Workers Say 'Buh Bye' for Quirky Reasons

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 8, 2012
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A boat purchase. Crummy carpeting. The lure of the Big Top. All were among reasons for telling a boss to "take this job and shove it," as the song goes.

Book author Jen Hancock quit her first job because her supervisors wouldn’t give her time off to go to a soccer game.

She was 18 when she left her department store job of only a few months so she could attend the men’s soccer match during the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She was a big fan of the Brazil team, which “had really cute players, and of course Brazil has always played a beautiful game,” she wrote in an e-mail to SHRM Online.

“I gave [my employer] plenty of advance warning, so they could have just scheduled me to be free that day and they should have. We were given our shifts weekly, so we never knew when we were going to work until they issued the schedule,” she said. “When the schedule came out and I asked them to switch it around so I could go to the game they said ‘no,’ so I quit and didn’t show for my shift that day.”

Hancock said she still feels badly about leaving her employer shorthanded that day, but she noted that “ultimately it was their own fault for not honoring my request, and the last-minute nature of the scheduling meant I couldn’t give them advance notice.”

She has no regrets, though, about her decision.

“[It was] totally worth it to see [the match] live.”

Andrea Ballard, SPHR, a former HR director and training manager, business owner and Working Mother blogger, recalls how boat ownership caused an employee to jump ship. The employee’s husband had bought a boat and “apparently he wanted her to spend a lot of time maintaining it,” Ballard said in an e-mail.

“He was still working and wouldn’t have the time needed to keep it in ‘tip-top’ shape. I asked her if she liked boats. She said, ‘Not really. I hope it will grow on me.’ ”

The top seller for five of six months at the auto dealership where Gerald Pritt once worked quit “because that was enough time to pay off [his] new car,” Pritt recalled.

Then there was the time that Pritt, a dishwasher at a pizzeria, was left holding the keys to the store when some employees walked.

“The assistant manager and the only server quit one hour before we opened because a car accident knocked out the power for three hours. They handed me the store keys and told me to lock up when I left!”

The Last Word

Silence turned out to be the siren sound for one employee who quit.

“A senior concierge of ours left to start a meditation retreat in India, where everyone stays silent,” said Jonathan Hallorean-Koren, president of New Jersey-based United Global Concierge Inc.

“Keep in mind: All of us, including her, spend 80 percent to 90 percent of our day on the phone with either clients or vendors,” he observed in an e-mail. “Going from that to complete silence should certainly be interesting.”

Other unusual reasons for saying “buh buy,” according to a phone survey for OfficeTeam conducted with more than 1,300 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the U.S. and Canada:

  • The employee’s boss lost the dog she gave him.
  • The employee did not like the way the office smelled.
  • The employee did not like the wall colors.
  • The employee thought the building was unattractive.
  • The employee hated the carpet.
  • The employee hated the lighting in the building.
  • The lobby was too small.
  • The employee lost her cell phone too many times at work.
  • The employee said he changed jobs every six months.
  • The employee said he was making too much money and didn’t think he was worth it.
  • The employee was bored.
  • The employee said she didn’t want to work so hard.
  • The employee wanted to watch a movie with his girlfriend during work hours.
  • The employee had to stay home to feed his dog.
  • The employee quit to live off her trust fund.
  • The employee quit to play the trombone.
  • The employee quit to participate in a reality television show.
  • The employer did not allow informal dress.
  • The employee couldn’t wake up in the morning.
  • Work was getting in the way of having fun.

Pumping Up Engagement

More resignations might be on the horizon. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 2.1 million workers quit their jobs in March 2012, the most recent data available. That’s up from the 1.8 million workers quitting at the end of the recession in June 2009. The quit rate “can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to change jobs,” the BLS noted.

Sometimes people leave for quirky reasons—they didn’t like the cafeteria food or the sound of file cabinets being slammed—while others quit to pursue their passion, whether it is to join a rock band, climb Mt. Everest, become an apple farmer or enter a beauty pageant.

Then there are job separations that could have been avoided if the employer had taken steps to ensure a better fit and build employee engagement, said Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the Chicago-based Money Crashers Personal Finance. It’s an online site dedicated to financial education.

It begins with a job interview that includes questions beyond the employee’s work history and skill set, Schrage advised. Questions such as whether the person is an early bird or a night owl, how he or she handles stress in his or her personal life, and how punctual they are for appointments can provide insight into whether the candidate and the job are a good fit.

Once the employee is on board, effective communication is the most important component to employee engagement, Schrage said in an e-mail.

“Employees who feel they have no voice within their organization are more likely to become disengaged. Some common methods to improving communication between supervisors and staff are to schedule one-on-one interviews (at least on a monthly basis) and implementing employee surveys.”

Feeling valued is important, too, he wrote, because employees can become restless if they have no sense that their work is valued. That requires laying out clearly defined productivity goals. Counseling or more training is in order if workers fall short of those goals. Employees who exceed those goals should be rewarded.

“Establishing a fun work environment also helps” to build engagement, he said. That could include scheduling a casual dress day, an off-site team-building exercise or a fun nonwork activity such as employee movie night or Friday night bowling.

“The closer the personal relationships are between co-workers, the less likely they are to leave.”

As for employees such as Hancock, who left when her shift request was ignored, Schrage pointed out that how scheduling is handled “plays a huge role” in the way a supervisor shows respect to his or her staff.

“When I was an employee earning an hourly wage, nothing irritated me more than having next week’s schedule go up late Friday afternoon,” he said.

However, accountability and respect work both ways.

Employee requests for leave “should be put in as early as possible. When a staff member would put in a request for time off as I was posting the schedule, I often denied it. I occasionally made an exception, but having a policy in place regarding requests for time off ensures that both sides treat each other with respect.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editorfor HR News.

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