Organizational Climate and Employee Turnover

In this section, we turn to the topic of organizational climate and its relationship with employee turnover. As described above, the organizational climate literature can be divided into two categories: molar climate (capturing the broad environment of the organization) and focused climate (related to a specific goal or strategic imperative). We organize this section in line with these two categories, considering molar climate first and then focused climate.

Molar climate and employee turnover

Molar climate research considers the breadth of the organizational environment by capturing any possible dimensions that may be used to describe the work environment as a whole, including such dimensions as role stress and lack of harmony; job challenge and autonomy; leadership support and facilitation; and work group cooperation, friendliness and warmth (James & James, 1989). There is empirical support for the relationship between molar climate and turnover. For example, in a sample of multinational firms located in Hong Kong, Ngo, Foley and Loi (2009) found a significant negative relationship between molar climate as reported by the HR managers and the firms’ overall turnover rate. Glisson and colleagues (2008) looked at how climate may affect therapist turnover in mental health clinics. Climate profiles were created for organizations based on engagement, functionality and stress in the organization. They found that turnover was higher (22%) in clinics with the worst organizational climate profiles as compared to clinics with the average (13%) and best (10%) climate profiles. Shim’s (2014) comparison oflow-turnover and high-turnover public child welfare agencies revealed that low-turnover agencies tended to have more positive climates, particularly with regard to the dimension of workload such that low-turnover agencies tended to have less overwhelming and more manageable workloads. Other research has examined the effects of molar climate on turnover as mediated by alternative variables. Aarons, Sommerfeld and Willging (2011) studied climate and turnover during a statewide behavioural health reform and found that an empowering climate was negatively associated with turnover intentions and a demoralizing climate was positively associated with turnover intentions; turnover intentions were then positively associated with actual turnover. Similarly, Aarons and Sawitzky’s (2006) study of mental health providers showed that molar climate’s cross-level relationship with turnover was mediated by work attitudes.

Some studies have failed to find a significant effect of molar climate on turnover, however. For instance, Glisson and James’s (2002) study of case managers in child welfare found no significant relationship between climate and turnover. Sheidow, Schoenwald, Wagner, Allred and Burns (2007) showed some support for molar climate’s relationship with turnover when examining climate variables at the individual level (i.e., psychological climate), but none of the aggregate measures of climate was significantly related to turnover. Such findings suggest the possibility of moderators, although we found little research examining such a possibility. In one exception, Terbog and Lee (1984) studied climate and turnover rates in retail stores and found some evidence for the relationship between climate and turnover for managers, but no relationship for salespersons after accounting for demographic variables. Thus, level in the organization or the job type may play a role in whether molar climate is associated with turnover.

In summary, although there is some evidence supporting the relationship between molar organizational climate and employee turnover, such evidence is relatively limited. The mixed results of the few studies we were able to find indicate that the relationship between organizational climate and turnover is complicated and thus there is a need to examine both the moderators and mediators of this relationship. Early organizational climate work suggested that climate affects outcomes by motivating individuals (Litwin & Stringer, 1968). This may be a place to start when looking for the mechanisms through which climate is related to turnover. Climate research in other areas has found that the strength of a climate affects its impact on outcomes (see Ehrhart et al., 2014; Kuenzi & Schminke, 2009); we return to this later in the chapter in our directions for future research. Finally, there are measurement issues to consider as the lack of consistency in operationalizing and measuring molar organizational climate may have contributed to the variability in support for its relationship with turnover. More fine-tuned theorizing on the relevance of specific dimensions of molar climate may add needed specificity to research examining the outcome of turnover. Moreover, examining the role of climate profiles or configurations (Schulte, Ostroff, Shmulyian & Kinicki, 2009) could offer insight into how the various dimensions of molar climate come together to impact issues related to employee turnover.

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