Employed Job Hunters Stop Supporting Current Co-Workers, New Study Suggests

April 23, 2018 by Josh Hrala

When a person is looking for a new job, it stands to reason that their current job – if they have one – will be impacted. After all, the person has basically moved on mentally already, spending hours hunting for a way out of the organization.

Business people discussion at meeting room

Now, new research suggests that job hunters actually stop supporting their co-workers during the job hunt, switching their focus to others who may help them make their exit from the organization.

The team, made up of researchers from the University of Exeter, Kühne Logistics University, Drexel University, and the University of Rotterdam, also found that the job hunters stayed close with colleagues they considered friends because they are concerned that they will lack close friendships at their next job.

In other words, the study suggests – it would seem – that people are selfish and become even more selfish when they start looking for a new job by abandoning their co-workers because they don’t offer an advantage.

“Academics surveyed people in work to see how their relationships with colleagues changed when they were considering quitting. They found workers form relationships with some colleagues who are advisors, who help them perform well and make them feel they can achieve their goals,” according to the University of Exeter.

“Other colleagues are friends, and provide social and emotional support, and help them feel like they “belong” at work.”

To come to their conclusion, the team – led by Andrew Park from the University of Exeter – surveyed 121 employees from eight healthcare organizations in the Netherlands. These individuals were questioned on three occasions with a gap of four months in between.

They were asked how much they agree with these statements: “I frequently think about quitting this job” and “I will probably look for a new job soon.”

They were also asked who at their job they turn to for advice and who they thought were friends.

These questions allowed them to see who was thinking about quitting their job and how those feelings influenced who they supported/went to for support.

“We found people who are considering quitting their jobs don’t then feel the need to help or do favors for those who have given them advice over the years. They feel less obligated towards their old colleagues and begin to focus on the benefits of creating new ties,” reports Park.

“However they maintain existing relationships with colleagues who are friends, because they don’t want to lose this relationship when they leave their job. They worry they might have less time available to create new friends.”

The takeaway here is that people change their focus when they start to consider seriously leaving an organization. It can also be a sign to bosses that a person may be pulling back, getting ready to make a switch.

It’s also important to note that the study was done on only 121 individuals, a rather small sample size to be applicable to the entirety of people. Still, the result is interesting and can be used as a way for bosses to understand what happens when a worker is starting to look for a new position, giving the organization time to retain the employee or figure out ways to fill their role once they make the switch.

The team also found through their questions who workers typically go to for support. For example, they found that workers who had a longer tenure at the organization and also worked more hours were often the co-workers who were asked for guidance the most. Older workers, the team found, were rarely asked for advice.

Some interesting info on workplace friendship was also discovered during the study. Specifically, they found that those of the same job level who also agreed on what they felt was the most important aspect of job satisfaction became friends more often than those who were at different levels with competing beliefs on job satisfaction.

All of these details can help managers – and workers themselves – understand the actions of those around them in the workplace.

You can read the team’s full study in the Academy of Management Journal where the article will be published soon.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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