Breaking Up with Your Job: Mad Men Demonstrates What Work Relationships and Romantic Relationships Have in Common
In a recent episode of Mad Men, Peggy was seriously thinking about jumping ship from SCDP to another company. In case you’re not completely caught up with the show yet, I won’t tell you want she ended up choosing, but you can see how this could be a very difficult decision for her or for anyone contemplating leaving a job. On the one hand, Peggy likely holds some resentment for her boss and her coworkers, given that she has not always been treated fairly at SCDP; this dissatisfaction may motivate her to look elsewhere. On the other hand, as we know, breaking up is hard to do. What about all of the time and energy that she has put into the company over the years? And what about her loyalty to Don?
The questions Peggy grapples with when she thinks about leaving her company are not that different from the sorts of questions that people grapple with when they think about leaving a romantic partner. Indeed, research on commitment shows that the thought processes that affect these two decisions are really quite similar. The three factors that best predict commitment to a romantic partner1,2 – satisfaction, investment, and quality of alternatives –also prove to be useful in predicting commitment to a company.3,4
Satisfaction represents whether or not people are getting what they need from a particular relationship. In the case of Peggy and her relationship with SCDP, her satisfaction is pretty low. Things have been taking a turn for the worst since Season 4, when Peggy was not given any credit for helping land a prestigious advertising award (Don: “It’s your job. I give you money, you give me ideas. Peggy: “And you never say thank you.” Don “That’s what the money is for!!”) This lack of respect and appreciation has become even more blatant in the current season, as the brand new male hire – Ginsberg – has continually received all of the best accounts and opportunities while Peggy has received nothing but a higher work load. All of this has served to make Peggy resentful and unhappy with her job. Just like someone who is dissatisfied with a romantic partner, Peggy’s low satisfaction with her company is likely to motivate her to leave.
Investment represents how many resources – such as time, energy, and money – a person has put into a relationship, that they risk losing if the relationship ends. For example, people in romantic relationships often consider investments such as the experiences they’ve shared with their partners, the mutual friendships they’ve developed, and the plans for the future that they’ve made together.5 Investments are likely to be a key source of conflict for Peggy, as her investment in SCDP is quite high. Peggy has been working at the same company for many years. If she leaves, what will become of her relationships with her clients and with her coworkers? Most importantly, what will become of her relationship with Don? Although Don has often failed to appreciate Peggy’s efforts, he has also been there for her during some important times in her life, like when he promoted her from secretary to copywriter in Season 1, or when he visited her in the hospital after she gave a baby up for adoption in Season 2. She is also one of the few characters who has been there for Don when he needed support – such as when Anna Draper died in Season 4. Altogether, Peggy and Don have developed a very close mentor/mentee bond. The risk of losing that relationship is a huge motivator for Peggy to stay at SDCP. My guess is that it’s the reason she hasn’t left already.
Quality of alternatives represents what a person thinks they would have if they were not in their current relationship. In the case of a romantic relationship, quality of alternatives usually refers to other romantic partners who a person thinks they could attract (those proverbial fish in the sea). In Peggy’s case, quality of alternatives refers to the other companies that might be willing to hire her, and whether or not they are likely to treat her any better than the folks at SCDP. People who are already highly committed to their relationships (i.e., highly invested and highly satisfied) usually do not pay much attention to their alternatives.6,7 For example, Peggy wasn’t even thinking about going for job interviews right after she got promoted to copywriter, or after she got her own office back in Season 3. But for those with low commitment, like Peggy has in Season 5, quality of alternatives can become the deal-breaker that determines whether they ultimately choose to stay or leave. So Peggy’s decision about whether to leave may hinge on whether or not she can get a better deal elsewhere.
Overall, Peggy’s relationship with her company is much like a romantic relationship that has run its course. Although she’s made a lot of investments into the company, she’s just not getting what she needs at this agency, which is motivating her to look elsewhere. Now, it all depends on whether or not a different agency is prepared to offer her more. And for Peggy, “more” doesn’t just mean more money: she’s looking for intangibles like power, respect, and appreciation. If she manages to find them in another company, it may be difficult for Don to match the offer.
1Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.
2Rusbult, C. E. (1983). A longitudinal test of the investment model: The development (and deterioration) of satisfaction and commitment in heterosexual involvements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 101-117.
3Rusbult, C. E., & Farrell, D. (1983). A longitudinal test of the investment model: The impact on job satisfaction, job commitment, and turnover of variations in rewards, costs, alternatives, and investments. Journal of Applied Psychology, 68, 429-438.
4Le, B., & Agnew, C. R. (2003). Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta-analysis of the investment model. Personal Relationships, 10, 37-57.
5Goodfriend, W., & Agnew, C. R. (2008). Sunken costs and desired plans: Examining different types of investments in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1639-1652.
6Maner, J. K., Gaillot, M. T., & Miller, S. L. (2009). The implicit cognition of relationship maintenance: Inattention to attractive alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 174-179.
7Miller, R. S. (1997). Inattentive and contented: Relationship commitment and attention to alternatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 758-766.
Samantha Joel - Science of Relationships articles
Samantha's research examines how people make decisions about their romantic relationships. For example, what sort of factors do people take into consideration when they try to decide whether to pursue a potential date, invest in a new relationship, or break up with a romantic partner?