Original Post: Harvard Business Review – by Anthony C. Klotz and Mark C. Bolino
Every day, employees resign from jobs. In the United States and Western Europe, annual resignation rates hover at just below ten percent, with much higher ratesfound in parts of Asia. Those currently entering the workforce are expected to engage in even more job hopping than prior generations, suggesting that employers may want to move beyond the simple notice policy in the company handbook and learn to encourage employees to resign in constructive ways.
Despite the prevalence of resignations in today’s workplace, researchers know little about how employees tend to go about quitting their jobs, and what causes workers to depart in ways that are more destructive or constructive for organizational functioning. Understanding what drives resignation behavior is particularly important for companies, given recent examples of employees using high profile forums to announce their resignation and tarnish their former employer’s reputation (e.g., Greg Smith’s resignation from Goldman Sachs that was published in the New York Times, and Marina Shifrin’s video resignation from her animation company that went viral). Employees themselves are often confused about the right way to resign, too, as evidenced by the abundance of websites offering tips and advice for employees who want to know how to quit their jobs.
To better understand the different ways that employees resign and why employees may resign in more constructive or destructive ways, we collected and examined the accounts of nearly 300 recently resigned employees, and over 200 managers of employees who had recently resigned.
We found that employees use one of seven different resignation styles when they quit. The two most common resignation styles were what we called “by the book” and “perfunctory” resignations. By the book 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. Perfunctory resignations are similar to by the book resignations, except the meeting tends to be shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided. Although not as frequent, many employees resigned using a grateful goodbye approach, in which they expressed gratitude toward their employer and often offered to help with the transition period. In the loop resignations were also fairly common, and these are typified by employees confiding in their manager that they are contemplating resigning, or are looking for another job, before formally resigning.
On the darker side of the resignation spectrum, some employees choose to resign in an avoidant manner, or by bridge burning. Avoidant resignations occur when employees let other employees (e.g., peers, mentors, or HR representatives) know that they plan to leave rather than giving notice to their immediate boss. Perhaps the most notorious way to quit, about one in ten employees seeks to harm the organization or its members on their way out the door, often through verbal assaults, thereby burning any potential bridges between themselves and their former employer.
The final, and rarest, resignation style is arguably not a resignation at all. That is, some employees simply walk off the job, never to return or communicate with their employer again. This impulsive quitting can leave the organization in quite a lurch, given it is the only style in which no notice is provided.
Beyond identifying the different ways in which employees quit, we wanted to understand why employees chose one resignation style over another. What we found is that employees often view their resignation as the final chance to get even with their organization and their manager, for better and worse. Indeed, the two factors that were most predictive of resignation styles involved whether or not employees felt they were treated fairly by their organization, and the extent to which they felt their direct supervisor acted in an abusive manner toward them. Employees who felt that they had been treated well by their organization or their boss were more likely to go the extra mile when they quit. But when they perceived that they had been treated unfairly or abused by their supervisor, they tried to get even by resigning in a more harmful way.
In short, how well you take care of your employees does not just predict whether or not they will voluntarily quit their job, but it also determines how they will go about leaving. Not surprisingly, we also found that while most voluntary turnover tends to be unpleasant for managers, they are particularly frustrated and angry when employees leave in a perfunctory, avoidant, or bridge burning manner. So employees who want to leave on good terms should steer clear of these strategies.
There is also another lesson for organizational leaders and HR personnel to be gleaned from our findings. When a company experiences a rash of ugly resignations, rather than blaming those harmful departures on employees’ character, organizations should instead consider the possibility that their employees feel mistreated and explore whether the managers involved need to learn to supervise employees more adeptly.