“Are they satisfied, embedded, on the fence?” says Wendy Boswell, a business professor at Texas A&M University. “Are they flight risks? If so, and if they are top employees, you might be wise to invest in trying to retain them.”
A new study by Boswell and colleagues—published in the Journal of Applied Psychology—examines factors that may help explain under what conditions employee job search effort may most strongly or weakly predict subsequent turnover. The decision to leave a job is a complicated process, the study suggests. How attached an employee is to the current environment—or how “embedded”—is a critical factor.
“How tied you are to not only the place but also the community—if you own a home, your spouse has a job there, you belong to a church or are involved in schools—determines how much incentive it takes to get you to leave,” Boswell explains.
“Fit” is also important—whether the values of a community (as well as the organization) align with the individual’s—and characteristics such as metropolitan versus small-town, or urban versus industrial.
“The practical implication for an employer is to know who is really vulnerable to leaving, then going and intercepting those high performers—retention isn’t ‘one size fits all,’” says Boswell.
The culture of the organization and community also carry great weight in the decision, says doctoral candidate Brian Swider, who collaborated on the study.
“Say I’m working in New York City and a job opens in a small southern suburb. Whether I pursue that opportunity depends on my personal preferences,” he says. “It could be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for or it could sound like a nightmare.”
Employers do a poor job of predicting impending turnover, Swider says. These findings suggest that there may be a number of factors interacting to influence employees’ turnover decisions, indicating greater complexity to the process than described in previous prominent sequential turnover models.
Boswell explains the assumed process: an employee experiencing job dissatisfaction searches for alternatives, evaluates them against his current position, then either quits or stays put. But, oftentimes, employees search and don’t leave.
Online applications make it easier to search and even apply for positions, but the likelihood of an employee actually accepting another position depends on his level of enmeshment or “stuckness,” as well as how important it is for the person to leave and whether he or she even has the opportunity.
“The more of these attachments you have, the more likely you are to want to stay somewhere,” Boswell explains. “It used to be the defined benefit plan, but now it is all these other factors that you might have to sacrifice if you were to leave.”
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