Evaluating Turnover Literature

A review of the most prominent turnover theories reveals a holistic picture of the turnover process. This includes work and non-work antecedents of turnover, the mechanisms of turnover, the consequences of turnover and moderating effects (Steel & Lounsbury, 2009). Focusing on the antecedents of turnover, each model offers unique contributions, but the models converge on three key antecedents: job attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), withdrawal cognitions (e.g., thoughts of quitting) and withdrawal behaviours (e.g., job avoidance). In an attempt to explain as much variance as possible in the turnover criterion, researchers have also examined a number of individual, job, organizational and environmental factors as distal antecedents. Furthermore, the notion of shocks introduced the idea that not all turnover decisions follow a systematic, linear process. Rather, some decisions are made in response to jarring events that prompt sudden changes in employee attitudes and behaviours and consequently lead to turnover. Lastly, to understand why some individuals stay and some leave even when they prefer not to, researchers have examined the role of job embeddedness, motivational forces and constraints in the turnover process. These models have been tested in both US and non-US contexts.

Figure 21.2 summarizes the antecedents of turnover reviewed in this section. The antecedents towards the centre of Figure 21.2 represent distal antecedents, while antecedents appearing towards the circumferences represent proximal antecedents. According to the reviewed literature, the antecedents are presented in order of their distance from the criterion: individual differences (e.g., personality, interests), environmental, organizational and job characteristics (e.g., organizational policies, job autonomy, unemployment rate), shocks (e.g., significant work and personal life-events), affect and attitudes (e.g., stress, job satisfaction), cognitive withdrawal states (e.g., thinking about quitting) and withdrawal intentions and behaviours (e.g., job searching). The analysed models also capture the boundary conditions of job embeddedness, motivational forces and constraints, which are thought to interact with withdrawal intentions, behaviours and decisions to stay or leave. As Figure 21.2 illustrates, researchers and practitioners now have an almost complete picture of the factors impacting turnover.

What is missing is the notion of time. Although the unfolding model recognizes that a turnover decision process unfolds over a period of time, the time sequences as an individual moves from one phase of the decision process to the next are not specified. Also, there is currently no model that is inclusive of the more gradual and rational turnover process based on March and Simon’s work and the more sudden turnover decisions that occur in response to shocks. In the next section, and based on the literature, we integrate the key factors of the various dynamic models of turnover and summarize the two primary pathways to turnover, considering, moreover, the various time sequences that occur during the turnover process.

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