At almost any office in America you’ll meet at least one disgruntled employee who talks about quitting or finding a new job but never does. Now companies like Amazon and Zappos are taking notice and offering incentives to get those unhappy employees out of the office for good. Zappos offers any employee who’s not interested in staying $2,000 to leave and Amazon offers fulfillment center employees up to $5,000 to ditch their jobs if they’re dissatisfied.
It sounds counterintuitive… why would a company pay an employee to leave? As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos puts it in his shareholder letter, “the goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don't want to be isn't healthy for the employee or the company.” Companies with engaged employees simply make more money. Gallup found companies that have 9.3 engaged employees for every disengaged employee make 147% more in earnings per share than competitors.
It’s also good for the employee. There’s a stigma around quitting that doesn’t actually make sense, according to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the guys behind the popular Freakonomics blog and podcast and authors of the book “Think Like a Freak”.
“We are trained to think that quitting is morally a bad thing and that we’re bad people when we quit,” says Dubner. “For most of us we’re working on a job or a project or a relationship where we’ve put in a lot of sunk costs and think ‘therefore we need to keep it going or we’re failures and we’re miserable.’ ...There’s no shame in quitting because you can’t get to the next good success if you’re not willing to abandon today’s dud.”
“The worst failure is not to quit when you should have quit,” says Levitt. “Because then you’re stuck there for the rest of your life… I think the happy people I know quit a lot because when they stop having fun they start doing something else.”
Related: Why You Should Quit Your Job Now
Dubner and Levitt performed an experiment on their website where they had users submit questions about whether or not to quit something and then flipped a coin to decide. 40,000 people participated and about 20% of those people followed the outcome of the toss.
“The irony of the hardest decisions,” says Levitt, “the ones you wring your hands over and can’t decide what to do is that you’re basically indifferent… and those are the ones where it doesn’t matter because either option, given you have the information, is just as good.” A lot of people also told Levitt and Dubner that once the coins were in the air something clicked and people knew which choice they wanted to make.
The takeaway? If you’re unhappy with where you are it might make sense to quit even if you think it means failure. And if you’re really unsure, flip a coin—what you root for while you’re waiting for it to land is what you should really do.
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- Steven Levitt
- Stephen Dubner