What You Should Know About How Employees Quit

As much as we like to focus on all the various ways we can improve upon the way we recruit and hire new employees, we also know that we should spend as much (if not more) time on how we can better retain the people that we already have on our staff.

The problem is, no matter how good of a job we do at trying to keep employees engaged, happy, and productive, some are undoubtedly still going to depart.

The 7 ways employees quit their jobs

That’s why this recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology was instructive because it focused on how people leave jobs, and it found that there are seven (7) ways in which people resign, listed 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 such as peers, mentors, or human resources representatives 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.

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What a resignation tells you 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 48.9 percent of employees quit their jobs was received positively by employers, but the majority was not.
  • Another 36.2 percent quit in a way that was perceived as negative, but not necessarily damaging to the employer,
  • Some 14.9 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 observation:

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.”

Get insights from departure data

My take: I hate to always seem like every workplace issue is about culture, but the reasons behind why employees resign, and how they resign, tell you a lot about an organization’s culture.

If people feel good about the company culture, the way they have been treated, and the opportunities they have had, they will usually resign in a way that is positive for both the organization and themselves and will take great pains not to burn any bridges.

But the opposite is true as well — when people quit abruptly, or badly, or in some other negative manner, it tells you something about the state of the company’s culture.

Exit interviews rarely get at this, because most people either say very little or aren’t terribly frank about how they really feel.

If you care about improving your culture, closely monitoring the hows and whys when people quit is a good place to start. But if you do, you better be ready to do something about the reasons behind why people are leaving, because you’ll make things worse if you start to dig into this stuff without taking any strong action about what you find.

There’s nothing worse than raising false expectations. That’s what you’ll be doing if you don’t listen and react to the very real things your soon-to-be-former employees are telling you.

Editor’s Note: The Talent Insider blog is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster has great tools — like the Reference Checkup, the Interview Checkup, and the 360 Checkup — that can help you make better talent decisions as you grow a diverse and skilled team.




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