The Psychological Contract

Anything But Peaceful: The Millennial “Peace-Out” Resignation

Peace_Sign_drawn_on_the_pavement

By Chip Joyce

The companies we work with often complain of the Millennial generation’s cavalier attitude toward quitting jobs. I call it the “peace-out resignation”—and these resignations seem to come out of “left field.” The truth is these resignations are far from peaceful. The peace-out resignation is abrupt and untimely; and inevitably costly to an organization. Its roots often include a vital breach of workplace trust.

Overall surprise resignations are unsettling to a work group—often contributing to anxiety, confusion and low employee morale. For the resigning employee, the costs can be high and bridges can be permanently burned.

It is easy to assume this is yet another aspect of the negative stereotype of the Millennial. (A common response among managers.)  However, it’s dead wrong. If this is happening in your company, it’s time to actually stop and wonder why it’s happening.

Let me share a story of my own “peace-out” resignation nearly 20 years ago—when Millennials were in diapers or thereabouts.

I came in to the office on a Sunday, put my personal effects into a box, wrote a few instructions on where to find things, passwords, etc. and then wrote a screed—with probably 100 pages of supporting documentation—to explain why I was resigning, effective immediately. The reason? My manager was incredibly horrible. I had endured enough. My time with that organization was over.

I had worked for six months as a project lead. I needed guidance from my manager; questions answered. Was I doing things the right way? On the right track?

Yet for months, he wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Nothing.

Nada.

My emails were left unanswered. I couldn’t get a spot on his schedule. I was living in a workplace “vacuum.”

When I did turn in the final project, it was no surprise to me that he relayed that it was “all wrong.” He shamed me in front of several other managers, my peers and blamed me entirely for the failure. (Frankly, I believe he didn’t know what he wanted and that is why he avoided me.)

Yet the more fundamental reason that I chose to “peaced-out” was that I quickly realized I’d wasted six months of my life working for him. I had nothing to show for it—and despite my hard work, despite my dedication—I had failed.

I hadn’t increased my market value.

I might as well have spent the past six months surfing that new innovation called “the Web.”

Perhaps I was a rare proto-Millennial. Or maybe Millennials aren’t really all that different from more established employees. (I tend to think it’s the latter.)

The peace-out resignation is a protest against feeling let down or betrayed. It’s that gut-reaction to that violated psychological contract which implies that I’m going to work very, very hard to achieve organizational goals and in turn you are going to coach me and help me to succeed. When all is said and done, I’m going to achieve something meaningful and be worth more in the marketplace.

I’m sorry, but what Millennials are demanding is fair. They want to know that work is a “give and take” relationship. The problem is that it’s the rare manager who knows how to make that psychological contract explicit, open, and transparent.

Managers need training to understand both the psychological contract and the obligation to define a mutually beneficial tour of duty for each employee.

Then—they need to honor it.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent. He brings the Alliance Framework to organizations worldwide.