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The good news about the Great Resignation

November 15, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC
“As business leaders, it falls to us to actively connect what we ask our teams to do to why we are asking them to do it,” writes Sam Allen.
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Thanks to the impact COVID-19 has had on our national psyche, America’s relationship with work is changing. The question remains: Is it changing for the worse, or for the better? And what, exactly, is at stake in this relationship? 

A record 4.4 million workers voluntarily left their jobs in September alone. This “Great Resignation,” as the global trend is called, is catching the attention of business leaders. In a recent survey of 117 CEOs conducted by Fortune and Deloitte, 73% said a labor/skills shortage is the most likely external issue to disrupt their business in the next 12 months. In that same survey, 57% of CEOs said attracting and recruiting talent is among their organization’s biggest challenges, followed by 51% who said one of their biggest challenges is retaining talent.  

What, specifically, is fueling this trend? It’s no secret that many workers were exhausted by frontline jobs during COVID-19. Workers across all industries consistently reported experiencing emotional burnout during the pandemic. Many realized that after working from home for 18 months, commuting to an office had lost its appeal. And still others were able to use unexpected idle time to update their skills and find better job opportunities.

While all of that is true, perhaps what’s really behind the Great Resignation is a collective shift in our mindset fueled by the pandemic—one in which many have reevaluated the very idea of what it means to work. Millions around the world have decided that life is simply too short to do work that risks their sanity, their safety, or their soul. For them, this moment has led to a desire for more meaningful, more impactful, purpose-driven work—work that might actually change the world. 

Perhaps, rather than calling this moment the Great Resignation, it might be more accurate to call it the “Great Awakening.” As a Marine Corps veteran, I think of how armed forces learn to embrace adversity and turn it to their advantage. CEOs and other business leaders can also adopt this mentality, welcoming this mindset shift and clearly creating meaning in the work their employees do. As business leaders, it falls to us to actively connect what we ask our teams to do to why we are asking them to do it. 

At Salesforce.org, we work with more than 50,000 nonprofit and educational institutions around the world. Our purpose is to power their purpose. Each of them uses our platform in different ways—but all of them are focused on building tangible solutions to real-world problems. Nonprofits like Goodwill use our tools to expand job opportunities through workforce development programs that successfully placed more than 120,000 people in jobs in 2020. And those are just two examples of the tangible impact our customers deliver every day. Personally, I can’t think of more meaningful work.

Companies of all kinds can also attract and retain employees by focusing on creating an environment that fosters mental health and well-being. A healthy workplace is one that proactively prevents burnout through policies that address a broad range of psychological needs, that inspire connection among employees, and that provide flexibility around work arrangements to help employees balance personal and professional needs. And a healthy workplace is also one that takes into account not only current employees but also future workers. As Benjamin Perks, Unicef’s head of campaigns and advocacy, recently reminded us on our Force Multiplier podcast, 76% of students have also struggled with well-being during the pandemic. 

During the Great Resignation—or the Great Awakening—the workforce has evolved into one in which workers value organizations that offer three specific things: meaningful work, opportunities to make an impact, and environments that foster well-being. The good news is that many organizations already offer these options, and many more are working toward doing so. Business leaders who ultimately aren’t able to meet this moment, or ultimately choose not to, are the most at risk as the post-pandemic workforce takes shape. 

Sam Allen is executive vice president and COO of Salesforce.org.

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