It Makes a Difference How Employees Quit—and When and Why

It Makes a Difference How Employees Quit—and When and Why

Fast Company’s Jared Lindzon interviews Oregon State University business professor Anthony Klotz, whose new paper delves into the dynamics of how employees quit their jobs and the impact it has on their employers:

In his initial studies Klotz found that there were seven common ways in which people resign, listed in order of their frequency:

  • By the book (31%). 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.
  • Perfunctory (23.5%). These resignations are similar to “by the book” resignations, except the meeting tends to be shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided.
  • Avoidant (12.7%). 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.
  • Grateful goodbye (10%). Employees express gratitude toward their employer and often offer to help with the transition period.
  • Bridge burning (8.6%). In this resignation style, employees seek to harm the organization or its members on their way out the door, often with verbal assaults.
  • In the loop (7.9%). In these resignations, employees typically confide in their manager that they are contemplating quitting, or are looking for another job, before formally resigning.
  • Impulsive quitting (6.3%). 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.

Klotz explains that while the perfunctory and avoidant methods still allow the organization to fill a talent gap, managers generally view it as negative method of resignation, as they are kept in the dark about the employee’s reasons for quitting. In total, less than half of all employees quit in a manner that is viewed positively by managers, while more than 51% choose a method that is perceived as negative. …

[Drawing an overall conclusion from the study,] Klotz encourages managers and HR professionals to investigate how their employees chose their method of resignation, and what it says about the organization as a whole. In his own research Klotz found that management is quick to chalk up a negative departure to a bad apple, but it’s rarely that simple.

Learning more about how employees quit is interesting, but what’s really useful to employers is to understand why and when they quit. In CEB’s recent research on career paths, we found that the most common reason for an employee to quit their job and accept another position elsewhere is that they perceive more or better career options at the new employer. Employees are more likely to quit when they feel that their careers are stalling or that their organization doesn’t care about their career progress; in this environment, it’s more important than even for employers to take an active role in designing compelling career paths for their employees.

It’s also important to remember that employees are most likely to quit around work or life events that cause them to reflect on their careers, such as a birthday, a work anniversary, or a change in management. We call these events career risk triggers, and they’re ideal moments to have conversations with your employees about their careers—after all, if they’re not talking to you about their next steps, they may well be talking to someone else.

(CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read all of our research on career pathing here, and also check out our guide to identifying and planning conversations around career risk triggers here.)