It seems content marketing, not science, is behind this persistent myth.
A colleague came up to me today and told me I should consider doing a story on something she saw in the Sydney Morning Herald about how January 31 is the most popular day for people to quit their job. It certainly seemed like something HR should be across. What were the implications of this?
A group of us instantly speculated as to why it would be this specific day. Were people following through on a New Year’s resolution? Was it the combination of a good summer holiday followed by the crushing reality of work?
Turns out we should have been asking an even more basic question, ‘Where did this data come from and how reliable is it?’
The SMH article is headlined ‘The most popular day of the year to quit is tomorrow – but don’t rush’ and begins with this sentence:
There is no link to the research in the article. Worse, there’s no reference to the source – to the organisations that commissioned it or the institutions that conducted it. This is shoddy stuff.
Where does this come from?
Finding the original sources for this information is not easy. For example, Marie Claire says that Leetchi.com “has looked into our work habits” and found January 31 is the day most people quit.
But Leetchi.com did no such thing. It looked at what were the UK’s “worst leaving gifts”, and itself links to hrmagazine.co.uk for the information about quitting. But that website refers only to a “survey by Glassdoor”.
It turns out Glassdoor didn’t do such a survey, but their survey is linked in a couple of articles to a poll that tried to find out the most popular month. It’s a 2015 online questionnaire conducted by OnePoll which, according to HRD, found “18 percent of respondents said that January is the month that they were most likely to think about changing jobs.”
Note, that’s not the month they actually quit. It’s the month they think about quitting. If this is indeed the research being used, it’s a stretch to say it proves January is the most popular month for people to quit.
But where does “January 31” come from?
The most promising lead here is a blog post from UK online accounting firm Crunch claiming it conducted research which found January 31 was the fateful day for so many British workers. But it doesn’t offer the raw results, nor does it provide basic information about how the data was collected. In journalism you would say this has “the whiff of bulls**t”.
Think about it, how would you figure out what the most popular day to quit is? Ideally you would be looking at data from across an entire workforce over a long period of time. But, considering not many companies would record the day when people say they’re quitting (they’re more likely to record the day people stop working), this would be difficult.
If you’re just going to ask people, you’d probably want them to nominate what days they actually quit. You could also ask them, “On what day do you plan to quit?” but unless you ask a huge sample of people you wouldn’t be getting meaningful data.
The blog post doesn’t reveal the question it asked. This is all they divulge about their research on the most popular day to quit:
That’s a little suspicious. Did people actually say they quit on 31 January, or did they say they were considering quitting but would wait for their payday and the writer made a logical leap? This is why you show your data.
So let’s take a step back and ask why Crunch is even conducting this research?
The end of the blog post is about all the services Crunch can offer people who strike out on their own. In other words, Crunch is looking for interesting information that will draw people into their products. In fact, Glassdoor and Leetchi were doing the exact same thing. It’s called content marketing. You create content people want to read, and you connect it with your service.
Good content marketing actually gives you useful, actionable information (Glassdoor has a dedicated team of qualified researchers, for example). Bad content marketing gives you titillating information that’s not well founded. It tends to focus on finding a viral headline – such as “everybody quits on January 31”.
So when is the most popular time to quit?
The truth is, it really shouldn’t matter. It’s interesting but not useful to any individual. Who is going to quit because all the cool kids are doing it?
Indeed, it’s very possible that people tend to quit in January. The New Year often causes people to reevaluate their life goals. But for that same reason, it wouldn’t be surprising if people tended to quit around their birthdays.
Now, there could be value in organisations doing an internal assessment. It wouldn’t take any HR function much effort to look back through historical data and find the month that had the highest churn rate. If it’s significantly high and tied to something the business can do something about (such as a tense sales period), then you would want to know. But mostly you’d have to think that the data point would not be helpful (“oooh, September has 2.5% higher turnover than June. Fascinating”).
There are far more advanced analytics when it comes to staff retention – including the turnover propensity index and programs that rapidly track employee sentiment. Retention issues are rarely something you want to track with a single data point (this case study reduced churn rate as part of its succession management efforts).
There’s a lot of junk work information out there. This website is not innocent of perpetuating it. Thankfully exclusive HRM research found that February is the most popular month for forgiving us – a full 100 per cent of people asked said so.