How to Find a More Fulfilling Career During the Great Resignation

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Can you tell that something is shifting? Over the past year of isolation and lockdown, many of us experienced a profound shift in perspective – we had newfound space to reflect on what really mattered, question assumptions, and dream up new possibilities for our lives and careers. Taking action on these new epiphanies, however, was extremely difficult to do in real time; the economy was in dire straits, and most of those lucky enough to still have jobs hunkered down in them for survival.

We’re looking at a decidedly different picture now. With parts of the world opening up, and recovering economies seeing a pick up in new job growth, all of that pent up desire for change finally has an outlet. And people worldwide are channeling their longstanding frustrations with the status quo of work by seizing this opportunity for change: a recent study found that over 40% of the global workforce is considering handing in their resignations. Economists have dubbed this phenomenon the “Great Resignation,” and it’s bringing hope to prospective job seekers while instilling fear in employers who have gotten away with ignoring their employee’s needs for far too long.

In Part I of our #GreatResignation4Change series, we took a closer look at some of the factors driving this historic level of turnover. In this second installment, we’re going to look at what the Great Resignation means specifically for employees and job-seekers, and how you can make the most of this historic opportunity to drive positive change in your life, career, and society at large.

This Is the New Normal

This isn’t a flash in the pan moment, or a series of isolated incidents. This is a truly global movement that has been a long time coming, and now that the metaphorical fuse has been lit by the spark of the pandemic, there is no going back. As Jack Kelly, CEO of one of the oldest and largest global talent search firms, poignantly captured in a Forbes article earlier this year, “There’s been a mood shift and change in the zeitgeist. We’ve learned firsthand how fragile life is. Many people have reexamined their lives. They realize they have a limited time here in this world. This has caused a bit of an existential moment. People have started thinking about what they’ve been doing and whether they want to continue on in the same job or career for the next five to 25 years. The results of this introspection clearly show that they want to make a move”

This is not an employee engagement problem that can be fixed with a ping-pong table in the break room. This is a fundamental referendum on our relationship to work itself. It’s as if we are collectively realizing that this isn’t a trial run; this is it. To quote Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” For many of us, the answer is not, “to grind away at a thankless 9-5 where I’m not seen, not heard, and not valued.” As we elaborate on in Part I of this series, the desire to do work that matters and has a greater purpose is not new, and also not going anywhere. 

Pair this shift in collective consciousness with the explosion of new job growth we’ve seen in recent months – particularly in future-forward fields like sustainability, clean energy, and regenerative agriculture, and the like – and it becomes clear that the balance of power has shifted, and that it’s shifted in favor of employees. That is to say, if your current employer is not willing to meet your evolving needs, there’s hardly been a better time to find another company that will. 

Even the ex-HR Chief of Google is warning that “returning to work is an imprintable moment for companies that could spell disaster” if employees don’t get the “support and compassion” they need. (If only Google had taken that approach to the employee activists walkouts in 2019, right?!)

We’ll share more about what this means for employers in the next installment of this series, but for employees and job-seekers, we hope that your key takeaway is this: right now, you have the leverage. And whether you plan to leave your job in search of something better or stay where you are and negotiate for better terms, the tips below will help you make the most of the “Great Resignation” to change your career for the better – both in terms of how it fits you, and how it contributes to the kind of world we’re trying to build back better. 

How to Make the Most of the Great Resignation

Riding the wave of the Great Resignation to find meaning and fulfillment in your work doesn’t necessarily have to mean leaving your existing job. But, it does mean that you should take action to build a plan and start taking small steps.

At your current company

As author Daniel Pink explains in the book Drive, regardless of their employment arrangement, employees consistently emphasize three drivers of satisfaction:

  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters

If you want a fulfilling career, you need to be working in a way that aligns with your purpose, and gives you the opportunity and autonomy to exercise your strengths. 

In some cases, you can find the combination of purpose, autonomy, and mastery that you’re looking for within your existing company or team by making a few adjustments. And particularly right now, companies will be fighting to both recruit and retain talent, and employee turnover is extremely costly. That means that if you’ve been considering negotiating for a raise, asking for a sabbatical, advocating for a flexible schedule, or wanting more exposure to clients, now is an excellent time to work with your manager to jobcraft your current role into your ideal role. 

Psychology Today defines job crafting as when employees alter their jobs in such a way as to better suit their skills and interests, thereby increasing their job satisfaction. With job crafting, employees make subtle, yet meaningful changes to the scope of their work that in turn shift their mindset towards their sense of purpose.

Before doing so, we recommend taking some time to meaningfully reflect and introspect on what it is you really want. MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellow Maria’s story is a great example of what job crafting your way to a new career can look like based on a deeper sense of understanding of your own talents and strengths. To start this process, you’ll want to:

  1. Set SMART goals to guide your next steps
  2. Network across your company to identify opportunities and how to best go about this process unique to your organization
  3. Seek outside advice from a mentor, peer, or previous coworker or friend 
  4. Start taking actions, including negotiations with your manager, leadership, and/or HR

This might feel like a lot, but it can be easier and more productive than starting a new job from scratch. However, if you exhaust all your options, the following section provides advice on how to use the Great Resignation to seek a new job.

As a job-seeker 

If you know deep down that you’ve run your course with your existing company, now is a great time to find a new career that fits who you authentically are. One word of caution here: don’t make a knee-jerk decision out of frustration that leads to change just for change’s sake. If you do that, you risk being equally unsatisfied in your new role, just in a different setting – beginning the career change cycle all over again. The Great Resignation isn’t happening overnight, and you don’t need to leap until you’re ready to: that is, until you’ve taken the time to do the real thoughtful introspection required to point your compass in the right direction for your next step. 

The interactive exercises and templates in our 10-Step #SocialImpactCareerGuide are a great place to start uncovering things like your strengths, purpose drivers, top causes, ideal work environment, and more – all of which will lay the foundation for a successful career transition and help ensure that you end up somewhere you can thrive not only in the short-term but also in the long-term.

As you consider all of the options available to you, remember that social impact is not something that is limited to a specific field or organization type; the reality is that social impact is now something that can happen in every sector. Part of what we do in the MovingWorlds Institute is help Global Fellows expand their realm of possibilities to include roles that may not have been on their radar previously – something that we explore more fully in this blog post about what social impact jobs are, and how to find them.

For more insights and frameworks to help you approach your job search, check out this Insider’s Guide to Sustainability Careers webinar featuring Katie Kross, Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke University. Once you have a clearer picture of the type of job you want to transition into, check out this list of the 70 best places to find social impact jobs in 2021 to find the right opportunity for you. 

In Summary

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a fulfilling career, and each of our paths will be as unique as we are. I wrote this article not with the intention of convincing you to quit your job, but rather to show you that you have options – and that’s an empowering place to operate from.

If you’ve been considering a career change but waiting for the right time, now is an excellent time to start taking action. But even if you love your current job and company, this is still a great window of opportunity to start conversations with your team and manager about what you’d like your work to look like in the future.

For more customized support, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship for the tools, network, and hands-on experience you need to leverage the Great Resignation to create a more fulfilling career.