Managing Burnout: The Era of the Great Resignation


One could also argue that the Great Resignation is an era for a great realignment. During lockdown, many individuals took the time to realign their priorities.

The term “The Great Resignation” was first coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at the University College of London’s School of Management, in May of 2021, when he first predicted a mass exodus of employees out of the workforce.1 The Great Resignation is an era in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their job in masses beginning in early 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the most cited reasons for resigning include lack of growth opportunities, lack of relationships, and lack of deep connection to the overall purpose of the company.1

According to a report by Harvard Business Review, from 2012 to 2019, the average monthly quit rate increased by 0.10 percentage points each year. Then, in 2020, because of the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, that rate stagnated as workers held onto jobs that they otherwise might have left. However, the pause was short lived, primarily due to the stimulus checks sent out by the Federal Government following mass layoffs.2 Shortly thereafter, we started to observe people get by just fine without having a consistent source of income. The uncertainty started to gradually abate, and workers realized that they no longer had to put up with unbearable work conditions when they saw their neighbors and other members of the family survive the layoffs.2

It is undeniable that the pandemic has caused people to reconsider the role of work in their lives. That shift in perspective is likely to have motivated some workers to quit, especially those who were under a lot of stress working in demanding jobs that intruded on their ability to care for their families.

People with insomnia, silhouette vector stock illustration. c People with mental problems and social burnout

Image credit: Vikky Mir |

One could also argue that the Great Resignation is an era for a great realignment. During lockdown, many individuals took the time to realign their priorities. Over recent decades, the US has lost the connectedness of communities, their attention to spirituality (meaning to feel connected to a purpose bigger than them), and family. As social beings, we need each other not only to survive, but to thrive. Research shows that lack of growth, relationships, and connection to the overall mission and vision of the company are the 3 largest reasons why employees leave companies.1 These very same reasons align with our yearning for the community that we’ve lost, the family and spirituality that our mind and soul need so badly.

Compassion Fatigue

Perhaps the most toxic consequence of burnout is when we lose our ability to care for anyone or anything. It starts with a mild irritation leading to a lack of concern, and eventually outright dismissal of our patients.

To address these new challenges, many companies have focused on employee well-being and have associated a work-life imbalance with excessive work demands. Efforts to address these needs often include initiatives such as bring your pet to work day, a day of wellness, hiring consultants to coach staff on work/life balance, encouraging a healthy diet, and practicing yoga and mindfulness. However, these approaches treat the symptoms of work-life imbalance and ignore the root causes of employee burnout. It is usually not work demands that result in burnout, but a lack of passion for what we do on a day-to-day basis as well as a lack of psychological safety.

Many companies overlook the power that workplace culture can have on employee wellness and instead focus relentlessly on financial metrics. We human beings will never be part of those financial metrics; we can only be part of the culture that is created for us. As a social species, a positive culture can be deeply soothing for our human body. It creates a sense of belonging and harmony with those we work with. When we feel that we belong at work, we then feel our contributions have value and meaning. So many companies fail to understand that, regardless of their rank, their team is the biggest asset they have to help them achieve the financial metrics. Money or financial gains should not be the end results, but instead a resource or fuel to get the company one step closer to achieving their mission.

The Culture that Matters

An organization is only as good as its culture, and building that culture is not only a role for the human resources (HR) department, but it is also every leader’s responsibility. As a leader of an organization, you can help make your organization a more supportive and engaging place to work by understanding the psychological processes that impact the ways employees interact.

It is important to first define organizational culture. Organizational culture is often overlooked — and yet it is the most important criteria for evaluating a job offer. Simply put, culture is the organization’s DNA. Culture is the shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize the organization. It is reflected in how people behave, interact with each other, make decisions, and do their work.

Do not confuse organizational culture with a company’s strategic goals, core values, mission, or vision. Culture is not merely about the press releases the company sends out explaining their positions on things. It is also not about benefits like casual dress codes, flexible working hours, and weekly happy hours. Culture is core values plus leadership behavior. A culture is created through consistent and authentic behaviors by leadership. In other words, a culture is when the leaders take the core values off the wall and live them. Organizational culture is determined by how the organizational leadership responds to a crisis, how they adapt to new demands, and how they correct an employee when mistakes happen.

Organizational culture is key in attracting new talent. Research shows that roughly 77% of talent considers organizational culture before applying. Additionally, 50% of current employees are willing to leave their current employer for a lower-paying opportunity with a better culture. It goes without saying that organizational culture is the number one indicator for employee satisfaction and the reason why employees stay at their jobs.

Time and again, we learn that organizational culture is rather fragile, and it should never be taken for granted. As a company grows or is faced with new challenges or market demand, the organizational culture becomes harder to maintain. Organizational culture must be nurtured for it to grow in the right direction.

Organizational culture is important in the development of traits necessary for business success and the organizational bottom line. Research shows that organizations with healthy cultures are 1.5 times more like to experience revenue growth of 15%.3 Despite these data, only 30% of HR personnel believe they work in an organization with a culture that promotes growth and business sustainability, and 85% of organizations fail to transform their culture when leaders become too comfortable with the status quo.3

Where can you find your culture? Almost always, dysfunctionality starts among the executive team. In other words, the dysfunctionality allowed among executives is the very same dysfunctionality expected in the organization, and the acceptable level of dysfunction in your company drives your culture.

If it's acceptable to exclude voices or viewpoints, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to claim credit for others' work, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to succeed at others' expense, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to throw others under the bus, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to dodge hard conversations, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to avoid taking responsibility, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to take advantage of others, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to keep ignoring problems, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to ignore others' opinions, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to be passive aggressive, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to look out for yourself, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable not to be accountable, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to treat others poorly, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable not to know people, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable not to collaborate, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to spread rumors, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to blame others, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to work in silos, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to cut corners, that is your culture.
If it's acceptable to use others, that is your culture.

So, what is currently acceptable in your organization?And, if you are a senior leader, are you ready to do something about that?

Can you change a culture?

Long working hours, a lack of resources, the inability to take needed breaks, and the added responsibilities of meeting the demand created by the pandemic are among the challenges that many of us live with daily. Although I am excited to see media pay attention to providers’ well-being, I feel that most initiatives have been individual-centered and very few have been system-centered. When you put an individual in a system that induces stress, there is little room for well-being.

We can’t solve the problem if we can’t prove the problem exists. Telling your stories can help bring about positive change.

What are some of the changes needed to address the well-being of pharmacists? Increasing the number of technicians, reducing the number of working hours, and hiring more pharmacists to meet the patients’ demands are a start. I recommend that thought leaders meet and agree on what specific changes that can be made so pharmacists are better equipped to care for their patients.

In his book Know Your Why, Simon Sinek talks about the law of diffusion of innovation—an explanation of how people are inspired to change behavior, implement a new system, and embrace a cultural change.4 Different people in an organization have different thresholds for change. Not everyone will accept change in the same way at the same time and speed. This concept of cultural change is best explained through the bell curve that we are all familiar with from our statistics courses.

In any normal distribution of human behavior, the majority of the population falls under the curve, occupying 68% of the bell curve, and they are called the early majority and late majority. The majority will only change behavior or consider an innovation after someone has tried it first. In other words, they will try something new if they have a role model and good reason for doing so.4

Roughly 16% of the population are willing to try something new and accept change easily. Those are the innovators and early adaptors. The remaining 16% of the population are the laggards. The laggards will consider a change in behavior if they absolutely must.4

Through the bell curve, we learn that the majority of organizational leaders and staff members are resistant to cultural change. How many times have we been required to take mandatory trainings by HR that led us nowhere? And how much revenue was lost because of that? This is because the majority of staff members are too comfortable with the status quo and do not like disruption or new ways of thinking and acting. To align our resources to adapt to change and a shift in culture, it is best to start training the early adaptors by making training optional. When training is optional, the early adaptors will sign up and, if they find the training effective and apply the lessons learned in their day-to-day work, they will share their experiences with the late majority. In other words, mandatory training with required attendance seldom works in changing an organizational culture or employee behavior.

Of those open to change, there are the innovators and early adaptors. They are the “change agents” who question the status quo and value the company’s effectiveness rather than tradition and their own comfort zones.4 These early adaptors are the same ones who stand up for what they believe in and hold their leaders accountable. They see the need for change, are eager for change, and need only be shown new ways of thinking and acting that are reasonable. Before adopting changes both personally and permanently, they need good reasons and strong leadership with effective role models. And it comes as no surprise that it is usually the early adaptors who leave a toxic organizational culture when they feel their innovations and input are not incorporated or valued, leaving the company to the early majority who are comfortable with where the organization is currently headed. The same majority will only do what is asked of them and never question their leaders.

We all Have to Do Our Part

Every organizational culture is different, and it is important to maintain the things that make your organization unique. The culture of a high-functioning organization consists of certain qualities that you should consider implementing:

  • Alignment: As a leader, your task is to be the chief visionary officer for your organization. You need to stay focused on your company’s mission and vision. Once you identify the overall mission and vision of your organization, you can hire people who share the same values and then inspire them to contribute to the company’s vision. Within this process, always consider the power of diversity and inclusion when building your team. Diversity prevents a homogenous workforce and promotes innovation and inclusion to ensure that all diverse perspectives are aligned with the company’s mission and vision.
  • Appreciation: Appreciating your staff can take many forms, such as kudos, a note of thanks, or a promotion.
  • Trust: When team members feel that their supervisor will support them and that they will not be reprimanded when mistakes happen, they will not only bring their natural best to work but be more willing to innovate.
  • Leadership who inspires: Employees need to feel they belong to a great culture. They want to wake up every day inspired and ready to be part of something bigger than themselves. Take, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader of the anti-racist movement, who was a walking example of someone who struggled for his conviction and succeeded. His story is about the crowd that followed him, the crowd that believed in him, because he knew their needs, fears, and hopes. We follow people who give us confidence in the future. We follow those like Martin Luther King, Jr., because we know they value us for our strength and make us feel connected.
  • Psychological Safety: Psychological safety provides the support employees need to take risks and make changes. Psychological safety starts at the team level, so organizational leaders need to take the lead in creating a culture that is safe. When the team feels safe, they naturally collaborate, communicate and function at their best.


  1. Fontinelle A. What Is the Great Resignation? Causes, Statistics, and Trends. Investopedia. Updated November 30, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2023.
  2. Fuller J, Kerr W. The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic. Harvard Business Review. March 23, 2022. Accessed December 21, 2023.
  3. Roberts D. Shape Your Workplace Culture by the Stories You Tell. Inc. November 2, 2023. Accessed December 21, 2023.
  4. Sinek S. Know Your Why: How to Find Your Place in the World. 2021; Portfolio.
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