5 min read

Warm Take: A Great Discontinuity

Reckoning, again and again, with a new state of affairs
Hiker standing on a rock above an icy mountain lake, fog obscuring the mountaintops
Photo by Jordan Heinrichs / Unsplash

The Soho store on a weeknight was noisy, crowded, and smelled like overwhelm. After consulting an in-house expert, I left Sephora, kind of numb, with a $40 lipstick I wasn’t entirely sure about.

Sorting through media and academic sources on the so-called Great Resignation is a similarly confusing-to-me endeavor. I’ll stand on my skepticism, for now.

I feel more confident that our current moment is a Great Discontinuity.

When we’re fortunate, our work day provides a different challenge than, maybe, getting our child to eat, or navigating care for a vulnerable family member. Our professional selves can finish a project, and move on. There’s a lot more blur and mess in a personal life. Or, at least, in my personal life.

In a 2017 (?) conversation with a mentor, I went on about some of what we're getting from work. They commented, “It's Anne’s Unified Theory of Work.” I’ve called this Job As A Service. But JaaS is incomplete. It lacks nuance.  

Our workplaces and professional lives hold space for us, particularly. Routine, a body of work, communities of non-intimate relationships, work friendships, and more, create a world where we can show up as a version of ourselves — hopefully, a version of ourselves we can live with. There’s a continuity.

By adulthood, you’ve experienced discontinuity. You leave school, friend groups. Maybe you end a significant relationship, move to a new city. Discontinuity is unbalancing, even when it’s positive, like getting a great new job, or having a baby. You’re forced to reckon with a new state of affairs.

Dead reckoning is a navigator's iterative calculation process used to estimate location. Given information believed to be certain, like starting point, distance traveled, and speed, a navigator can calculate a ship's dead reckoning position, or fix.

Dead Reckoning, On Management #24 (2017)

These reckonings are human, they’re always happening. As a manager, you need to support a balance between humanity, and the work. To provide team members with reference to a starting point that enables them to navigate anew, maybe as a new parent, or in the midst of a divorce.

In recent times, you might have been unsafe and required to report to work. Your employer may have ceased operations. You might have worked from home, maybe while providing tech support for your kids. You may have quit your job, been laid off, or changed jobs. Maybe you're hanging on. Or thriving.

We have lost so much. We’re in a collective reckoning, a Great Discontinuity. Many of us can’t find a fix, a certain position to navigate from.

A military veteran knows why your employees are leaving is the best thing I’ve read in 2022, about the workplace in 2022.  Adria Horn describes the challenges of coming home from deployment, something she’s done 5 times as a service member.

Coming back from deployment is hard. You’re expecting it to be great. You’re home again, this should be great! But the biggest feeling is that things are different. The kids are different. Your favorite restaurant closed, your pet died, and your softball team broke up. The couch your partner bought while you were away is great—but it’s not the couch you knew. Home isn’t normal, it isn’t as it was.

A military veteran knows why your employees are leaving, Adria Horn and Aaron De Smet, McKinsey Quarterly, January 31, 2022

Horn and her co-author encourage leaders to be flexible as we all navigate grief, return to the office, and Covid uncertainty. The Great Resignation is not the problem. "...everyone’s been through a collective trauma and they deserve a break," Horn says.

What do people need from your team, your organization? Can you provide a fixed point people can use to navigate their present — with even a small measure of continuity?

Thank you for reading one of my Sunday morning Warm Takes, and a warm thank you to everyone who sent me notes about Power, more on that down the road. I always love to hear from you, so please do send your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

I appreciate everyone who supports the newsletter financially.  Many thanks to Casey, David, Eleanor, Jason, Kirsten, Labib, Uri, Amy, and Alex for consulting with me as I expand options to support the newsletter. If you're interested in a more extended explainer on my thinking, scroll down below the signature, and click "Supporting On Management."

May you and your loved ones be safe, healthy, and free,

Anne Libby

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Supporting On Management

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I’m not scalable. In my day job, I sell my expertise. My available inventory is limited by time and the laws of physics, lol. I set my prices accordingly.

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Bay Bridge at dusk, traffic moving rapidly