Exit, Voice, and Loyalty – responses to decline in firms, organisations and states(1970) is a treatise written by Albert O. Hirschman, a German Economist.
His work was originally focused on the options that confront consumers in the face of deteriorating quality of goods and services.
His influential idea has been applied to a wide range of settings including employer – employee relations and that is my current interest.
The current situation across the globe characterised by serious conflicts between employers and employees on several counts may warrant us to step back and look at it through the eyes of Albert O. Hirschman, for a slightly larger perspective.
When employees are confronted with a perceived deterioration of the “promise” held out to them (value proposition in modern terminology), they are faced with the same three options – exit or leave; voice or speak up in a variety of ways including raising grievances protesting, agitating, escalating, striking work or more recently taking up to a social media handle and finally, Loyalty, seen as a balancing force between exit and voice.
Lets start with Loyalty because that is the tricky one. Unfortunately, Loyalty is not always combined with commitment. Loyalty can be seen as a convenient choice – a form of neglect or helpless toleration or wait and watch.
Karl Marx is credited with originating the idea of alienation. He saw Alienation as a condition in which individuals become isolated and cut off from the product of their work and have abandoned their desire for self-expression and control over their own fate at the job. “Loyalty” is often a fallout of alienation.
In the early days, employees resorted to “sit in strikes” and “work to rule”. Employee engagement models have been using the term “actively disengaged” to describe this state. In today’s world of virtual working, that would mean “keeping the video off and the speaker on mute”. In my mind, that is what is hurting organizations and most do not have an answer to this crisis of commitment.
Exit is easy to understand – it is a battle between your talent manager and the other company’s hiring manager. Who wins depends on who spoke to the employee soon enough. Before he contemplated quitting of after he “resigned”.
Voice is taking on a very different form today. It is no longer about red flags at the gates. It is about mobilising “interest groups” based on specific issues like the thousands of “hashtag something” that have created ground swell movements.
Beyond Hirschman’s model is the fact that Organizations also fire groups of customers that are unprofitable serve. Just like organizations are now letting go of employees because they want them to share in the risk of doing business.
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Letting go – its all happening.
And in the middle of all this we want commitment? Really?