Wanna play chicken?

As we mentioned in last week’s blog, we are focused on topics related to the Great Resignation we think might be useful to you.

I’m sure most of you recall the game of chicken…an event where two individuals square off against one another and then charge toward each other with what appears to be an outcome of a head on collision. The “game” is to see which party “chickens out” and pulls away from what would otherwise be that collision.  

There’s a way this game plays out in organizational chicken, with an employee shopping for outside competitive offers in the hopes that their current employer “chickens out” on the risk of losing said employee by giving him/her a matching or better offer.

Having both witnessed and played this game, there’s one fundamental piece of advice you’ll need to incorporate if you choose to play: Be prepared to walk away from your current employer. Why? The employer may choose not to play. And in that case, once an employee has played their hand in this game, the only outcome left if the employer chooses not to play is to walk away. The problem with this outcome is the employee may actually want to stay with their organization and thinks that creating leverage is the best way to solve their concern of being unfulfilled or undervalued.

While an employee may have calculated their worth to the employer and the risk the employer faces without him/her as an employee, I’ve never viewed any employee as indispensable. In fact, most of my career in my role as an HR generalist, I’d advise the supervisor not to match the competitive offer, but instead to simply have a direct conversation with the employee about the pros/cons of staying/leaving the organization.  

So, my counsel to employees who feel undervalued is to initiate a direct conversation with their employer. Whether the market or that person’s role supports a salary increase or not, I believe it’s always healthy to have open lines of communication between a supervisor and employee. I recognize that’s often easier said than done, but in today’s competitive environment, which leans toward the employee, I think it’s wise to press internally before looking externally.

Ecclesiastes 6:9 states, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” I encourage you to fully work through what you have in front of you with your current employer before looking outside for fulfillment or value.  After you’ve been through that due process, or perhaps while going through it in parallel, looking outside can be useful.  

But a game of chicken rarely plays out the way one might think. 🙂


Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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