You Can Learn a Lot About Company Culture If You Watch HOW Employees Quit

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Editor’s NoteI’ve been republishing some classic Skeptical Guy posts the last few months. This one is from July 2018.

DESPITE THE NEVER ENDING focus on how we recruit and hire new employees, we know that we should also spend as much time and energy on how we can better retain the good people who are already in our employ.

That’s a great thought, but there’s something else to consider: No matter how good a job we do at keeping employees engaged, happy, and productive, some are still going to depart.

That’s why this study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology was so instructive, because it focused on exactly HOW people leave jobs.

The 7 ways people say “I Quit”

IT FOUND THAT THERE ARE  seven (7) specific ways that most people resign, listed here in order of their frequency:

  1. By the book (31 percent) —These resignations involve a face-to-face meeting with one’s manager to announce the resignation, a standard notice period, and an explanation of the reason for quitting.
  2. Perfunctory (23.5 percent) — These resignations are similar to “by the book” resignations, except the meeting tends to be shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided.
  3. Avoidance (12.7 percent) — This occurs when employees let other employees — peers, mentors, or HR staff — know that they plan to leave rather than giving notice to their immediate boss.
  4. Grateful goodbye (10 percent) — Employees express gratitude toward their employer and often offer to help with the transition period.
  5. Bridge burning (8.6 percent) — In this type of resignation, employees seek to harm the organization or its members on their way out the door, often with verbal assaults.
  6. In the loop (7.9 percent) — In these resignations, employees typically confide in their manager that they are contemplating quitting, or are looking for another job, before formally resigning.
  7. Impulsive quitting (6.3 percent) — Some employees simply walk off the job, never to return or communicate with their employer again. This can leave the organization in quite a lurch, given it is the only style in which no notice is provided.

A resignation tells a lot about an organization

Anthony Klotz, an assistant professor in the College of Business at Oregon State University, talked to Fast Company about this study, and he pointed out that:

  • The way that as many as 49 percent of employees quit their jobs was received positively by employers, but the majority was not.
  • Another 36 percent quit in a way that was perceived as negative, but not necessarily damaging to the employer,
  • Some 15 percent chose to resign using a method that could potentially inflict damage to their company.

“For much of employees’ work lives, they possess relatively little power and control over their situation at work. However, once employees decide to leave, that power balance shifts,” Klotz says.

“As such, the resignation is one of the few times that employees are free to express themselves without fearing termination,” he adds, suggesting that employers consider the way in which employees resign as a “diagnostic tool” for measuring employee satisfaction.

He also had this insight:

“If (managers) see a rash of negative resignations, it is a signal that employees are being treated poorly, and they should investigate and find the cause. When a company notices that, in general, their employees leave in a positive and grateful manner, they can take that as one sign that employees feel like they are treated relatively well.”

Takeaways from the departure data

HERE’S MY TAKE: I hate to say that every workplace issue is about culture, but the reasons behind why employees resign and how they resign tell you a great deal about an organization’s culture.

If employees feel positive about the company, how they have been treated, and the opportunities they’ve had, they will usually resign in a positive way. Plus, they will generally take great pains not to burn any bridges as they head out the door.

But the opposite is true as well — when people quit abruptly, or badly, it tells you a great deal about the organization’s culture.

Exit interviews almost never manage to get at this, because most people have been told to either say very little about how they really feel.

IF YOU CARE ABOUT improving your culture (and shame on you if you aren’t), monitoring the hows and whys when people quit is a great place to start. But if you do, be ready to do something about the reasons behind why people are leaving because you’ll make things worse if you dig into this stuff without being prepared to take action on what you find.

Here’s something all managers and leaders need to remember: There is nothing worse than raising false expectations.

That’s what you do if you don’t listen to the very real things your soon-to-be-former employees are telling you.

It’s a final message from them you just can’t ignore.

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