Exits

Earlier this year I read an article by Lara Hogan about women in tech. In it, she references the “Exit, Voice, Loyalty” model of individual dissatisfaction within an organization, developed by Albert O. Hirschman in 1970:

It basically says this: If a customer of a firm (or, a citizen of a state, as the case may be) is dissatisfied, she has three options.

  1. She can exercise voice, and by speaking up, she may affect the firm’s practices and create change.
  2. She can exercise exit, by leaving the firm and going to another firm. In this case, exit might also include leaving tech altogether.
  3. She can do nothing and hope for the best, while suffering the consequences of the grievance or the declining product.

Which of these options she takes is conditioned on loyalty, that is, how deeply she feels invested, either emotionally or financially to the organization.

The model can be usefully applied to employer-employee, customer-vendor, and citizen-state relations. Over time it has been extended to include neglect as another option, which is what happens when an individual stays with the organization but neglects their duties and responsibilities in a way that almost guarantees that conditions will get even worse.

Thinking about the model in the context of employer-employee relations provided me with insights about my own behaviour. Over the course of my own career, I have tended to go loyalty-loyalty-loyalty-exit, often to the surprise of my manager. Exercising one’s voice takes effort, and inevitably leads to confrontation and hard conversations. As a privileged white male in the tech industry, the switching costs, which are what one has to overcome in order to make an exit, are ridiculously low for me. So the abrupt loyalty-to-exit pattern is perhaps not unexpected. In fact, it is fairly common among white males in tech. There are times I regret having made the exit decision, and now that I’m more aware of this model, I’m taking steps to adjust my behaviour to weigh the voice option more heavily.

(Note to self: golden handcuffs increase switching costs. Thus, they reduce exit, and increase adoption of the other strategies. Do employees turn to the other strategies in equal proportions, or is there a bias towards the other destructive response, namely neglect?)

The decision of the UK to leave the European Union was a pretty big exit decision this year. I’m not sure if the exit-voice-loyalty-neglect model can be extended to nation states. At an individual level, there is a big difference between voting for the country to leave the EU, and actually leaving the country (or Union) oneself. The number of people who emigrated from the UK because they didn’t want to be part of the EU is (I assume) pretty small. Likewise, after the referendum, the number of people who have actually left the UK or applied for another country’s passport is tiny compared to the population of the entire UK. (Once you get past the hyperbolic “demand doubles” headlines.)

There was a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the UK in our decision to move to the Netherlands in 2007. (Actually, that’s just the year we moved. We made the decision a few years before that.) Mostly it was that we wanted to raise Alex and Fiona in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural environment, and Scotland didn’t seem to offer that option in any practical sense. We were moving to something rather than away from something. I also never considered it as moving back to where I grew up, because the Amsterdam area in the 21st century is very different from South-Limburg in the 1980s.

I consider myself Scottish; I always have. As a teenager growing up in the Netherlands, speaking Dutch, attending a Dutch school, surrounded by Dutch friends, the inner Scottishness was something that mattered to me. It was something that helped me deal with the (perfectly normal) feelings of teenage alienation and isolation. When I moved to Scotland to go to university, having grown up in the Netherlands contributed to feelings of not belonging there either. It’s a common experience for Third Culture Kids.

The Brexit decision has left me in a strange place, emotionally. Despite feeling very much at home and acculturated here, I don’t consider myself Dutch. Yet political circumstances are making me wonder what it would mean for me to acquire a Dutch passport. How could I consider myself Scottish with a Dutch passport? Having held on to my Scottish identity so strongly for my whole life, it would feel like a betrayal of my very self. And for what? The convenience of being able to live comfortably outside the country I claim as my own? That seems awfully shallow.

It’s worth noting that the Netherlands does not allow naturalised citizens to retain their previous nationality, unless the other country does not allow you to renounce its citizenship (e.g. Greece, Marocco, Iran). I really don’t think that Guy Verhofstad’s proposal to grant British nationals an opt-in associate EU citizenship post-Brexit is going to work out. But just a couple of days ago, two members of the Dutch parliament (from D66 and PvdA) introduced a bill that would allow Dutch nationals to hold a second passport.

If this is pre-election posturing (the general election happens three months from now), it’s posturing I can get behind. I could see myself taking on dual citizenship. Coming back to the exit-voice-loyalty model, the emotional cost of giving up my Scottish nationality would be high. It would take quite a lot of discomfort around our residency and tax status here in the Netherlands for me to go down that route. Multiple passports changes the whole game.

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