A Review of Turnover

Over the past half-century, the retention and turnover literature has grown exponentially, from just a handful of studies in the 1950s and 1960s to over 7,000 by 2014. The practitioner literature has also expanded: currently there are over 9,000 turnover and retention- related books. Keeping track of such a vast body of research can be daunting. But amid the thousands of studies, theories and recommendations, six influential turnover models stand out because of their notable impact on the field (Figure 21.1).

In this section, we trace the progression of turnover research by reviewing and evaluating these models. As we do, we highlight how turnover research has progressed through five important stages.

Turnover as a rational decision

The first formal model of turnover was developed by March and Simon in 1958. Based on the rational decision-making process of administrative theory, this model posits that turnover and retention can best be understood through a framework of organizational equilibrium. When an employee believes his or her contributions to the organization outweigh the rewards and benefits received, the employee-employer relationship becomes out of balance. This causes the employee to consider leaving the organization (i.e., perceived desirability of movement) and consider how easy it would be to move to another organization (i.e., perceived ease of movement). Mobley (1977) identified job satisfaction as an indicator of movement desirability, and Price (1977) and Price and Mueller (1981)

Themes and components of influential turnover models

Figure 21.1 Themes and components of influential turnover models.

noted that job availability provides a good indication of perceived ease of movement. Therefore, the model predicts that job dissatisfaction (i.e., movement desirability) prompts a consideration of alternative job opportunities (i.e., ease of movement). If dissatisfaction is strong enough and other jobs are available, the model predicts an employee will quit. Extensive research has shown that both job dissatisfaction and job opportunities are related to turnover intentions and actual turnover (Blau, 1993; Griffeth, Steel, Allen & Bryan, 2005; Kopelman, Rovenpor & Millsap, 1992; Lee, Gerhart, Weller & Trevor, 2008; Podsakoff, LePine & LePine, 2007; Smith, Holtom & Mitchell, 2011; Swider & Zimmerman, 2010; Van Dick et al., 2004).

Mobley and colleagues (Mobley, 1977; Mobley, Griffeth, Hand & Meglino, 1979) expanded March and Simon’s original model to explain how an employee will behave once job satisfaction starts to decline. Influenced by Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) theory of reasoned action, they proposed an ‘intermediate linkages model’, which predicts that a sequence of cognitive and behavioural steps of withdrawal will occur between the initial experience of job dissatisfaction and the ultimate act of quitting.

Informed by this model, turnover researchers have explored a number of withdrawal cognitions and behaviours that emerge after employees become dissatisfied and before they leave an organization. Withdrawal cognitions (thoughts about quitting, the expected utility of leaving and psychological withdrawal from work) have all been linked to turnover (Hom & Kinicki, 2001; Hulin, 1991; Hulin, Roznowski & Hachiya, 1985). Researchers have investigated other emotional and cognitive states as consequences of job dissatisfaction and determinants of turnover. These include stress (Sheridan & Abelson, 1983), burnout (Swider & Zimmerman, 2010), perceived organizational support (Maertz, Griffeth, Campbell & Allen, 2007; Shore & Tetrick, 1991) and perceptions of justice (Garcia- Chas, Neira-Fontela & Castro-Casal, 2014; Posthuma, Maertz & Dworkin, 2007; Spreitzer & Mishra, 2002).

In terms of withdrawal behaviours, job searching, the evaluation of job alternatives, lateness and absences, work withdrawal and job avoidance have all been linked with turnover (Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner, 2000; Harrison, Newman & Roth, 2006; Hom & Kinicki, 2001; Kammeyer-Mueller, Wanberg, Glomb & Ahlburg, 2005).

Mobley and colleagues (1979) also proposed a number of moderating effects on the relationship between withdrawal cognitions and actual turnover. For instance, personality traits related to impulsiveness (e.g., openness to experiences) were thought to be associated with turnover, and evidence supports this (e.g., Zimmerman, 2008).

The turnover process first defined by March and Simons and extended by Mobley and colleagues has given a comprehensive picture of the turnover process. The basic premise supporting this body of research is that employees are rational decision makers and continuously seek to maintain a balance between their efforts and what they receive from their organization. If this relationship becomes unbalanced, employees will engage in a series of withdrawal cognitions and behaviours that ultimately may lead to the employee leaving the organization.

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