July 13, 2014 
Workplace Change Project

Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado - Boulder | University of Puget Sound


Executive Summary, 1997 - 1999


This report is based on the survey responses of 171 people out of a group of 302 (57% response rate) who were in our original sample in February 1997 but who are no longer employed at the company. Comparisons between respondents and non-respondents on paycode and reasons for leaving the company suggests that the respondents in our sample are representative of the targeted "attrition" group.


Although respondents range in age from 26 to 77, the sample was weighted towards older invididuals. The average age was 51, with 54% being over 50. Respondents are predominantly male (71%), married (71%), and well-educated (49% had a bachelor's degree or higher qualification).

Years at the Company

Years worked at the company ranged from 4 to 41, with the average number of years being 18 and the mode falling in the 9 to 11 years range. At the time of the survey, it had been 15 months, on average, since respondents had left the company.

Leaving the Company

Some differences are seen between the reasons for leaving the company given by respondents and those supplied by the company. Some of the differences might be attributed to the different categories of reasons used and some might be traced to respondents' need to interpret their departure from the company as being a decision controlled by them (e.g., 81% reported that the decision to leave was completely theirs and not determined by the company management). So whereas the company supplied data indicated that 32% had been laid off, 38% had taken early retirement, and 17% quit to take another position, the self-reported numbers were 41% early retirement, 22% quitting to accept another position, and only 8% involuntarily laid off.

Views on the Company's Handling of the Recent Terminations

Respondents' views on this issue were quite mixed. Most thought that there was clear communication about their departure (85%), that all their questions were answered (73%), and that their supervisors had treated them with respect (81%). On several other questions the proportion of negative responses rose, though in general the majority gave positive responses. For example, 47% thought the company did a poor job of keeping employees informed about what was happening during the layoff process and 41% felt the reasons given by the company for the last round of layoffs were somewhat or completely invalid. A similar breakdown occurred over the severance package offered by the company, with 60% seeing it as "good" and the rest as "not good."

Post-Termination Loyalty Towards the Company

While 69% report that they are proud to have worked for the company, only 44% would recommend it as a place to work. Some 48% say they feel little loyalty to the company (with only 33% disagreeing with that sentiment). As one would expect, those who quit to take another job reported low levels of loyalty, whereas those who retired early or at the normal age reported higher levels of loyalty. Interestingly, those who reported high levels of general job satisfaction and support from the organization in 1997 were more likely to report more positive post-termination attitudes towards the company in late 1999.

Views on the Company's Work Environment

Again responses were mixed. While 48% believed they had been treated with dignity and respect while at the company, 26% did not, and another 26% were neutral on the question. Responses to questions about feeling included in social networks and having supervisors who treated people fairly elicited slightly more positive responses (50% and 56%). However, only 34% reported they were given the opportunity to participate in decisions that affected them, with 39% disagreeing and 27% neutral on the question.

Current Employment Status

Some 38% of the respondents are currently employed and, on average, it had taken them four months to find a new job after leaving the company. While their new job requires the same (38%) or more skills (48%) than were needed while at the company, two-thirds said their new jobs paid more. Typically respondents gave strong positive reports about their new jobs. Interestingly, the re-employed reported significantly less work-related stress than they had experienced while at the company in 1997.

Quitting to Take Another Job

Some of the factors that are associated with leaving the company and finding another job were: intent to quit in 1997; dissatisfaction with pay and benefits in 1997; overall job dissatisfaction in 1997; and low organizational commitment in 1997.

General Well-Being

Overall, it appears that the self-reported health and well-being of this sample improved from 1997 to 1999. For example, they reported lower mean scores on: several physical symptoms of bad health; drinking problems; and smoking and drinking more in the past year. They also scored higher than in 1997 on an internal locus of control scale that measures their sense of personal mastery or control over their lives.

This pattern of improvements in the sense of well-being is not apparent, however, of those who are still working at the company, as demonstrated by comparisons of the the company workforce in our 1997 and 1999 general surveys. The scores on the depression scale are particularly interesting in this regard. Mean depression scores in the attrition sample dropped from 10.83 in 1997 to 5.03 in 1999 for those with a job and from 5.93 to 4.60 for those not employed. However, among those still employed by the company, depression scores remain unchanged (7.84 in 1997 and 7.80 in 1999). Such findings suggest a strong association between leaving the company and improved scores on the well-being measures.

Open-Ended Questions

Three open-ended questions addressing the "obstacles" respondents faced at the company, suggested changes they would make at the company, and factors leading to their decision to leave, elicited detailed responses. Indeed some 97% of those who returned the surveys chose to make some written response to at least one of the questions. Overall, the open-ended responses were more negative about the company than the picture suggested by the statistical data. This could be due to the tenor of the open-ended questions, which invited a more critical appraisal of their experience at the company, and/or to the complexity and intensity of the feelings these respondents have about the company, which closed-ended questions cannot adequately assess.

Obstacles to Being Effective in Your Job

The overwhelming complaint was about management. Respondents reported that there were too many managers who tended to micro-manage operations, often without sufficient operational knowledge. They also complained about deficiencies in strategic planning and consistent leadership by top management. Another powerful set of complaints centered around the heavy weight of bureaucracy and the difficulty of getting things done because of red tape, too many unproductive meetings, and a resistance to new ideas. At the same time many employees felt there was excessive changing and chopping of processes and to many new programs ("flavor of the month") with insufficient follow through. Several spoke about "unproductive" co-workers and the general state of low morale in the company.

Factors that Led to Their Leaving

Most pointed to poor management, insufficient pay, inadequate recognition for good performance, and lack of opportunity to advance or to use their skills fully. Several referred to low morale, fatigue and stress, and a general sense of frustration and futility. Many also mentioned personal (e.g. family circumstances) and health reasons.

Suggestions for Improving the Working Environment

Suggestions can be grouped into four key areas. First, many recommend substantial reductions in the number and layers of managers. Second, and in some ways related to this point, respondents felt strongly that employees should be given more autonomy and decision-making authority. By showing respect towards employees and by listening to their ideas, respondents believed the company could more effectively engage employees knowledge and skills. Third, several employees suggested that stopping the cycle of layoffs and hirings would produce a more stable and motivated workforce. Finally, large numbers argued not only for increased pay but for a system of remuneration that was based on fair evaluation and accountability for performance on the job.

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