The past five years have been the most tumultuous for American workers in recent memory. Even prior to the pandemic, the resignation rate was the highest in the 20 years since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started counting. Then came COVID-19, and with it even more turmoil, leading to the Great Resignation. That was one swing of the pendulum–when workers’ power was at its peak.
Next came a swing in the opposite direction. The Fed raised rates, money was no longer free, and power shifted back to managers, which led to employees staying put and opting for quiet quitting instead.
Now comes the next new normal: An uneven labor market where no one has all the power but both sides are struggling to push their priorities.
As a mentor to many, I’m seeing this phenomenon firsthand. Friends who know they should quit their jobs, who know they aren’t where they’re supposed to be, are having second thoughts because they’re concerned about the alternatives. Some are watching as colleagues get laid off, knowing their company no longer cares for all of its people.
Similarly, I’ve seen a high level of hubris in management, even at the very top of various organizations. Now that they’ve regained some power, they seem to be wielding it without regard, trying to force employees back into the office whether it makes sense or not and behaving in ways that often demoralize and cripple teams.
To both sides, I’d say the same thing: Be patient, but …
To those who know they need to leave their job, be patient but proactive. While you currently may not have the upper hand allowing you to move on to a better opportunity immediately, you can’t let that keep you from planting the seeds for your next move.
If headhunters are no longer calling you, you need to call them. Keep your LinkedIn page fresh and renew, restore, and rev up your contacts. Do whatever else is necessary to create options for yourself.
The alternative, staying put and remaining miserable, won’t just affect your performance at work. It may also impact your mindset, relationships with family and loved ones, and marketability. In short, you’ll lose your edge. And you cannot allow a bad attitude to taint your commitment to what you’re doing today or your hope for tomorrow.
To those in a position of power: Be patient but empathetic.
Your objectives remain the same. Even through periods of high turnover, the goal has been consistent: attracting and retaining the best talent to deliver the best outcomes for the organization, shareholders, and other stakeholders.
What’s changed is the degree of empathy and understanding you’ll need to demonstrate. Now that many employees are feeling vulnerable, you’ve got to work even harder to create an environment where they can thrive, be seen and heard, and energized. To manifest a culture of high performance and trust, you must inspire your employees, which means you must invest in them in the ways that they want to be invested in.
The truth is whatever comes next may not lend itself to a clever tagline. It may not feature one side with all the power.
In all likelihood, the next phase for American workers will be a culture that embraces giving more people more flexibility. If leaders and their team members are to find a way forward, they’ll do so by realizing that the tug of war needs to end–and everyone needs to pull in the same direction.
While it may be naive to think that leaders and employees can agree on everything, the solution to labor’s woes must be co-created. There is always a way forward, and that’s together.
Anne Chow is lead director on FranklinCovey’s Board of Directors, a director of 3M, and co-author of the best-selling book, The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias. Chow is the former CEO of AT&T Business and was twice featured as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business.
More must-read commentary published by Fortune:
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.