Organizational Culture and Employee Turnover
The role of organizational culture in employee turnover has been studied from several angles; we describe three of the primary ones in this section. We begin with the straightforward idea that some cultures are more desirable to employees and thus are associated with higher retention rates. Of course, the opposite is true as well. We next address the idea of fit and how cultures may vary in their desirability depending on the fit between the employees’ values and the values embedded in the organization’s culture. Finally, we turn to the idea of a ‘turnover culture’, including how that term has been used and what aspects of organizational culture it captures.
The effects of culture on employee turnover
Although studies of actual turnover are few, there is some evidence to suggest an organization’s culture influences turnover rates. For example, using survival analysis to study the relationship between culture and voluntary turnover in a sample of working professionals at large international accounting firms, Sheridan (1992) found that participants in a culture that valued tasks had a much higher rate of voluntary turnover than those in a culture that valued interpersonal relationships, such that employees stayed on average 14 months longer in a culture that valued interpersonal relationships compared to a culture that valued tasks. Furthermore, Sheridan showed that the difference in turnover rates was consistent across individual levels of performance, such that the difference in turnover rates applied equally across high and low performers. In a sample of private manufacturing organizations in Japan, Jung and Takeuchi (2010) found that although community culture did not have a significant effect on turnover rate, there was evidence for indirect effects through the supportive leadership of top management. Based on data from East Coast retail stores and organizations from Chicago’s metropolitan area, Cooke and Szumal (1993) found evidence for the relationship between the normative beliefs of culture and supervisor-reported annual turnover rates. Across the two samples, three dimensions of passive-defensive culture (approval, dependent, conventional) and one dimension of aggressive-defensive culture (oppositional) were positively related to annual turnover rates, whereas one dimension of constructive culture (achievement) was negatively related to annual turnover rates. In another example, Aarons and Sawitzky (2006) examined the cross-level link between culture and turnover among clinical and case management service providers working in mental health programmes. They found that a constructive culture was positively related to work attitudes (job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and a defensive culture was negatively related to work attitudes; work attitudes were then significantly negatively related to staff turnover. In a similar study of child welfare and juvenile justice services case managers, Glisson and James (2002) found that team-level constructive culture was negatively associated with individual-level turnover after controlling for a variety of individual-level and team-level covariates. As a final example, Shim (2014) found a significant difference in organizational culture when comparing low-turnover and high-turnover public child welfare agencies, such that low-turnover agencies had a more positive culture than high-turnover agencies. Of the three dimensions of organizational culture Shim studied, only the emphasis on rewards was significantly different between the high- and low-turnover agencies, with low-turnover agencies placing a stronger emphasis on rewards than high-turnover agencies.
Some studies have failed to find support for a relationship between organizational culture and turnover, however. For instance, Glisson, Schoenwald, Kelleher, Landsverk, Hoagwood, Mayberg and Green (2008) examined culture profiles (worst, average and best as measured by the dimensions of rigidity, proficiency and resistance in the organization) in a nationwide study of mental health clinics. They found that the differences in culture profiles were not significantly related to turnover rates. Similarly, in Williams and Glisson’s (2013) study of child welfare agencies, the authors found proficiency culture was not significantly related to the annual turnover rate for caseworkers working in those agencies. Finally, although Glisson and James (2002) found that team-level constructive culture was negatively associated with individual-level turnover (as described above), they did not find a significant relationship between passive-defensive culture and individual-level turnover among their sample of caseworkers.
Although there are mixed findings for the relationship between organizational culture and actual turnover, studies of turnover intentions (individual reports that employees are likely to leave the organization in the near future) generally add support to the notion that culture plays a critical role in employee turnover and provide insight into the potential complexity in the relationship between culture and turnover. The weakness of studies of turnover intentions is that they are often focused on individual-level perceptions of culture rather than cross-level relationships of aggregate culture perceptions or relationships. Nevertheless, there is evidence that a variety of culture dimensions or types are related to turnover intentions, including the dimensions of support, aggression and teamwork (Sharoni, Tziner, Fein, Shultz, Shaul & Zilberman, 2012), employability culture (Nauta, van Vianen, van der Heijden, van Dam & Willemsen, 2009), passive-defensive, aggressive- defensive and constructive cultural norms (Balthazard, Cooke & Potter, 2006) and work- family culture (Mauno, Kiuru & Kinnunen, 2011). Qualitative studies also support this relationship; Mulcahy and Betts (2005), for instance, reported on an organizational change effort aimed at improving organizational culture that was associated with decreases in the turnover intentions of neonatal nurses. Beyond the direct relationship between culture and turnover intentions, this literature also suggests that job satisfaction may play a mediating role in the relationship between culture and turnover intentions (Egan, Yang & Bartlett, 2004) and that the strength of the relationship between culture and turnover may vary due to moderator variables. Chenot, Benton and Kim (2009) found that passive-defensive culture was negatively related to turnover intentions for early career child welfare workers, but not for mid- or late career workers.
In summary, although there is some evidence that organizational culture is directly related to turnover and turnover intentions, the relationship between organizational culture and turnover may be more complex than simple direct relationships. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that organizational culture may be indirectly related to employee turnover through mediators or may be affected by moderators. More work is needed to identify factors that affect the relationship between organizational culture and turnover and the mechanisms through which culture affects turnover. Another issue to explore further is how the relationship between organizational culture and turnover is affected by the way culture is operationalized and measured. For instance, culture has been studied across multiple levels of organizations; it is likely that some levels of culture may be more related to employee turnover than others. Finally, although certain organizational cultures may be more or less desirable to employees, the relative importance of different dimensions of culture across employees may also be salient. We explore this possibility next.