How do you respond when you’re dissatisfied?
Organizations today increasingly sponsor annual surveys to measure the level of employee engagement and satisfaction/dissatisfaction to better understand opportunities for improving culture and communication.
Back in 1970, Albert Hirschman wrote a book called Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Many employee engagement survey vendors borrow heavily from Hirschman’s categories when they classify respondents to their surveys.
Hirschman described four different ways that employees respond to dissatisfaction: Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect. Let’s take a look at each of these responses.
Exit describes removing oneself from the situation entirely. You might quit a job where you are not fulfilled, leave a country where you are oppressed or end an abusive relationship with someone. Exit is often the response of choice when over time dissatisfaction builds and one decides “enough is enough”.
Voice describes a constructive attempt to makes thing better. Perhaps, one approaches their leader or manager with a recommendation on how to improve a process. Voice can also manifest in political protest in an effort to overturn a governmental policy or practice.
Loyalty describes a form of persistence, or “grin and bear it” approach. When one chooses this response, one passively waits for conditions to improve. We continue to work at a job that is stifling or we continue to support our government even though we disagree with it.
Neglect is perhaps the worst possible response to dissatisfaction as it often results in doing just enough work so one doesn’t end up getting fired. This is sometimes referred to as being “retired in place”, where employees reduce their work efforts and/or the quality of their work. In the political arena, this may show up as not voting. According to Hirschman, the Neglect response is “passively allowing for conditions to worsen”.
In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant describes Neglect as “Quitting before Leaving”. Grant also sees the choices people make in response to dissatisfaction as fundamentally based on feelings of control and commitment.
According to Grant, if you believe you can’t affect the current situation, you will likely choose Neglect when you’re not committed, and Loyalty (or Persistence) when you are committed.
If you feel you can make a difference, and you don’t really care, you’ll likely choose Exit. Only when we believe that our efforts matter, and we care deeply, will we choose Voice and speak up in service to our organizations, our relationships and our governments.
Where are you disappointed today, and how are you responding?