Flying without a Net

by Jennifer Miller on March 25, 2011

in Human Resources, Workplace Issues

I had coffee the other day with a friend who leads a team of technical professionals. When asked “how’s it going?” she slumped slightly and said, “My best technician quit this week. He’d finally had enough.”  Good jobs are hard to find in this tough Midwestern economy, so I asked what company he moved to.

“That’s the shocking thing”, she said, with sadness in her voice. “He doesn’t have another job. He was so stressed, he figured that being unemployed was better than completely losing his health.” Having worked alongside this manager for many years, I know for a fact that she wasn’t the cause of her employee’s departure. It stemmed from too many bad decisions from the executive suite. . .as she likes to put it, “The clueless, asking for the impossible, with no plan or funding on how to get there.”

This self-imposed unemployed person may be on to something. According to data released earlier this month, in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, there is evidence that in certain situations, it may be better to be unemployed than trapped in a very “poor” job.  A “poor” job was defined as those that paid badly, were highly demanding, or offered no autonomy, decision-making, job security or social support. Clearly, in this individual’s mind, his mental health was at stake, so he made a very risky occupational move.

Have workplace conditions gotten so bad that people are willing to leave even when they don’t have the “safety” of a new job?  Just how bad does it have to get for someone to fly without a net? Is there anything human resource professionals can do about it?

Human Resources professionals can take heart in this—according to an Accenture study referenced in the article Staying Put in Human Resource Executive Online,  58% of employees are focusing on getting better at their current job, rather than focusing on the job hunt.  To be sure, they don’t have a lot of options for seeking alternative employment.  Even so, according to various surveys in the marketplace, there is an overall tenor of employees “trying to make it work” at their current employer.

So it’s not too late—to start looking for ways to encourage people to stay, to let them know they are valued and that together, you can make it work.  It’s a sad commentary on workplace conditions when a highly competent professional must choose between a paycheck and his mental health. We can do better than that.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Juengling March 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Wow, not what I would call the employer of choice. Your friend has an uphill battle with top leadership like she describes. Seems like a lot of employees are asked to do more with less and with little recognition or reward. Sometimes its just the basics like letting people know you care and showing it. I hope the “clueless” executive suite gets a clue… for the sake of the survivors.

Alex Ritzema March 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I made this type of decision once, and it was very scary. But, it was the right move in the long run. Great article!

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