been there two years and “no one as young as you had ever held that position.” Alice was now ready to move on and found several staffing firms anxious to offer her a position as a supervisor with a better compensation package. Ironically, the position she accepted at Abel Personnel did not provide a significantly higher commission nor any managerial responsibility. Abel’s approach to handling their recruiters Alice was sure would mean better compensation and a supervisory opportunity when Alice understood enough about the company to have a vision on how to increase its capacity to succeed. Had there been no COVID and a senior employee’s early retirement, “I never would have thought to look elsewhere. Pretty funny coming from someone in the staffing business, right? Anyway, time to order dessert!”
  • The Great Untethering: Trudy had always been the maverick of the foursome, and her pandemic experience bore this out. As a single parent with two children under the age of six, she had been the most nervous about how to care for them unvaccinated, struggle with remote learning, and schedule around intermittent daycare when her mom was unavailable. Trudy was unofficially working from home two months before her company was mandated to send home its non-essential workers per state law. In her accounting position, Trudy was more effective at home than she was in the office, no longer having to be polite to everyone who stopped to chat as they passed by her cubicle. By August 2020, Trudy had a business plan completed that she had developed evenings after her children were in bed. She would become a “gig worker.” She had heard of many opportunities to provide part-time accounting administrative services that she could continue to provide from home. And, she could plan around whatever hours she was needed by her children, at rates that “I’d only need to work 30 hours even paying for health insurance to make the same pay I took home at full time.” Alice had been helpful in this endeavor once Trudy launched in early 2021, securing remote temp accounting assignments for Trudy as part of Abel’s “Total Talent Solutions.” Trudy continues to be “untethered” even though her children are back full-time in school and daycare, loving the variety, appreciation, and freedom.

The checks had now been paid, and the women quickly identified a date for the next dinner. Jessica wondered aloud how many of them would be in the same position when they met again in four months. Alice thanked her friends for their candor and told them she was planning to share their stories at the next weekly recruiter staff meeting as case studies to offer applicants looking for “greater” opportunities. They all laughed at that and agreed it was great that one of them was in the staffing business when they each needed her.

Sourced from Danica Lo, “The Great Resignation has morphed into the Great Sabbatical,” Fast Company, January 27, 2022.

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