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The Psychology of Employee Regret: How Former Staff Invent Negative Reasons for Leaving

The Psychology Of Employee Regret Featured 2

Published Date: 6th October 2023.

​The NZ job market has certainly changed a lot throughout 2023. Here at Beyond Recruitment, earlier in the year, we saw a lot of movement in the market as the lack of available talent drove up remuneration and saw many organisations provide a lot of incentives and promises for workers to make the switch. It’s interesting talking to candidates and employers now this frenzy has settled right down – especially if that decision to change has not panned out as expected, or worse, your new job is under threat of looming cuts.

Have you ever left a job and found yourself second-guessing your decision? It's a common experience for many employees who have left an organisation, only to later wonder if they made the right choice. This phenomenon is often accompanied by a peculiar twist: the tendency to invent negative reasons for leaving in the first place. Why does this happen, and what can we learn from it?

Emotional Coping Mechanism

One of the primary reasons employees may create and share negative reasons for their departure is to cope with the emotions that come with change. Leaving a job is a significant life transition, and it's natural to feel a sense of loss, uncertainty, and nostalgia. Perceiving shortcomings of the old job can help individuals rationalise their decision and provide a sense of validation for it.

Preservation of Self-Esteem

This psyche can also be a way to protect one's self-esteem. By creating a narrative where the organisation or work environment was intolerable or problematic (even though they may have been well looked after, productive and happy for many years), former employees can feel that they made a wise choice to leave. A bit like a defence mechanism against self-doubt. We also often remember events and experiences selectively. When we look back on our past, we may focus on negative aspects, real or imagined, to justify our choices and avoid cognitive dissonance

Peer and Social Pressure

Sharing the decision to leave with friends, family, and former colleagues can invite scrutiny and questioning, especially if the reason for leaving was financial and/or rosy career promises. Admitting that you regret your decision can be emotionally challenging, and it may lead individuals to bolster their decision by creating negative narratives about their previous workplace.

Reinforcing the Narrative

Once the former employee has invented negativity, they may actively seek out or interpret events to confirm their narrative, such as actively connecting with past colleagues to find out “what is going wrong”. This confirmation bias reinforces their belief that they made the right decision and that the organisation was, in fact, problematic.

The Grass is Greener Syndrome

People often idealise opportunities they've missed or choices they didn't make. In this context, the job or company they left can become idealised, leading to feelings of regret and fabricated negativity, to justify the potential of their return.

At Beyond Recruitment we have learned and seen there is a lot of psychology in the world of employment and changing jobs. Being aware of this aspect can help individuals who find themselves in this situation, and organisations that may consider rehiring former employees.

If that new job is not living up to your expectations and/or you're experiencing regret over leaving a previous job – you may find yourself negatively focused. Here at Beyond Recruitment, candidates we’ve spoken to who have moved past this have tended to engage in self-reflection and consider the true reasons behind their decision. In some cases, reevaluating their career choices led to a deeper understanding of their goals and aspirations.

Employers should be open to rehiring former employees, even if they have had these negative tendencies. Their return may bring a fresh perspective and new insights that benefit both the individual and the organisation.

In conclusion, the phenomenon of inventing negative reasons for leaving a job is a complex psychological process driven by emotions, self-preservation, and the need for validation. Understanding this can lead to personal growth and potentially create opportunities for ongoing connection.

If you are seeking a New Zealand-wide recruitment partner dedicated to delivering talent solutions tailored to your organisation’s needs, let's collaborate to find the perfect fit for your team's success. Reach out to me at or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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