[Opinion] The Great Resignation and The Role IT May Play

By Rory Monaghan


It has been talked about to death at this point but a term coined in the US is The Great Resignation. It resonates with me because during the pandemic, I took a leap myself. I was interviewed by an Irish newspaper a few months ago as they wanted to speak with people who switched jobs during the pandemic. For me, I was working a job I loved and with people I loved working with too. I enjoyed the day to day work for the most part but it was healthcare IT which under normal circumstances is a grind with a lot of reactive work including changes scheduled outside of business hours and on-call required but with the pandemic, the stakes were raised across all departments and for all employees. Flying by the seat of our pants trying to quickly onboard thousands of employees to work remotely will be an experience I never forget.

In my case, The leap I took saw me move from working as part of an EUC team at a hospital to working in Technical Marketing for ControlUp. I had never worked in marketing before and the only times I tried roles in the tech industry that were not purely technical, it didn’t work out well for me. I was emboldened to make the leap and give it a try due to Ireland’s Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme. I thought if I was ever going to take a risk, now is the time because if it doesn’t work out I will get welfare that should be enough to pay our mortgage and bills.

Thankfully, it has worked out very well but I am so lucky and privileged to have been in that position. People lost their lives to COVID. Others lost loved ones. Many were made redundant or temporarily furloughed. Others had partners who lost their jobs or were furloughed and possibly experienced more financial pressure making them unlikely to take a similar risk in changing jobs. Those of us in IT and remote tech jobs throughout the pandemic have been relatively fortunate career wise and shouldn’t take that for granted, in my opinion.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

At the same time, everyone, including IT workers have been through a traumatic experience. Doctors and mental health workers are reporting an increase in people seeking care for mental health concerns like anxiety, stress and depression with some of these manifesting in physical ailments like chest pains, chills, numbness, IBS and more. With so much added stress and anxiety on all of us, it is completely understandable to me that the last 2+ years could have a profound impact on people’s psyche and result in a look at what their priorities are in life.

A lot of us have been guilty of putting work before everything else. Many of us have bent way too far to the will of employers when we shouldn’t have had to. There is a movement at least in the US but I bet it ripples throughout the world, it is a movement of people who have had enough of taking shit from employers. The /r/antiwork subreddit seems to be leading the charge in uniting people in a community spirit of “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”. It is fascinating, I feel that for the first time in my own living memory the employees have leverage over employers and perhaps due to weaker labour laws in the US, people there seem determined to make this leverage count and get meaningful changes.

The good news is that for now at least, it seems like companies are recognising this movement and reacting to it. A lot of employees are adamant that they don’t want to return to the office. Commuting for up to 2 hours a day is no longer palatable. Who wants to return to sitting on a freeway that has been reduced to a single lane of traffic during rush hour? Or a train that shuts down at a station far from the office and diverts everyone into a line to wait for an alternative bus service that will take 30+ minutes to arrive? Seems most employers who were able to operate with a remote workforce during the pandemic are committing to at least a hybrid work style going forward or as it is now being called a ‘blended’ work style. In fact, Ireland is planning to enshrine the right to work from home in law.

Further to this, if you work for a company who claims to care about sustainability and they want all employees to commute to the office, do they really care? There are so many positives to work from home it is hard to argue against.

Speaking of countries changing employment laws. Belgium is moving to allow workers to request a 4 day work week for at least 6 months. Could a 4 day work week become the norm? Irish politicians have also been talking about it. Before the pandemic started a recruitment company in Galway put their workforce on a 4 day work week too and hailed it as a success. Years ago, I heard a great report on NPR about automation on the manufacturing lines decades ago and how it hurt employees and benefit employers. Automation is ramping up big time and will be much more far reaching than just manufacturing. Will it benefit the many or just the few? Fewer jobs requiring people could be an opportunity to improve all of our lives if implemented with that goal in mind.

A remote workforce is making SOME companies slowly realize that traditional time management doesn’t work in present day. Managers should instead set goals for their teams to achieve. If you give your team a week to complete a project and they bust their asses and get it done in 2 days then so be it. They should be free to work on what they want for the rest of the time and fit some living into their work week, in my opinion. My cousin use to be a manager at a large store in the US. He managed the night shift when workers would

unload new stock, store some in the back, re-fill the shelves etc. He told me many of his team worked multiple jobs and some were going to college. My cousin’s boss set targets for him, so he simply told his team what he expected them to get done and told them if they get the work done before the end of their shift, they are free to use the rest of the time to study or sleep then they could just clock out and leave at the end of their shift. Now, this was decades ago but hearing that at the time made so much sense to me. He couldn’t let them leave early back then or the whole game would be up but in an ideal world this is how many jobs could and should operate only in addition, employees should be let to leave early if they get the work done so they can enjoy a healthy work life balance.

A somewhat new employee benefit in some companies is unlimited PTO. This is an interesting one. On the surface it sounds great but again, using the US as a reference point, most people surveyed in multiple surveys in the US in the past answered that they didn’t use their PTO. Those in Europe tend to take the PTO they earn but in the US, some feel taking time off could be used against them. Unfortunately, it seems unlimited PTO is not all rainbows and puppies as some have realised that no defined number of PTO days means when an employer fires you, they don’t have to pay for holiday time not taken and again at least in the US, a lot of people don’t take their PTO so in the past they at least usually got paid for unused PTO when let go. In an unlimited PTO world, they may not get paid for any unused PTO time.

The newest employee benefit I have heard about is groceries! I couldn’t believe it when I read about it ON Twitter but some companies are paying for their employees’ weekly shopping and I guess it makes some sense. If that comes out of a company card or expensed (depending on the country) it would be an expenditure for the company but is one they shouldn’t get taxed on. Seems a sign that companies are getting creative and they really need to get creative because right now it is an employees market. I recently read about a professional wrestler getting a massive pay increase plus a private bus for transport to and from shows completely paid for. An increase in pay is paramount but also perks to improve lifestyle outside of work is order of the day.

In my work for ControlUp, I have been immersed in the world of the Digital Employee Experience and I often spend time working on the technical aspects of how enterprises can optimise their employees’ work experience. Part of the reason this is such a big priority now to the point that Gartner and Forrester both have created content around DEX is because the pandemic has had a significant influence on how people perceive work and their employers. I even just had a conversation with some in the Irish EUC community about DEX this week and I wasn’t the one who raised the topic. Clearly, it is a focus area right now.

Most employees want to be productive. If they are dealing with a crappy desktop experience, slow applications and constant disconnects throughout their day that adds stress and leads to unhappiness. The days of employees facing disruptions throughout their day and only ever getting 15 minutes of troubleshooting effort spent on their problems here and there with no resolution for months should come to an end. That type of support makes employees feel like their employer doesn’t value them and doesn’t care. Automated fixes and enabling users to fix some of their own problems would go a long way to reducing these types of support spirals.

Something I feel has been sorely needed in most organisations I worked for was improved communication. Not just from management to teams and from team mates to other team mates but from IT to the end users. If a hosted service or SaaS app goes down and 15 minutes later people are still wondering what is going on, that is a failure. If you give people early warning of an outage and timely notification when the service has been restored they will be able to move things around to stay productive and be happier as a result. Most people are not irrational babies. They understand technology is not perfect and outages happen. They mostly get frustrated by a lack of communication. Also, showing you care enough to communicate the outage quickly shows you value them by ensuring you made it a priority to let them know.

I think most still working from home have invested in new furniture but I have at least 1 friend who has not. Is it acceptable to you as an employer that 2+ years into this pandemic, some of your employees are still working from a laptop on their dining room tables? If you are committing to a blended work style in future or 100% remote work from anywhere work style (which you should to retain staff) then you should ensure your employees have an adequate work environment. Get them a desk or a chair if they need them or at least subsidise them if they would like to choose and buy their own. This is also an area where Government could play a role with grants and/or rebates.

Do you expect employees to use their own devices and enrol them into your MDM? You should pay them for this, in my opinion. You can’t expect employees to willingly hand over control of their personal devices. Also, if you do not provide a device and expect your employees to use their phones for work purposes, I feel you should have to subsidise them for paying the bills. I had a friend who made the choice to carry 2 phones. 1 personal, the other also bought and paid for by him but for work as he didn’t want to let his employer put their MDM on his phone. Carrying 2 phones isn’t a great experience, is it? I blogged on this topic a few years ago.

The home internet connection is a tricky one. It is paramount to good experience. The cost of paying everyone’s internet bill could be too costly for employers to pay for and most people use their internet for personal needs to. I will say, some employers I worked for required a certain quality of connection and some even demanded a dedicated business service from providers for you to have the “luxury” to work from home. I think they got away with the latter because work from home wasn’t embraced by many employers at the time. If that is the case today, I feel they should have to pay for it. Some countries are offering eWorker tax rebates for things like electric bills and internet bills. That could be a better approach than expecting employers to pay employees internet bills.

Ireland and I’m sure other countries are also investing in co-working spaces and hubs for people to go for their work day. These hubs tend to have proper desks and office chairs. They are a great idea, in my opinion BUT much like with work from home. I feel like employees need some guidance and training around security and data compliance in these settings. A VPN service may come in useful in these situations and an automation engine coupled with MDM may be good for coaching employees and protecting corporate assets by prompting employees to not use connections that are not secure or at least switch to a VPN in those cases and potentially deny access to certain services if security criteria is not met. Of course, there is a good way to achieve this and it should be done to respect employees and ensure an optimal experience. I blogged about personal security and its implications for corporate security, if you would like to read that.

There is now an idea that perhaps employees will be brought back to an office setting every once in a while for all hands meetings or all department meetings with the onus being put on management to make that time together count. Which is actually a really great opportunity, in my opinion. Imagine a world in which the pressure is on meeting organisers to not waste people’s time!

A point to make that SHOULD be obvious but seemingly is not, is that employees want to be treated as humans! If you read the antiwork subreddit or even some famous Glassdoor employer reviews there is a disturbing trend of managers treating employees like dirt and of companies tolerating bad apples amongst their ranks creating a toxic environment. At a time when employees hold more power, this cannot and should no longer be tolerated.

I feel technology has a pivotal role to play in the future of work, which means IT teams will be front and centre in this transformation. I for one am really excited about the opportunities this presents. The tech I pushed for at some organisations that was too bleeding edge for management to grasp at the time will now be top of the budget priority list and I am here for it! Don’t take it from me, Gartner analysis is also showing that CIOs are ready to take more risks and invest. (humble brag, if you wanted to take my word for it, I also predicted this in a blog I created for Ace Cloud Hosting in January, 2021…my predictions rarely land so I feel like bragging a little). Strap in fellow techies, we’re in for a wild ride. At the end of the day, a greater work life balance, more inclusive and less toxic work environments, a good employee experience and most of all that employers treat employees as human beings and show them they are valued will be a major improvement for everyone.

Hammock photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Feature image by Romain V on Unsplash

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