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Many small business owners often wish they could predict which of their employees might be preparing to quit. And how can they, as employers, prepare for these confrontations?  In this post, we highlight some recent research that employers may find useful when working to improve staff morale and relationships.

Research shows that employees tend to resign in one of seven primary ways.  This research also determined that whether employees resign in a positive or negative manner is dependent on certain factors.  These factors include the employee’s sense of fair treatment and the employee’s perception of the amount of respect the boss had for the employee.  By taking note of how employees resign, employers may gain insights into areas for improvement in employer-employee relationships.

Elaina Loveland, in a 2016 article for the Society for Human Resource Management, summarizes Klotz and Bolino’s research with a taxonomy of resignation styles:

  • 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.
  • Perfunctory (23.5 percent):  These resignations are like by the book resignations except the meeting with the manager tends to be shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided.
  • Avoidant (12.7 percent):   These occur when employees tell co-workers, such as peers, mentors or human resources representatives, that they plan to leave rather than giving notice to their immediate boss.
  • Grateful goodbye (10 percent):   Employees express gratitude toward their employer and often offer to help with the transition period.
  • Bridge burning (8.6 percent):   In this resignation style, employees seek to harm the organization or colleagues on their way out the door, often through verbal assaults.
  • In the loop (7.9 percent):   In these resignations, employees typically confide in their manager that they are contemplating quitting or that they 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 the lurch, given that this is the only style in which no notice is provided.

When an employee resigns and provides no notice, the challenge to the employer is evident.  Employers are left scrambling to cover the responsibilities of that employee.  Information that only the former employee had may be essential to the normal operation of the business.  The employer must search for a replacement under pressure leading to a possible suboptimal hire.  For these and other reasons, receiving advance notice of separation is highly desirable for employers.

When an employee resigns without explanation, the employer may lack important knowledge of whether there was a significant workplace problem or if the employee left for personal reasons independent of the employer.  If the employer is uncertain about whether the employer was the cause of the resignation, the employer may be concerned about liability.  Even in the absence of liability, the employer misses out on a chance to improve an aspect of its operation without knowing the reason for the resignation.  In this way, both advance notice and explanations are attributes that make one style of resignation more desirable than another.  The recent research on resignations shows that where an employee feels he or she was treated fairly and respected by the boss, the employee is more likely to use positive resignation styles if resignation occurs.

Even with efforts at fairness and respectful treatment, employers cannot guarantee that fairness and respect will lead to positive resignation styles.  Some behaviors, however, can be tell-tale signs of looming resignation.  These signs include decreased productivity, negative attitudes, reduced focus on work, expressions of dissatisfaction with the job or supervisor, and less interest in working with customers or clients.   Detecting such signs may enable employers to anticipate resignations before they occur, as advance notice from an employee is not guaranteed.

The content of this document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  If you are an employer with questions or concerns, or if you are seeking legal advice or representation, go through the “Contact Us” page on our website or call (202) 795-9999.