The Disintegration of “Downtown”

As the hub of life in most metropolitan areas, downtowns are the focal point of so many important sectors of our communities. In many cases, businesses, foundations, and educational centers are located within downtown regions. They are often mixed with cultural institutions like museums, performing arts centers, and other public assembly facilities drawing crowds of both local and out-of-town visitors. We must look to our leaders to strengthen and secure vibrant hubs of commerce and industry.


However, in the last few years, due to factors including COVID, racial tension, increased violent crime, and the lack of consistent in-person work, these City Centers are not the central landing point as they were just a few years ago. When I think locally of my residence of Philadelphia, I see tremendous opportunities for growth.


Our region is home to hundreds of thousands of people who have had their lives disrupted in some manner over the past several years. We live in a unique time bordering the edge of robust success, yet also very close to the exact opposite. Hate is growing thick and thanks to social media, or what I like to call “anti-social media,” we lack decency and decorum at a time when it is so desperately needed. When hate spreads without reproach, we are reminded of the tragic testament to the dangers of indifference and deeply divided societies.


This is why work and office morale and people returning to work are so important. The art of networking and learning to deal with each other via face-to-face communication is critical as we move forward. We are now faced with “quiet quitters,” who are not helping revive downtown.


The term “quiet quitters” and “great resignation” have been front and center recently. Some people have referred to this as “working while retired.” Regardless of what you call it, the idea is that employees are in charge and working when and where they want.


This phenomenon of employees doing as little as possible to meet their jobs’ minimum requirements and expectations is rampant across the workforce. With an excess of available jobs and not enough qualified candidates, those left to do the work have been given increased responsibilities and not always an equal bump in compensation. However, even if the money is put on the table, employees push back and say no… because they can.


COVID and the need to begin remote work started this. The move to hybrid perpetuated the issue. Why wake up early, get dressed, and deal with the headaches of commuting when one can sleep later, have a relaxed morning atmosphere, and work remotely while sitting in pajamas all day? While this is not enticing to everyone, a significant percentage of people find this situation positive.


Since 2020, institutions have been forced to rethink their business models and how they deliver services to consumers or customers. Since there is a dearth of willing employees in the workforce, the employees left have taken on increased responsibilities. This transformation has also seen the rise of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, and the social score of companies. This is often as important as the bottom-line score. Some employees have used this as an opportunity to alter their work habits and behaviors.


When employees feel unfulfilled, they pull back. Because they are aware of the shortage and the need for employers to keep the team they have in place, there has been a paradigm shift in the power base. Employees are no longer worried about being let go from their positions, and if they are, they happily sit on the sidelines as members of the gig economy.


Employees today want to understand the mission, vision, and values of the organization they work for. If the leaders of these institutions cannot adequately paint a picture or motivate the team properly, morale becomes affected.  Managers don’t spend enough time talking about goals and objectives, work plans are not created together, and there are no longer enough one-on-one meetings and coaching. The lack of focus from managers has a trickle-down effect on employees who want to be led. Good, honest, and transparent communication and feedback are disappearing as everyone from the CEO down is becoming too busy.  In Hebrew, there is a term called “Rosh Gadol,” which translates literally to the big head. How does every single person fit into the puzzle, and how does their role impact the organization? While the sum is usually more significant than the parts, you can’t get to the sum without the details. In this case, the parts have hearts and care.


Factor in also that today’s employee sees more to life than just work. The workaholic, seven-day-a-week, never miss a day attitude is not respected or admired. This new worker wants a better quality of work-life balance. There is more to life than work, and the remote/hybrid lifestyle offers the ability to be home for extracurricular activities – things they are much more passionate about.


Employees who are not inspired at work will find other, more exciting things to devote their time to. Or, they will find other jobs with better and more interesting leaders.


The best leaders take the time to engage in creative problem-solving with their employees on how their unique talents might drive the organization’s priorities forward. They will show the way forward and set rules and parameters around communication and expectation.


It is more than okay if you’re pushing your team slightly out of their comfort zone. They’ll gladly do that if they know that you’ll have their back when they make a mistake or two. The only way to grow is to do things you haven’t done before. Mistakes are good when you learn from them. Have your employee’s backs all the time regardless, and give them credit, and you will see an amazing transformation.


This so-called quiet quitter phenomenon is not a new situation. People have been quietly quitting their absent leaders for decades – leaving jobs or finding something else to occupy their time.


Fixing this problem will take focusing not only on the employee but spending real energy on the leaders. Leaders are harder and harder to find. I’m unwilling to give up as I know they are out there. Our downtowns depend on us all to work together to find the answers.


Steve Rosenberg

Steve Rosenberg is the Principal of the GSD Group and the author of the book MAKE BOLD THINGS HAPPENS: Inspirational Stories from Sports, Business, and Life.





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