Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Bridge Burning and the six other ways to quit your job

Just as Paul Simon sang about 50 ways to leave your lover, a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests there are seven ways to leave your employer. This research is the first to give us a map of "resignation styles," as well as their causes and their impact on others.

The researchers Anthony Klots and Mark Bolino generated their taxonomy of resignation styles from several sources, including a survey of 53 students who described the way they resigned from a previous full-time job position and 423 more people surveyed online who had resigned from their full-time job in the past year, 38 per cent of whom were women, average age 38. Here are the seven styles of saying “I quit” that the researchers identified:

  • The most common (31 per cent) was By The Book, involving a face to face conversation accompanied by a resignation letter, openness about the reason for departure, and a standard notice period.
  • 29 per cent took a Perfunctory approach – going through the motions above, but in a clinical fashion, without elaborating on their reasons for leaving.
  • Grateful Goodbyes (nine per cent) were positive and involved willingness to make the departure as painless as possible for the supervisor and team.
  • In eight per cent of cases, the supervisor was kept In The Loop, with the resignation the culmination of a process that was out in the open, such as applications and acceptance to graduate school.
  • Nine per cent of cases were Avoidant, minimising contact with the boss through a third party like HR, or by sending a message over the weekend to break the news.
  • Impulsive Quitting, a style that has been described in past research, occurred in four per cent of cases, and typically involved a precipitating incident or building frustrations reaching breaking point. In these cases, the quitting conversation was the end of the relationship: “she screamed and cussed at me and hung up the phone ... I left and never picked up the phone for her again.”
  • Finally, ten per cent were Bridge Burners – one short and sweet description being “Told my boss to —— off.” In such cases notice periods were, unsurprisingly, short.

Klots and Bolino found that people who burned bridges or impulsively quit reported higher levels of abuse from their supervisors, and a perception that they were treated unfairly, compared to those leaving more gracefully.

In a final study, the researchers were interested in the impact of these different types of departures on managers and supervisors. Nearly five hundred adults were asked through an online experiment to reflect on the resignations they had received (median two experiences) and then pay attention to a hypothetical scenario where a subordinate resigned in one of the seven styles, before reporting their levels of positive and negative emotions.

Overall participants on the receiving end of a resignation reported more negative emotions than positive ones, but their positive emotions were higher, and negative ones lower when the approach used was by the book, grateful, or signified being kept in the loop (where positive emotions actually outweighed the negative). The researchers call attention to perfunctory resignations, which were far more common than the overtly hostile styles, but led to similarly negative reactions; at least in this experimental context, a clinical but formally impeccable departure can still be upsetting.

When research looks at the impact of different workplace practices, a key measure is often employees’ ‘intention to leave’. The current work reminds us that once you decide to leave, you also have a choice in how to leave, with implications for supervisors, team members, and the organisation more broadly. Klotz and Bolino open their paper with a particularly dramatic example of these ripple effects – banking executive Greg Smith’s NY Times article, published after his resignation, deriding former employer Goldman Sachs in a way that shocked customers and rocked the company. In addition, organisational turnover can show contagion-like effects, and by differentiating different forms of turnover, this work helps us understand when resignations are likely to matter most.

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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