Focused climate and employee turnover

Focused climates address those aspects of the work environment that are most relevant to the accomplishment of a specific goal or strategic imperative, including service, safety, justice and diversity (Ehrhart et al., 2014). In general, there are few studies examining the relationship between focused climates and actual turnover. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions. In a sample of nurse managers, Sellgren, Ekvall and Tomson (2007) investigated how different aspects of creative climate, which included 10 dimensions - challenge, freedom, idea support, trust, dynamism, playfulness, debates, conflicts, risk-taking and idea time - related to turnover. They found that two aspects of creative climate - challenge and debate - were negatively related to turnover, and one aspect - playfulness - was positively related to turnover. In a study of justice climate in hotels, Simons and Roberson (2003) showed that both interpersonal and procedural justice perceptions indirectly predicted turnover rate through multiple mediators, including employee commitment, satisfaction with supervisor and turnover intentions. In a case study of the implementation of a safety-based programme in intensive care units, Timmel, Kent, Holzmueller, Paine, Schulick and Pronovost (2010) found that perceptions of the safety climate improved and turnover decreased during the implementation, leading them to suggest a relationship between the two variables. Finally, in a study of automotive services stores, Sowinski, Fortmann and Lezotte (2008) studied the relationship of service climate level (the average score in the store) and strength (the variability of employees’ climate scores within the stores) with store turnover rates. They found that one relationship between the climate strength for the dimension of means emphasis (capturing an emphasis on improving service knowledge and skills through training) approached statistical significance (p = 0.055), suggesting that not only climate level but climate strength may contribute to turnover.

As with the research on culture, there is more evidence for the relationship between focused climates and turnover intentions than actual turnover. This relationship has been investigated most frequently in the literatures on diversity climate and ethical climate. One example of research on diversity climate is Boehm, Kunze and Bruch’s (2014) study of age-diversity climate in German small and medium-sized companies. They found that age-diversity climate was negatively correlated with collective turnover intentions. In addition, age-diversity climate, along with collective perceptions of social exchange, mediated the relationship between age-inclusive HR practices and collective turnover intentions. Specifically, HR practices that were age-inclusive were positively related to age-diversity climate, which in turn was directly positively related to collective perceptions of social exchange (i.e., relationships in which both parties reciprocally work towards the benefit of the other party over time; Wayne, Shore & Liden, 1997). Finally, collective perceptions of social exchange were negatively related to collective turnover intentions, forming a three-path mediation model. Most other examples of research on diversity climate and turnover intentions have focused on individual perceptions of climate. Examples include Stewart, Volpone, Avery and McKay’s (2011) study showing that individual- level perceptions of diversity climate interacted with individual perceptions of ethical climate to predict turnover intentions, McKay, Avery, Tonidandel, Morris, Hernandez and Hebl’s (2007) study showing evidence that race moderated the relationship between individual-level perceptions of diversity climate and turnover intentions, and Singh and Selvarajan’s (2013) study showing that the relationship between individual-level diversity climate and turnover intentions was moderated by individual perceptions of the community diversity climate.

Although there is a fairly substantial literature on the relationship between ethical climate and turnover intentions, that research is almost exclusively at the individual level. A number of studies have shown evidence for a direct correlation between individual-level ethical climate perceptions and turnover intentions (Fournier, Tanner, Chonko & Mano- lis, 2010; Hart, 2005; Jaramillo, Mulki & Boles, 2013; Jaramillo, Mulki, & Solomon, 2006; Mulki, Jaramillo & Locander, 2008; Schminke, Ambrose & Neubaum, 2005; Schwepker, 2001; Stewart et al., 2011). Other studies have found evidence for mediators in the relationship between perceptions of ethical climate and turnover intentions, such as organizational commitment in Schwepker’s (2001) study of sales workers or role stress, interpersonal conflict, emotional exhaustion, trust in supervisor and job satisfaction in Mulki and colleagues’ (2008) study on healthcare workers. Still other studies have looked at interactions of ethical climate perceptions with other variables to predict turnover intentions, including with diversity climate (Stewart et al., 2011) and individual performance (Fournier et al., 2010).

Some research on ethical climate and turnover has taken a fit perspective in line with what we previously described in the organizational culture section with regard to person- culture fit. One approach to studying fit and ethical climate has been to analyse differences between preferred ethical climate and actual ethical climate at the individual level (e.g., Sims & Kroeck, 1994). In a sample of hospital workers, Sims and Kroeck found that preferred-actual fit for the independence ethical climate (a climate that emphasizes following personal beliefs in making ethical decisions) was significantly related to turnover intentions. Ambrose, Arnaud and Schminke (2008) also analysed fit as it pertains to ethical climate and individual moral development. In their study, ethical climate was measured by taking the average score in the participating companies; thus this approach was in line with the objective fit approach described above. They found that two of the three fit variables

(conventional moral development-caring ethical climate fit and post-conventional moral development-independence ethical climate fit) were significantly negatively related to turnover intentions, but the third (pre-conventional moral development-instrumental ethical climate fit) was not significant. They concluded that at pre-conventional moral development, which is the lowest stage of moral development, participants may not find ethical values as important, and thus ethical value congruence would not be relevant.

There are other examples of research on focused climate and turnover intentions outside of the literatures on diversity climate and ethical climate. In a study of retail apparel stores, Hunter, Neubert, Perry, Witt, Penney and Weinberger (2013) found that store-level service climate was negatively related to individual-level turnover intentions and that store-level service climate fully mediated the negative relationship between store servant leadership and turnover intentions. O’Neill, Harrison, Cleveland, Almeida, Stawski and Crouter (2009) studied three dimensions of work-family climate in the hotel industry: organizational time expectations, career consequences and managerial support. They found in their analyses of within-hotel variability in turnover intentions (and thus addressing psychological climate) that all three dimensions were significant predictors, and in their between-hotel analyses (addressing organizational climate) that only managerial support predicted turnover intentions. Although there is research on other focused climates and turnover intentions (including justice climate, Ansari, Kee & Aafaqi, 2007; and innovation climate, Campbell, Im & Jeong, 2014), much of that literature focuses only on individual-level perceptions of climate.

In summary, there is evidence that focused climates are related to employee turnover. However, as with our examination of the molar climate literature, there are mixed results, suggesting the need to examine potential moderators of the relationship between focused climate and employee turnover as well as to understand the mechanisms through which climate affects turnover. It is notable that studies rarely examine more than one climate at a time, yet we know that multiple climates can exist simultaneously in organizations. It would be interesting to see if there is a profile of focused climates that is related to employee turnover. Relatedly, it is possible that one type of focused climate could mitigate the negative impact of another type of focused climate. So, for instance, the negative impact of a low-service climate may be less severe if there are high levels of a climate for diversity or fairness. Further, we need to understand better the relationship between molar and focused climate. It may be that certain climates are tied directly to employee turnover while other climates moderate those relationships. For instance, the relationship between molar climate and employee turnover may be moderated by diversity climate and/or ethical climate. Another possibility is that focused climates may be more relevant for fit issues. For strategic climates such as service or safety, for example, the employee’s personal values for providing high-quality customer service or working safely may need to fit the strategic climate of the organization; if they do not, the employee will be inclined to leave. For process climate such as ethics, justice and diversity, the fit between the climate and the salience of those issues for employees’ self-concepts may be relevant to their effects on turnover.

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