Research shows how company leaders can use employee resignation data to see if they have a bigger problem.

My personal experience shows why this is so important for organizations to understand.

I have resigned before in my career, and usually my relationship remained strong with my boss and company. I gave plenty of notice, trained my replacement, and even answered questions months after I was gone. I even recommended these companies to other employees.

But, one time I had a disastrous resignation. I developed such a deep lack of respect for my boss that I went into the office after midnight, packed up my things, and left a Dear John post-it note on my manager's desk. Even my coworkers did not know what to think when they came into the office day and my office was cleaned out. I was told my boss stormed out of his office with "Where's Fanning!". Clearly, there was a bigger message here the company needed to hear in that situation, but I wasn't sticking around to tell it.

Now these types of data points have been aggregated in an interesting research study from Anthony Klotz, assistant professor in the College of Business at Oregon State University.

His research is so telling because it catches employees at the single point where they have the most leverage in the corporate-employee relationship. They can communicate and take action based on what their true relationship is with the organization without fear of termination...they are leaving anyway.

Are your employees burning bridges or maintaining the relationship to make a return one day?

Use Klotz's 7 categories and descriptions below to group and interpret your exit data. They are ranked by how often they occurred in the study.

  1. By the book (31%). These resignations involve a face-to-face meeting with one's manager to announce their resignation, a standard notice period, and an explanation of the reason for quitting.
  2. Perfunctory (23.5%). These are similar to "by the book" resignations, except the meeting tends to be shorter, and the reason for quitting is not provided.
  3. Avoidant (12.7%). This occurs when employees let other employees such as peers, mentors, or human resources representatives know they plan to leave rather than giving notice to their immediate boss.
  4. Grateful goodbye (10%). Employees express gratitude toward their employer and often offer to help with the transition period.
  5. 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.
  6. In the loop (7.9%). Here 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%). 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."

For your next step, pull your exit numbers over the last 12-months and group them by the above categories.

Notice the frequency by category.

If the majority of your resignations fall into groups 4 Grateful Goodbye or 6 In the Loop, then congratulations.

This is a positive sign for employee engagement and there's even a possibility for hiring them back down the road. Do not burn bridges behind you in case you need to go back over them.

If most of your resignations fall into 1 By the Book or 2 Perfunctory, take this as a warning and dig deeper into the reasons for quitting.

This may be related to external market conditions and competition for hiring. Review your resignation data to see what small modifications you can make.

If the majority of your resignations fall into 3 Avoidant, 5 Bridge Burning, or 7 Impulsive; then sound the alarm.

There is already a significant problem likely impacting your bottom-line with more turnover trouble ahead. Time to address this with your leadership team. Big changes may need to be made.