Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

March 12, 2007

What makes employees voluntarily leave or keep their jobs

Employers
would be better at keeping workers if they focused on why their
employees want to stay rather than what kinds of things make them quit,
according to researchers from the University of Washington and Truman
State University.

Until recently, most research focused on why people leave jobs
rather than why they choose to stay. In a review of the past 15 years
of research on employee job satisfaction and voluntary turnover, the
researchers examined not only why people quit but what makes workers
stay in their current positions.

They found that the decision to quit one’s job doesn’t
necessarily come from job dissatisfaction. Employees may have a plan to
leave should something happen in their lives, such as a spouse getting
a job in another town. They may leave because they get an unexpected
job offer. They also may leave with no other job in hand.

Wendy Harman, lead author and an assistant professor of business
at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., examined previous
research for this paper while a doctoral student at the UW Business
School. She says there are steps organizations can take to retain good
employees.

Wendy Harman, lead author and an assistant professor of business
at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., examined previous
research for this paper while a doctoral student at the UW Business
School. She says there are steps organizations can take to retain good
employees.

 

 

"As we head into an era of the largest brain drain the world has
ever experienced, that of the baby boomers leaving the workforce, it is
going to become increasingly important for organizations to be able to
keep their best workers," she says. "Turnover is extremely expensive
for organizations and becomes even more so the more an organization
increases the amount of training time and money it invests in its
employees. Knowing how to retain these employees creates a less costly,
more stable work and community environment."

 

Terrence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization in
the UW Business School and a psychology professor, and Thomas Lee, a UW
professor of management, co-authored the paper. They developed two
theories in the field of job turnover that they say are new to the
subject of the psychology of voluntary turnover. The first, the
"unfolding model," explains why employees quit. The second, "job
embeddedness," tells why workers stay. Understanding both of these
theories could help employers keep their best employees.

 

The unfolding model describes different psychological paths
people follow when they decide to leave an organization. Faced with
circumstances or "shocks," such as a fight with one’s boss or an
unanticipated job offer, an employee is forced to decide to stay or
leave. Turnover decisions, say Mitchell and Lee, are influenced by
comparisons between the investments made in their job or organization,
the rewards they receive, the quality of alternatives and the costs
associated with working for a particular organization — and all of
these comparisons change over time.

 

Job embeddeddness describes a web of forces that cause one to
feel he or she would not leave a job. The critical components to job
embeddeddness include the extent to which people are linked with other
people or to activities, the extent to which their jobs and communities
fit with other aspects of their lives, and the ease with which their
respective links can be broken, or what they would sacrifice if they
left.

 

"The reasons we keep a job are not necessarily the opposite of
why we leave," says Lee. "We may stay at a job we dislike because we
are linked with others — we feel a sense of belonging to a group that
depends on us and we’d have to sacrifice things that are important to
us should we move, such as an office with windows or living in a nice
neighborhood. Or we feel as though we fit there or in our community."

 

Organizational leaders should understand that why employees quit
often has nothing to do with being unhappy about the job and that
helping build a sense of community among its employees can prevent them
from quitting, the researchers say.

 

According to Lee, people tend to stay in their jobs because they
are linked to the job or the community, they feel as though they fit in
the organization or community and if they leave, they would have to
sacrifice things they have accumulated. People can be linked to others
by working in groups or teams dependent on that person for success,
both on and off the job. A good example of off-the-job links
facilitated by the organization include community service days during
which groups from the organization work together in donating their time
to charity.

 

"Fit is important in that people need to feel as though they fit
in the organization and in their community," says Harman. "Should they
feel congruence between their values and goals and those of the
organization, they will be more embedded in the organization. Should
they feel as though they and their families fit in the community in
which they live, again they will be more embedded and more likely to
stay. When people leave an organization, they sacrifice whatever
they’ve built up during their tenure, like a cushy corner office. When
someone leaves a community, again there are sacrifices such as friends
and home. The more that would have to be sacrificed, the more embedded
the person is."

 

The paper appears in the February issue of the journal Current
Directions in Psychological Science. William Felps and Bradley Owens,
both doctoral students at the UW Business School, also are co-authors.

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