Organizational exit dynamics in times of turbulence : let me tell you the story of how my high hopes were let down
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Employees face many challenges as they attempt to fulfill the often intense and conflicting expectations of their professional roles within the culture of an organization for which they perform paid work. These demands include traversing a consistent stream of organizational change (Lewis, 2011), navigating complex coworker relationships (Sias, 2009), and meeting the often intense and even abusive demands of organizational managers and leaders (Caldwell & Canuto-Carranco, 2010). As a result of this cultural intensity, organizational members can begin considering exit (Jablin, 1987, 2001) very early in their tenure. This study explores Jablin’s Model of Assimilation (1987, 2001) as a framework for identifying the types of events, observations and concerns that facilitate exit-related sensemaking (Weick, 1995) and, ultimately, a decision to leave an organization. Findings indicate that organizational exit (Jablin, 1987, 2001) is not simply a response to a single “straw that broke the camel’s back” event. Rather, organizational exit is a complex, evolving process resulting from a web of observations and experiences occurring over time within the organization. Based on interviews with 61 people who voluntarily left an organization in a post-recession economy (2010—2014), findings indicate surprising similarities and differences across industries in both the organizational factors leading up to exit and individuals’ exit experiences. By tracing the origins of exit back through the socialization processes experienced by exiting organizational members, this study fills a gap in organizational exit research, defining exit not as a discrete end-stage event, but rather as an ongoing, highly communicative and personalized process based on recursive loops of sensemaking (Weick, 1995) that build over the course of a member’s tenure, resulting in a choice to leave the organization.