Resignations and Employment Relationships — I Quit?

I’ve been reflecting on the complex dynamics of employment relationships (ER) — let’s call them ERs because of the acronym’s somewhat appropriate onomatopoeia — and what it means when an employee resigns without giving notice.

i-quit-note-smallERs are tricky things, without a doubt. They are usually initially awkward, in that most ERs begin with a stranger needing to get to know others — at a more than leisurely pace — at least well enough to work toward common goals and outcomes.

An ER, unlike most relationships, is a legal relationship. It shares a latent litigiousness with two other common types of relationship: that between a client/customer and supplier; and, ironically, a marriage. Like the former but unlike the latter, an ER involves an exchange of money — although, well…no, let’s not go there.

Finally they are perilously unequal, though the inequality goes both ways, which many an employer may deny. Each party has what the other doesn’t — money on the one hand and skill, labour and attributes on the other.

ERs, if I may be as bold as to generalise, are an accident waiting to happen. They are deeply co-dependent, treacherously uncertain and whomever came up with the concept should be — or should have been — severely chastised and punished.

Having indulged myself in pragmatic scepticism, I should say I have been party to numerous (by a fair estimation, several dozen) ERs in my time. Albeit that I have only been in the so-thought less dominant role of employee three times, I have neither suffered nor, as far as I am aware inflicted, much if any ill effect.

By now, if you have read this far, you will have realised we are entering a veritable quagmire of complexity. As this is a blog post, not a thesis or doctorate, I should get to the point.

Why do employees quit and say see ya, I’m out of here right now — without working out the “legally” agreed notice time?

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not offering a legal opinion. Nor am I, as I said, writing a thesis or doctorate, so I’m not citing research. Though I will allude to research I’ve read. If you want to verify it, Google is but a click away.

What I do offer is observation, experience and opinion: In short, the problem lies not with the E, but with the R.

We refer mostly to the E. We talk Employment, Employer and Employee. Seldom do we refer to the R: Relationship. But I’ve read about research that found that our overwhelming drive to work is social, not functional. So in any ER it’s the Relationship, not the Employment, that is crucial.

I also remember reading a blog post citing research findings that, when it came to job satisfaction, “acknowledgement” was what employees consider the most important. That’s another relationship-based need. In my experience, empathy, flexibility, appreciation, trustworthiness (competency, reliability and honesty), humour and well-boundaried but fun social interaction goes a long way to providing that acknowledgement.

When employees leave without giving notice, the ER has gone wrong. They need to leave quickly, I would proffer, because they have a strong discomfort with people or a particular person within the organisation, not the work they were employed to do. In my experience the discomfort usually builds over time, but can also be triggered quickly by a significant negative incident.

The lenses of leadership, diversity, complexity and change offer insight into how to minimise resignations without notice (RWNs) and enhance ERs and organisational culture. Capacity and clear intent in these four areas underlie the culture of any organisation.


In my experience fair, transparent and generous leadership is crucial to maintaining healthy ERs. Not only from the top but also from throughout the organisation, leaders set the tone and guide the interaction between people and teams. When things go wrong and people leave, those in roles of leadership can only look to themselves, not to the resigning employee, and take responsibility for finding out where the cultural cracks are that caused the unresolvable conflict.

Leaders also need to be aware of the reciprocity of ERs, as I mentioned before. The attitude that “no one is irreplaceable” can very easily lead to an arrogance that values functions over people. A more useful attitude, which I keep in the front of my mind as an employer, is that people are, in fact, irreplaceable. It is jobs and their functions that are not irreplaceable. I have often applied flexibility to jobs because I place higher value on individuals than on a functional detail.


I notice many organisations have a very narrow view of what diversity is. Usually it begins with acknowledging gender and ethnicity but, for the most part, stops there. Sexuality, age and religion may get a look in, but disability probably won’t, nor will more uncommon issues like transgenderism.

These issues and labels are not the true nature of diversity, as I’ve written about so many times before. They are mere categories that organisations choose either to represent or ignore. They may be the cause of conflict in ERs, but I think there are more subtle dynamics at play.

Differences in personal style, strengths, weaknesses, values and core beliefs are far more likely to create ER rifts, particularly if the organisational culture places more value on commonality than uniqueness. The unspoken “this is the way we do things around here” will soon marginalise anyone who doesn’t fit the cultural mould, eroding the ER.


Relationships are neither simple nor complicated — they are complex. They are never-endingly dynamic and uncertain. They need constant nurture and attention.

My observation is that few organisations put time and value on relationship maintenance, particularly amongst groups. Meetings are only about work (Employment) and seldom about the people working (Relationships).

The organisations I’ve worked with over the years with the best cultures and ERs build regular personal sharing into meeting times and value social interaction outside of work.


They say the only constant is change, yet most believe it happens only when intended. “Let’s change this, that or the other system, structure or procedure,” they say, “and, what’s more, let’s manage the change.”

No offence to any change managers reading, but managing change is like instructing the wind to blow in a certain direction. It’s futile. Whether it is intentional or the organic result of the passage of time, change needs to be acknowledged, observed and negotiated.

Responses to intentional or organic change will vary from individual to individual and from team to team. These responses need to be valued and respected, particularly the response that differs from the majority. Careful communication is needed to work through fears, disagreements and misunderstandings.


I am not naïve enough to believe RWNs can be eliminated. There will always be circumstances in which employees will choose to resign and leave immediately.

However, I do think RWNs are an important indicator of the healthiness of ERs and organisational culture. Anyone in a leadership position who dismisses it as the fault of the employee does so at their own — and their organisation’s — peril.

Power, Prejudice, and Paradox

I’ve recently changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I now talk about “my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”

indecision-967718-mEven doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.

Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame” to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid.

There has also been the story of Ijeoma Oluo, a woman of colour, who experienced an instant reduction in racial slurs when she changed her Twitter profile picture to one that made her look caucasian.

These examples seem to me to slightly simplify the understanding of power and privilege — change a word here, look a bit different there. I think there are more complex subtleties at work, like context, subjectivity and objectivity, that paint a broader, more complex picture of power and privilege.

So back to me — let’s deconstruct those labels (or decay them) in terms of power and privilege (I’ll use P&P to save keystrokes).

  • Queer — not heterosexual (but not obviously so) — P&P comparatively low
  • Caucasian — not of colour — P&P unquestionably high
  • Cisgender — not transgender — P&P unquestionably high
  • Man — not woman — P&P unquestionably high
  • Unique function (disabled) — not non-disabled — P&P unquestionably low

So the question becomes, where do I sit in terms of P&P? We could do simple maths: 3 high P&P, only 2 low, ergo I have +1 P&P.

More complex maths — let’s give more points to unquestionably (2) than comparatively (1): -1+2+2+2-2=+3 — so I have +3 P&P? Or do I have +6 P&P as well as -3 P&P?

Of course this is where the paradox and complexity comes in, as well as context, subjectivity and objectivity (and other things I haven’t thought of but probably will do later). Let’s do some more decaying…

Context: As I said at TEDxAuckland, but to reframe it slightly, if I’m in a room of cisgender, caucasian men, they will not see my +6 P&P. They will see and/or sense my -3 P&P, feel awkward, discount me and I will lack P&P.

If, however, I’m in a room of indigenous, transgender and/or queer disabled people, chances are my +6 P&P will become very noticeable and my -3 P&P won’t be enough to save me. There goes my P&P. Again.

Similarly, if I’m in a recognised leadership role or on stage talking about P&P to a TEDx audience, I’ll have more of it than if I’m a stranger in the street.

Subjectivity: This works two ways. 1. The more people know me (i.e. the more subjective their experience of me), the more relative P&P I will have. They’re looking past the labels and seeing me for who I really am. 2. The more P&P I feel I have in different contexts, and the more I am aware of the behaviours and language that are commonly understood in the situation, the less threatening my perceived lack or abundance of P&P is likely to be.

Objectivity: I’ll refer back to Leslie Hawthorne, who recounted a story of an orchestra, which lacked female members. On becoming aware of this, “blind” (I’m not sure if that’s offensive or not to people who can’t see) auditions were held, so that decision-makers couldn’t tell the gender of the auditioning person.

Within a few years, female members had increased several-fold. So, ensuring some objectivity around P&P can decrease its impact.

So, where are we? Well, if you’re anything like me you’re likely in some state of confusion and uncertainty which, I would hazard to say, is a very good state from which to tackle diversity, not to mention leadership, complexity and change. Our human need to be sure and certain and to know the answers are precisely what leads us astray in the world, a world which is nothing like what we would like it to be.

In “A Short History of Stupid” by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Razer observes:

When you elevate lived experience to centrality in your socio- political critique and politics, you delegitimise the contribution to debate from other perspectives; if the traditional logical fallacy is appeal to authority, since the 1990s appeal to experience has come to rival it, creating a hierarchy of analysis with lived experience at the apex of authenticity. Moreover, as the phrase ‘check your privilege’ implies, it is not merely that a non- experience- based contribution to a discussion lacks legitimacy, the possession of other forms of experience creates an illegitimacy that is impossible to overcome: the scoring systems used to allocate ‘privilege points’ can be neatly flipped into a ‘how illegitimate is your opinion’ scale, depending on the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your income and your gender. The result is a further fragmentation of public debate on issues, with fewer voices heard and greater unanimity among those voices given the imposition of dominant narratives even within sub- groups. The result is also a lesser willingness among generalists, and particularly media practitioners, to genuinely engage on policy issues arising from or including identity politics, for fear of being labelled racist/misogynist/homophobic/middle class/transgenderphobic/ableist/fattist/perpetrators of rape culture. They live in fear of fatally missing some critical nuance that would reveal them as inauthentic, or worse.

I agree. I don’t see myself (or anyone else) as absolutely either owning or lacking P&P — I don’t think it’s a useful paradigm. Sometimes we have, it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can influence it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re prepared, sometimes we’re not. Sorry kids, it’s messy out there.

And — hate to say it — it’s getting messier.

Child Criminals are Victims Twice Over

The arrest of 12 and 13 year old boys for aggravated robbery and murder respectively in West Auckland a couple of weeks ago highlights a growing malaise in society. The incident itself is a tragedy for the victim and his family, but what is alarming to me is that the two offending boys are victims too — of whatever circumstances led them to offend and now, potentially, of the justice system as well.

The bi-polarity of the justice system, which recognises only victim and offender, clearly fails children in these situations. The stories of those like twelve-year-old Bailey Kurariki (NZ 2001), James Bulger’s ten-year-old killers (UK 1993) and eleven-year-old Mary Bell (UK 1968), all of whom were charged and sentenced, point toward a “punishment system” that in no way takes into consideration that these children were too young to be held solely responsible for their actions.

A system that believes kids can be guilty of violent crimes without asking, “How did they become capable of violent crimes?”, is one that lacks empathy and compassion. Having empathy and compassion for the kids does not diminish feeling for the victims. It simply acknowledges the existence of complex situations that don’t follow “victim/perpetrator” patterns.

It could be easy to decide, instead, that parents are at fault, but even this logic is too simple. What we are dealing with is the result of generations of dysfunctional family systems, poverty and inequality.

Until this dynamic is acknowledged and a new system is designed to deal with it, we will see more and more children creating victims as well as being victims of their upbringing and of the justice system.

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