To Work Through The Great Resignation, Take A Cue From Nature

Aligning with seasonal cycles is a basic principle for sustaining health and well-being.

The Life/Work Revolution — the reversal of priority from our jobs to our lives — is transformational because it rejects a mindset 100 years in the making that human beings can perform like machines. We are not machines — and we are done with leaders who see us or treat us as if we are.

From Henry Ford’s car assembly line to Amazon’s on-demand warehouse operations, businesses have developed ways of working to optimize productivity and eliminate waste. Along the way, they forgot the essential qualities and needs that separate their machines from the human beings who operate them.

Decades of hyper productivity driven by game-changing technology has severed our connection to the principles and cycles of the natural world. The Great Resignation is a revolt against the assumption that people are willing to live like machines to participate in a growth-obsessed economy.

Companies need not fear this evolution, nor should they resist it or seek to reverse it. They should learn from it and adapt with it.


Many companies want to meet this moment with tactical solutions. They don’t know what else to do so they instinctually revert to conventional responses. They hope to coax employees back into the fold with hybrid work-from-home flexibility, salary incentives and work-life wellness perks. That’s a “business-as-usual” response. It’s not enough.

Aligning with this world of work metamorphosis begins with reclaiming our link in the natural order. We often think of nature as a place to visit, whether for a weekend hike, a beach holiday, or family apple-picking outing, rather than as something deeply rooted in our existence.

This is a fundamental miss in how we shape our identities. Here are three principles we should embrace instead:

  • Acknowledge that we belong to the natural world.
  • Integrate nature’s inherent wisdom into the ways we design, run and lead organizations.
  • Generate return on investments by creating workplaces that treat people humanely and account for their needs.

Philosopher and renowned ecologist Gregory Bateson wrote that “the major problems in the world result from the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” Companies that survive and thrive through this Life/Work Revolution will take cues from nature and its basic operating principles.

Integrate Natural Cycles into the Workplace

Aligning with natural cycles is the basis for sustaining health and well-being. It is now also a guiding principle for workplaces that want to retain and attract talent.

For millennia, communities of people have embedded natural cycles into their lives. Societies have marked time with the waxing and waning lunar cycle and its four distinct phases. People act in alignment with the changing seasons. Spring plantings and summer toil bring fall harvests. In winter the fields lay fallow, giving way to restoration until spring comes again.

Nature gives us the rhythm of preparation in spring; exertion in summer; fruition in autumn; and rest in winter.

Workplaces don’t reflect the wisdom of natural rhythms. The world of business abandoned the four-phase natural cycle and substituted the artificial quarterly report.

In our mechanistic framework, leaders face relentless, unforgiving pressure to be the best, the biggest, the first, the most. Markets and boards expect peak performance all year round — year after year.

We’ve even appropriated the language of machines to describe our own experience. When we need a break we talk about unplugging, getting off the grid or recharging our batteries. The Life/Work Revolution allows us a chance to transcend the artificial mindsets that deny our humanity. We can take our cues from nature instead.

Consider the tones of different seasons as a starting place for a grounded way of working for individuals, teams and organizations. Nature gives us the rhythm of preparation in spring; exertion in summer; fruition in autumn; and rest in winter. Spring represents fresh new beginnings. Summer is hot and intense. Fall is the time of harvest. Winter provides rest and renewal.

This natural rhythm represent a healthy range of pace and productivity. Each tone serves a unique and necessary purpose. Organizations would benefit from recognizing and internalizing the importance of cycles to people’s health and well-being: Rest must follow exertion to deny burnout a chance to take hold.

Without different rhythms and varying intensity in our (work) lives, we feel stressed, depressed, and even lost.

We crave the chance to step back from the action to take in the big picture or reacquaint ourselves with the purpose of our endeavors. We want the resources to plan properly before we jump into action, and space to pause, reflect and adjust along the way. We need time to savor our successes when things work out and process our disappointments when they don’t. All of these needs require time, energy and legitimacy that we cannot achieve if we are in the constant motion of delivering the deliverables.

This lesson of The Great Resignation is clear. We are putting life first. We are not machines. We want to regain humanity in our work.

The broken and burned out masses leading the Great Resignation will not settle for less.


Published on October 28, 2021 on

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