Just as athletes step up their game when playing against their former team, employees are likely to exert the same extra effort when competing against a former employer. That's according to a study set to be published in an upcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal, which studied the competitiveness of National Hockey League (NHL) players and considered how that applies to business in general.
"Individuals experience a conflict in their collective identity when they compete with their new employer against their former one," the study's authors wrote. "To reduce the conflict, individuals strengthen their identification with the new organization and de-identify with the former by competing harder against the former organization [than against other firms]."
Despite struggling somewhat when working in opposition to former colleagues, the research found that those employees might be the most appropriate to do the job, given the increased competitive behavior.
"Our findings should be particularly helpful in sectors where employees compete directly against individuals in rival firms, such as in professional services or sales, or where there is frequent shuttling of staff between competitors, as in Silicon Valley," Thorsten Grohsjean, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich in Germany, said in a statement.
The study's authors came to their conclusions after analyzing how NHL hockey players compete against their previous teams. Specifically, the researchers conducted an analysis of checking, which is when a player rams into the opponent in possession of the puck in order to jar it loose. They say this is a strong measure of a players' individual competitive intensity. [See Related Story: Gone But Not Forgotten: Protecting Your Business from Former Employees ]
"In contrast to other measures, like goals, checks can be traced back to an individual's effort, rather than being the result of an overall team effort," the study's authors wrote.
Collectively, the players in the sample accounted for 749 moves between teams and played for an average of 2.33 previous teams before joining their current club. The research revealed that hockey players checked most often when playing against their former team. More often than not, however, they targeted players who had joined the team after they had left and whom they were never teammates with.
The study also revealed that the amount of checking against former teams and teammates were highest in the year following their departure. Additionally, checking levels tended to be higher the more years a player spent with a former club.
The researchers believe the results show the need of relocated players to prove their value to their new teams and that the longer a player was with a former team, the more they struggle with de-identifying with them.
"De-identification becomes more difficult the longer an individual has stayed with a former organization [so that] individuals show more competitive behavior when they face an organization in which they had a longer tenure," the researchers wrote.
The study's authors see the research having valuable implications for organizations in the business world.
"When firms hire employees from competitors they not only gain human and social capital, but can also expect the new employees to work particularly hard when competing against their former employers," the study's authors wrote.
The study was co-authored by Pascal Kober and Leon Zucchini, both research and teaching assistants at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.