The mythical rational employee
Koen Smets

It’s quite clear from our data that there are a basket of factors that individuals are trying to balance in order to make employment-related decisions. These factors change over time, but on the whole are relatively stable (ie changes tend to be gradual).

Everyone experiences positive and negative aspects to their jobs. As their perceived negative aspects increase they ‘demand’ more positive aspects to compensate.

We see a strong hierachy of needs — i.e. when there are lots of negative factors such as a poor boss, toxic colleagues, lack of challenge etc. they want to focus on fundamental issues such as pay. This is the reason why so many people cite pay as a key reason for leaving — their need for more pay increases as do other negative factors.

Whether you describe such decision making as rational seems to me to depend on how you define your utility function. A very simplified, monetary-based utility function (which is far removed from anything I saw in economics education) can’t capture this. However if you have a broad definition — for example along the lines that Akerlof & Kranton describe in their work on identity economics it fits rational behaviour much more closely.