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We review seminal publications on employee turnover during the 100-year existence of the Journal of Applied Psychology. Along with classic articles from this journal, we expand our review to include other publications that yielded key theoretical and methodological contributions to the turnover literature. We first describe how the earliest papers examined practical methods for turnover reduction or control and then explain how theory development and testing began in the mid-20th century and dominated the academic literature until the turn of the century. We then track 21st century interest in the psychology of staying (rather than leaving) and attitudinal trajectories in predicting turnover. Finally, we discuss the rising scholarship on collective turnover given the centrality of human capital flight to practitioners and to the field of human resource management strategy.
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One Hundred Years of Employee Turnover Theory and Research
Peter W. Hom
Arizona State University
Thomas W. Lee
University of Washington
Jason D. Shaw
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
John P. Hausknecht
Cornell University
We review seminal publications on employee turnover during the 100-year existence of the Journal of
Applied Psychology. Along with classic articles from this journal, we expand our review to include other
publications that yielded key theoretical and methodological contributions to the turnover literature. We
first describe how the earliest papers examined practical methods for turnover reduction or control and
then explain how theory development and testing began in the mid-20th century and dominated the
academic literature until the turn of the century. We then track 21st century interest in the psychology
of staying (rather than leaving) and attitudinal trajectories in predicting turnover. Finally, we discuss the
rising scholarship on collective turnover given the centrality of human capital flight to practitioners and
to the field of human resource management strategy.
Keywords: embeddedness, employee turnover, job attitudes, shocks, participation mindsets
Employee turnover— employees’ voluntary severance of em-
ployment ties (Hom & Griffeth, 1995)— has attracted the at-
tention of scholars and practitioners alike for a century. In the
early years, journalists documented how employers stemmed
quits with pay hikes (Local, 1917;Men Quitting Mail Service,
1906), consultants detailed turnover costs and devised reduction
strategies (Fisher, 1917a,1917b), and scholars speculated about
why employees leave (Diemer, 1917;Douglas, 1918;Eberle,
1919). Since then, hundreds of studies have appeared (cf. Grif-
feth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000;Heavey, Holwerda, &
Hausknecht, 2013;Rubenstein, Eberly, Lee, & Mitchell, 2015).
Figure 1 illustrates the rapid growth of turnover research in the
Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP) and other premier schol-
arly outlets. According to our and others’ counts (Allen, Han-
cock, Vardaman, & McKee, 2014), JAP has published more
turnover articles than any other journal.
Such persistent scholarship reflects a longstanding and growing
recognition of how turnover materially affects organizational func-
tioning. Fisher (1917b) first probed hiring and replacement ex-
penses, now estimated at 90% to 200% of annual salary (Allen,
Bryant, & Vardaman, 2010). Organizational researchers have
shown that turnover disrupts various productivity-related out-
comes (Hausknecht, Trevor, & Howard, 2009;Shaw, Gupta, &
Delery, 2005) and reduces financial performance (Heavey et al.,
2013;Park & Shaw, 2013). Other investigations documented how
employees defecting to competitors can undermine their former
employer’s competitive advantage (via human or social capital
losses or trade secret theft) or survival (Agarwal, Ganco, & Zie-
donis, 2009). Finally, turnover has other side effects, such as
hindering workforce diversity when women of color exit (Hom,
Roberson, & Ellis, 2008) or spreading via turnover contagion
(Felps et al., 2009).
Based on our collective experience investigating turnover (to-
taling nearly 100 years), we chronologically highlight key articles
in JAP and elsewhere that have shaped turnover research or
management practice. Like all narrative reviews, we apply subjec-
tive judgment in selecting articles, yet focus on highly cited papers
and other influential works noted in literature reviews over the
years. We divide our timeline into six epochs that mark key
transitions and methodological developments in turnover research.
Table 1 highlights key contributions of each epoch, while Figure 1
identifies classic papers during that period.
The Birth of Turnover Research (ca. 1920)
Although earlier articles on turnover appeared, Bills (1925)
published the first empirical turnover study in JAP, demonstrating
that clerical workers more often quit if their fathers were profes-
sionals or small business owners than those whose fathers worked
unskilled or semiskilled jobs. While omitting statistical tests of the
relationship between parental occupational status and turnover,
Bills nonetheless introduced a predictive research design for as-
sessing whether application questions can predict turnover—an
approach that evolved into the “standard research design” for test
validation and theory testing for most of the 20th century (Steel,
2002).
This article was published Online First January 26, 2017.
Peter W. Hom, Department of Management, Arizona State University;
Thomas W. Lee, Department of Management & Organization, University
of Washington; Jason D. Shaw, Department of Management & Marketing,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University; John P. Hausknecht, Human Resource
Studies, Cornell University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Peter W.
Hom, Department of Management, Arizona State University, W.P. Carey
School of Business, Tempe, AZ 85287-4006. E-mail: Peter.Hom@asu.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Applied Psychology © 2017 American Psychological Association
2017, Vol. 102, No. 3, 530–545 0021-9010/17/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000103
530
Formative Years of Turnover Research
(ca. 1920s to 1970s)
Predictive Test Validation
With few exceptions (Minor, 1958;Weitz, 1956), turnover
articles did not appear again until the 1960s and 1970s. These
studies report predictive test validation for weighted application
blanks (WAB; Buel, 1964;Cascio, 1976;Federico, Federico, &
Lundquist, 1976;Schuh, 1967;Schwab & Oliver, 1974) and other
selection tests (e.g., vocational interests, achievement motivation;
Hines, 1973). During this renewal period, Schuh (1967) reviewed
the accuracy of selection tests in predicting job tenure and con-
cluded that WABs are most predictive because 19 of 21 studies
showed that “some items in an applicant’s personal history can be
found to relate to tenure in most jobs” (p. 145). Given this
endorsement, test validation research during this era largely fo-
cused on WABs (Federico et al., 1976). Whereas Schwab and
Oliver (1974) disputed Schuh’s validity conclusions, Cascio
(1976) documented that WABs can have similar (moderate) pre-
dictive validity for Whites and minorities as well as mitigate
adverse impact. Later work further attested to WABs’ superior
predictive efficacy over other selection tests (Hom & Griffeth,
1995). Yet narrative and quantitative reviews of early WAB tests
overstated validity because findings were rarely cross-validated
(Schwab & Oliver, 1974) and WAB studies often inflated turnover
variance by creating equal-sized high and low-tenure comparison
subsamples (i.e., generating artifactual 50% quit rate; e.g., Minor,
1958).
The Centrality of Job Satisfaction and
Organizational Commitment
Later, scholars began exploring attitudinal responses to workplace
conditions (Hulin, 1966,1968;Weitz & Nuchols, 1955) or percep-
tions of those conditions (Fleishman & Harris, 1962;Hellriegel &
White, 1973;Karp & Nickson, 1973) as prime turnover movers.
Although Brayfield and Crockett (1955) previously summarized find-
ings on relationships between job attitudes and turnover, Weitz and
Nuchols (1955) authored the first JAP paper using a predictive design
and statistical tests to establish a negative job dissatisfaction-job
survival relationship, yet their criterion also included involuntary
terminations. Extending this test, Hulin (1966) introduced method-
ological features that later became hallmarks of the “standard research
design” (Steel, 2002)—namely, (a) using psychometrically sound job
satisfaction measures (Smith, Kendall, & Hulin, 1969), (b) employing
a prospective research design to strengthen internal validity, (c) as-
sessing voluntary quits rather than all forms of leaving, and (d)
focusing on individual-level rather than aggregate-level relationships
(Brayfield & Crockett, 1955). Using a quasi-experiment, Hulin (1968,
p.125) later concluded that a “company program initiated in 1964
brought about an increase in job satisfaction...andthat this increase
led to a reduction in turnover in 1966.”
Early investigations further reported that leavers more negatively
perceive leaders (e.g., authoritarian, inconsiderate; Fleishman & Har-
ris, 1962;Ley, 1966) and proximal environmental conditions (e.g.,
pay, shift work, performance reviews, underutilized capacity and
talents; Hellriegel & White, 1973) than do stayers. Although less
influential than Hulin’s landmark work, these studies shaped future
Figure 1. Historical timeline. Cumulative total includes articles published in Journal of Applied Psychology,
Personnel Psychology, and Academy of Management Journal, thus representing the journals that have published
the greatest frequency of turnover articles over the period.
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531
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
theorizing by highlighting broad environmental categories of turnover
causes that comprehensive formulations later adopted (cf. Mobley,
Griffeth, Hand, & Meglino, 1979;Price, 1977;Price & Mueller,
1981). Inspired by growing beliefs that dissatisfying work features
(e.g., “monotony of modern factory labor”; Eberle, 1919, p. 313)
induce leaving (Hulin, 1966,1968), several scholars applied broader
theories of work motivation or job attitudes—notably, motivator-
hygiene (e.g., Karp & Nickson, 1973), motivational needs (e.g.,
Hines, 1973), equity (e.g., Dittrich & Carrell, 1979), expectancy (e.g.,
Mitchell & Albright, 1972), and reasoned action (e.g., Newman,
1974)—to explain leaving.
Realistic Job Previews
A third line of inquiry stemmed from rising awareness that
effective recruitment and new hire assimilation can improve re-
tention. Weitz (1956) furnished new hires with a booklet about
insurance agent work and showed that this “realistic job preview”
(RJP) boosted retention, a pioneering finding later replicated by
Farr, O’Leary, and Bartlett (1973), who used work samples to
reduce quits among sewing machine operators. These initial tests
motivated a vast literature on RJP media, mechanisms, and mod-
erators (Earnest, Allen, & Landis, 2011;Griffeth & Hom, 2001;
Wanous, 1973). Though less influential, other articles demon-
strated how orienting newcomers (Rosen & Turner, 1971) and
recruiting them from certain sources (e.g., employee referrals;
Gannon, 1971) curbed attrition.
Methodological Contribution: The Standard
Research Design
Early turnover studies were beset with designs that included
retrospective collection of predictors (e.g., early WABs) or criteria
(e.g., recalled leaving; see Bills, 1925, for an exception). These
flawed designs eventually gave way to the collection of reliable
predictors at time one and subsequent collection of individual
turnover data at a later point (otherwise known as the “standard
research design,” often attributed to Hulin, 1966,1968).
Foundational Models by James March, Herbert
Simon, William Mobley, and James Price
(ca. 1958 to 1983)
March and Simon’s (1958) inaugural theory of voluntary turn-
over was a paradigmatic shift (in the Thomas Kuhn sense) away
from the prior stream of primarily atheoretical research. Yet this
Table 1
Key Contributions of Each Epoch of Turnover Research
Birth of Turnover Research
Recognition of Turnover Costs
Incipient Inquiry into Turnover Causes
Formative Years of Turnover Research
Predictive Test Validation—WABs
Centrality of Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment
Realistic Job Previews
Standard Research Design
Foundational Turnover Models
March-Simon Foundational Constructs: Job Satisfaction and Job Alternatives
Mobley, 1977 Model: Intermediate Linkages between Job Satisfaction and Turnover
Comprehensive Taxonomies of Turnover Causes
Rational Decision-Making: Job Comparisons based on Subjective Expected Utility
Normal Science: Theory Testing and Refinement
Alternative Intermediate Linkages between Job Satisfaction and Turnover
Theoretical Refinements of Price-Mobley Models
Expanded Set of Causal Antecedents: Job Performance, Organizational Commitment, Labor Market Features
Multiple Pathways to Leave, including Impulsive Quits
Alternative Responses besides Quitting
Hobos Drift from Job to Job
Functional Turnover: Recognition that Turnover is not Always Bad
The Counter Revolution: The Unfolding Model
Introduction of “Shocks”–Critical Events Prompting Thoughts of Leaving–as Key Turnover Driver
Identify Multiple Turnover Paths: Script-Based, Job-Offer, Affect-Based Leaving
Image Compatibility as Basis for Rapid Job Comparisons
Turnover Speed–Leavers Prompted by Shocks Leave Quicker than Dissatisfied Leavers
Pioneered Qualitative Methodology for Theory-Testing
21st Century Theory and Research
Job Embeddedness–Identifying Job and Community Forces Embedding Incumbents
Embeddedness by Proxy - Family Embedded in Job or Community
Other Embeddedness Forms: Occupational and Expatriate Embeddedness
Evolutionary Job Search Process–Dynamic Learning as Job Seekers Better Understand Labor Markets
Employee-Organizational Relationships and Human Resource Management Systems as Influences on Collective Turnover
Different Effects of Human Resource Management Practices on Good-Performer vs. Poor-Performer Turnover
Relationships between Collective Turnover and Organizational Performance
Note. WABs weighted application blanks.
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532 HOM, LEE, SHAW, AND HAUSKNECHT
revolution was delayed until publications by Mobley (1977;Mo-
bley, Horner, & Hollingsworth, 1978) and Price (1977;Price &
Mueller, 1981) who adopted March and Simon’s (1958) central
constructs—movement desirability and ease (defining them as job
satisfaction and perceived job opportunities, respectively)—as cor-
nerstones for more complex turnover models. In the most influen-
tial single paper on turnover, Mobley (1977) elaborated a process
model of how dissatisfaction evolves into turnover. He theorized a
linear sequence: dissatisfaction ¡thoughts of quitting ¡evalu-
ation of subjective expected utility (SEU) of job search and costs
of quitting ¡search intentions ¡evaluation of alternatives ¡
comparison of alternatives and present job ¡quit intentions ¡
quits.
Later, Mobley et al.’s (1979) ground-breaking content model
specified a large array of distal causes to clarify why people quit
(e.g., disagreeable job features underlying job dissatisfaction, de-
sirable attributes of alternative jobs). They introduced SEUs of the
present job and alternatives which, along with job satisfaction,
constitute proximal antecedents of search and quit intentions and
mediate the impact of distal causes. Like prior scholars (Mitchell
& Albright, 1972), expectancy theory was central to Mobley et
al.’s (1979) theorizing. They argued that employees may stay in
bad jobs because they expect eventual positive utility (e.g., pro-
motions, desirable transfers), whereas employees may leave good
jobs because they expect higher utility from other employment
(performing a rational cost-benefit analysis to compare their job to
alternatives). They further recognized that nonwork values and
consequences of leaving moderate how job satisfaction and SEUs
of the current job and alternatives underpin turnover.
Informed by a comprehensive review of scholarly writings
(canvassing disciplines beyond management and psychology),
Price (1977;Price & Mueller, 1981,1986) articulated a broad
range of turnover determinants. Capitalizing on his sociology
background, Price’s theories captured not only workplace (e.g.,
integration, pay) and labor market (job opportunity) causes but
also community (kinship responsibility) and occupational (profes-
sionalism) drivers. Although specifying job satisfaction or quit
intentions as mediating between environmental antecedents and
turnover, Price’s (2001) models nonetheless highlighted turnover
content more than turnover process. All the same, his theories
emphasized key environmental drivers (revealed by his 1977 re-
view) rather than attitudinal causes (which are not isomorphic;
Weitz & Nuchols, 1955), yielding practical models identifying
what managers can leverage to reduce turnover. His promulgation
of objective environmental attributes (though he often used per-
ceptual indices) also foreshadowed modern inquiry into external
influences such as social cues (Felps et al., 2009), social networks
(Feeley, Hwang, & Barnett, 2008), and community or family
embeddedness (Mitchell & Lee, 2001;Ramesh & Gelfand, 2010).
Normal Science: Theory Testing and Refinement
(ca. 1977 to 2012)
Empirical Directions
Unlike March and Simon (1958), Mobley and Price empirically
tested their models, thereby promoting the March-Simon founda-
tion and the standard research design for theory validation (Steel,
2002). Their models and methodology dominated turnover theory
and research for years to come, though some scholars tested
Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) theory of reasoned action or its
variants (Hom & Hulin, 1981). Mobley et al.’s (1978) initial
testing evoked a plethora of additional tests (Hom, Caranikas-
Walker, Prussia, & Griffeth, 1992;Lee, 1988). Empirical findings,
in toto, contradicted Mobley’s linear progression of mediating
processes and suggested alternative structural configurations (Hom
& Griffeth, 1991;Hom & Kinicki, 2001). All the same, Mobley’s
(1977) constructs (and measures, Hom & Griffeth, 1991;Mobley
et al., 1978), if not his original causal sequence, survive in modern
theory and work (Lee & Mitchell, 1994;Lee, Mitchell, Holtom,
McDaniel, & Hill, 1999;Lee, Mitchell, Wise, & Fireman, 1996).
Further, Mobley (1977) promulgated job search and perceived
alternatives as central constructs for explaining turnover, spawning
independent research on their conceptualization and operational-
ization (Blau, 1994;Steel & Griffeth, 1989). Although Kraut
(1975) first showed that quit intentions can foreshadow leaving,
Mobley’s theorizing firmly implanted this construct into turnover
theory, claiming that such intentions represent the most proxi-
mal—and strongest—turnover antecedent (realizing that its pre-
dictive efficacy depends on time lag and measurement specificity).
Over the years, his supposition has been upheld (Steel & Ovalle,
1984) and quit intentions (or their variant: withdrawal cognitions;
Hom & Griffeth, 1991) remain essential in virtually all turnover
formulations (e.g., Hom, Mitchell, Lee, & Griffeth, 2012;Price &
Mueller, 1986). Given its predictive superiority (Griffeth et al.,
2000;Rubenstein et al., 2015), turnover intentions have served as
a surrogate or proxy for turnover when quit data are unavailable
(Jiang, Liu, McKay, Lee, & Mitchell, 2012). Further, Mobley et
al.’s (1979) expectancy framework for elucidating how employees
compare alternatives (Hom & Kinicki, 2001) and estimate future
career prospects (“calculative” forces; Ballinger, Lehman, &
Schoorman, 2010;Maertz & Campion, 2004) persists in present-
day thought, though the ubiquity of rational SEU decision-making
has increasingly been disputed (Lee & Mitchell, 1994). Finally,
Mobley et al.’s (1979) provisional ideas about “nonwork” influ-
ences resurfaced as more specific constructs as work-family con-
flict (i.e., employees opt out of paid employment to care for
children; Hom & Kinicki, 2001) and “family embeddedness” (i.e.,
employees stay to avoid uprooting children or depriving families
of corporate benefits; Feldman, Ng, & Vogel, 2012;Ramesh &
Gelfand, 2010).
Similarly, Price and Mueller’s (1981,1986) theories have un-
dergone extensive evaluation (Gaertner, 1999;Kim, Price, Muel-
ler, & Watson, 1996). Empirical tests have largely, but not uni-
formly, affirmed theorized model paths (methods-related factors
may explain deficiencies; cf., Gaertner, 1999), yet studies indicate
that the original structural networks were oversimplified. None-
theless, research on the Price-Mueller models established that most
theorized explanatory constructs play some role in the termination
process, especially their specification of workplace antecedents of
job satisfaction (Gaertner, 1999).
In particular, Price and Mueller’s “kinship responsibilities” con-
struct advanced turnover understanding, which historically down-
played or neglected family influences on decisions to stay or leave.
Standard theory (March & Simon, 1958) cannot readily account
for family causes given the prominence accorded to job satisfac-
tion and job alternatives (Abelson, 1987;Barrick & Zimmerman,
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533
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
2005). Price and Mueller (1981,1986) thus conceived how kinship
ties can deter turnover, which they captured with questions about
number of children, marital status, number of relatives residing
nearby, and the like (Blegen, Mueller, & Price, 1988). This con-
struct foretold—if not directly shaped—subsequent inquiries into
how families can initiate or impede quits, such as exiting for
full-time elder care (Hom & Kinicki, 2001) or remaining to avoid
loss of health benefits or first-rate schools for children (Feldman et
al., 2012;Ramesh & Gelfand, 2010). Finally, Price and Mueller’s
painstaking construction and validation of predictor measures con-
trasts with customary research practices of using ad hoc measures
of unknown validity.
Later Theoretical Descendants
The Price and Mobley models spurred many empirical studies
but also major conceptual developments, refining or extending
their core tenets (Steel, 2002). Revisiting Mobley’s (1977) model,
Hom et al. (Hom & Griffeth, 1991;Hom & Kinicki, 2001) thus
proposed (and verified) an alternative structural network of rela-
tionships among his constructs. Critiquing the Mobley and Price-
Mueller models, Steers and Mowday (1981) formulated a more
comprehensive turnover process that (a) added new antecedents
(notably, performance, other job attitudes), (b) identified modera-
tors (e.g., nonwork causes, job search success), (c) explicated other
ways to manage dissatisfaction besides quitting (e.g., change the
situation, withdraw in other ways, cognitively reevaluate the job
more favorably), (d) outlined feedback loops (e.g., dissatisfaction
may prompt attempts to improve the job and if successful, upgrade
one’s attitudes), and (e) specified multiple turnover routes (e.g.,
some employees quit without job offers, while others follow a
“conventional path” by acquiring job offers before leaving).
Although rarely tested in its entirety (Lee & Mowday, 1987),
Steers and Mowday’s (1981) innovative constructs and pathways
nevertheless have had profound impact. To illustrate, job perfor-
mance is a prime explanatory construct in Jackofsky’s (1984)
pioneering model of the performance-turnover relationship (Stur-
man, Shao, & Katz, 2012) and various attitudinal models of
turnover (Hom & Griffeth, 1995;Trevor, 2001). Moreover, re-
searchers later established that job opportunity moderates how
attitudes and quit intentions affect turnover (Carsten & Spector,
1987;Hom et al., 1992), amplifying their effects when employees
can easily change jobs (Steers & Mowday, 1981). Subsequently,
other scholars came to realize that dissatisfied incumbents can
respond in other ways, such as avoiding work or reducing orga-
nizational contributions, before or besides leaving (Hom & Kin-
icki, 2001;Hulin, Roznowski, & Hachiya, 1985). Finally, contem-
porary investigations increasingly acknowledge alternative
turnover paths other than the standard job-search ¡job offers ¡
turnover route and impulsive quits (e.g., Lee, Gerhart, Weller, &
Trevor, 2008;Lee & Mitchell, 1994;Maertz & Campion, 2004).
To resolve a lingering question, Hulin et al. (1985) sought to
explain why unemployment rates more accurately predict turnover
than do perceived alternatives (Steel & Griffeth, 1989). They
identified a workforce segment peripherally attached to the labor
market and whose quit behaviors are poorly explained by conven-
tional models. Calling them “hobos,” these individuals freely drift
from job to job, and may, when dissatisfied or bored, exit the labor
market periodically to pursue more pleasurable or less stressful
avocations. For them, the complex cognitive processes envisioned
in standard turnover models (e.g., systematic search and rational
analysis of jobs) are irrelevant; rather dissatisfaction (or wander-
lust) translates directly into quits. Later researchers began identi-
fying hobos (Judge & Watanabe, 1995;Woo, 2011) or spontane-
ous turnover paths that do not involve deliberate SEU calculations
of the job or alternatives (e.g., script-based leaving, impulsive
quits, or labor market exits; Lee et al., 1996;Lee et al., 1999;
Maertz & Campion, 2004).
Contesting orthodoxy (cf. Price & Mueller, 1981), Hulin et al.
(1985) further argued that employees do not quit because they
surmise job availability from local unemployment statistics.
Rather, employees leave when they actually secure job offers. This
astute observation coincided with later findings that many leavers
do not seek jobs before leaving because they instead receive
unsolicited job offers (a “shock,” Lee et al., 1996;Lee et al., 1999)
or are highly confident about obtaining jobs (after leaving) due to
bountiful job opportunities in their field (e.g., nursing; Hom &
Griffeth, 1991). That such turnover occurs more commonly (es-
pecially in high-tech or professional services industries) than his-
torically presumed is also suggested by strategic management
research on employee poaching (Agarwal et al., 2009;Gardner,
2005).
Hulin et al. (1985) additionally clarified that dissatisfaction does
not inevitably culminate in leaving by noting that dissatisfied
incumbents may lower job inputs (leading to psychological with-
drawal) or improve their circumstances (via promotion or union-
ization) rather than leave (with or without job offers in hand).
Though posited earlier (Mobley, 1977;Steers & Mowday, 1981),
Hulin et al.’s theory formally recognizes that leaving is one among
many ways to cope with dissatisfaction, integrating insights from
work adaptation theory (Rossé & Hulin, 1985). Later authors
expanded the response taxonomy to include work withdrawal and
(scarce) organizational citizenship as turnover alternatives or pre-
dictors (Chen, Hui, & Sego, 1998;Hulin, 1991), which may allow
time for dissatisfying working conditions to ameliorate (e.g., pro-
motions or transfers; Mobley et al., 1979). Hulin et al.’s frame-
work thus paved the way for recent interest in misbehaviors by
incumbents trapped in displeasing or poor-fitting jobs (e.g.,
continuance-committed employees or reluctant stayers; Hom et al.,
2012).
Lyman Porter’s Seminal Contributions
Lyman Porter proposed several key constructs that resonate in
the turnover literature today. Specifically, Porter and Steers’
(1973) met expectations theory asserts that job satisfaction and
retention hinge on how closely a job fulfills employees’ initial job
expectations. Their model has since become a central theory of job
satisfaction (Wanous, Poland, Premack, & Davis, 1992; but, see
Irving & Meyer, 1994, for an alternative view) and stimulated RJP
theory and research (Earnest et al., 2011). Moreover, Porter and his
protégés (Dalton, Krackhardt, & Porter, 1981) introduced “func-
tional turnover”—whereby the loss of surplus, low-quality, or
costly labor can enhance organizational effectiveness. Whereas
scholars and practitioners historically focused on turnover rates,
Porter urged scrutiny of who quits given that high talent or per-
former turnover most harms firms. This conceptualization chal-
lenged the assumption that turnover was always dysfunctional and
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534 HOM, LEE, SHAW, AND HAUSKNECHT
motivated lasting inquiry into the directionality and form of the
performance-turnover relationship (McEvoy & Cascio, 1987).
Continuing today, this research stream showed how the
performance-turnover relationship depends on employee perfor-
mance or social capital value (Shaw, 2015;Shaw, Duffy, Johnson,
& Lockhart, 2005;Shaw, Park, & Kim, 2013;Trevor, 2001),
certain contingencies (e.g., reward bases, pay growth, promotions,
joblessness; Hom et al., 2008;Nyberg, 2010;Trevor, Gerhart, &
Boudreau, 1997;Shaw, 2015), temporal aspects of performance
(Harrison, Virick, & William, 1996;Sturman & Trevor, 2001), and
cultural values (Sturman et al., 2012). Further, Porter’s initial
rethinking about the nature of the turnover criterion portended
ensuing development of utility models that estimate turnover’s
true costs (Cascio, 1982) and the value of turnover reduction
programs (Boudreau & Berger, 1985).
Porter and associates also conceived a new attitude—namely,
organizational commitment—that can explain unique—if not
more—turnover variance than do job satisfaction (Porter, Cram-
pon, & Smith, 1976;Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974).
They argued that turnover implies the repudiation of organiza-
tional membership, not necessarily job duties that can be assumed
elsewhere. Ultimately, this early work evolved into a separate
avenue of research on commitment’s entire nomological network,
including its impact on criteria besides turnover (Mathieu & Zajac,
1990;Mowday, Porter, & Steers, 1982). Scholars later expanded
Porter’s conceptualization to include distinct commitment bases
(e.g., want to stay vs. have to stay) or targets (commit to superiors,
teammates, etc.; Meyer and Allen [1997]), although Klein, Molloy,
and Brinsfield (2012) argued for a unified, general definition
(“dedication to and responsibility for a particular target,” p. 137).
Regardless of definition, commitment is clearly inversely related
to turnover and explains different portions of turnover variance
than do job satisfaction (Hom & Griffeth, 1995;Klein, Cooper,
Molloy, & Swanson, 2014). Commitment scholars also first ad-
dressed why employees stay, predating the 21st century preoccu-
pation with job embeddedness (Mitchell & Lee, 2001), designed to
complement prevailing accounts of why employees leave.
Finally, Krackhardt and Porter (1985,1986) pioneered social
network analysis to elucidate how social relationships affect quit
propensity. Moving beyond conventional views of turnover as
independent events wholly based on individuals’ decisions, Krack-
hardt and Porter (1985) observed a “snowball effect” in which
occupants of similar structural positions in communication net-
works often quit in clusters. Assessing strength of network ties,
Krackhardt and Porter (1986) next showed that employees whose
close contacts quit tend to form positive job attitudes, presumably
to rationalize why they remain when friends exit. Although their
impact has been overdue, these findings foreshadowed mounting
demonstrations that employees remain when they have strong or
interconnected network ties (Feeley et al., 2008;Hom & Xiao,
2011;Mossholder, Settoon, & Henagan, 2005) or leave when their
ties end (Felps et al., 2009).
Methodological Contributions: Beyond Ordinary Least
Squares Regression
Because turnover researchers deal with binary dependent vari-
ables, they understood early on (e.g., late 1970s to early 1980s)
that ordinary least squares (OLS) regression is inappropriate for
dichotomous outcomes (e.g., residual terms from the turnover
variable are not normally distributed) and pursued alternative,
better-suited analytical methods. For example, Morita, Lee, and
Mowday (1989) advocated calculating survival and hazard func-
tions and corresponding statistics (e.g., log rank statistics) to better
describe the evolving nature of turnover. Huselid and Day (1991)
showed the superiority of logistic over OLS regression in turnover
studies, while Hom and Griffeth (1991) demonstrated that struc-
tural equation modeling (SEM) more fully tests increasingly com-
plicated path models descended from March and Simon’s (1958)
theory than does OLS regression (e.g., Lee, 1988). Finally, Morita,
Lee, and Mowday (1993) showed the superiority of Cox regression
(a.k.a., proportional hazards models) over OLS and logistic regres-
sion if data on the time to employee departures are available or
collected.
During these early years of intense empirical testing, investiga-
tors increasingly sought to explain more variance in turnover—
often indexed R
2
in OLS— by expanding predictor sets (Lee &
Mowday, 1987;Price & Mueller, 1981). This index thus became a
standard for judging turnover theories and progress toward pre-
dicting turnover (Maertz & Campion, 1998;Lee & Mitchell, 1994;
Mobley et al., 1979). Yet later turnover scholars began de-
emphasizing R
2
once they abandoned OLS (though occasionally
interpreting analogous but not equivalent indices from logistic or
Cox regression) and recognized that the accuracy of a given set of
antecedents for predicting turnover depends on factors outside the
scope of the theory being tested, such as turnover base rate,
measurement correspondence, unemployment rates, and time lag
(Hom et al., 1992;Steel & Griffeth, 1989;Steel & Ovalle, 1984).
Further, SEM users focused on structural networks among turn-
over antecedents—a hallmark of process-oriented models that
specify elaborate mediating mechanisms (e.g., Mobley, 1977;
Steers & Mowday, 1981). They thus primarily interpreted omnibus
model fit indices (and parameter estimates) generated by SEM that
assess the validity of structural paths among turnover causes
(including a priori specified null paths; Hom et al., 1992;Hom &
Griffeth, 1991). In short, SEM users became more interested in
explaining covariances among explanatory constructs than vari-
ance in turnover.
The Counter Revolution: The Unfolding Model
(ca. 1994 to 2000)
Some ideas are so powerful, intuitive, and focused that they can
stall or hamper the emergence of novel ideas and research. The
March and Simon (1958) model and Price-Mobley derivatives fall
into this category as they seek to maximally explain a single
behavior. As our review noted, their theories profoundly shaped
turnover theory and research. By the early 1990s, turnover re-
search nonetheless entered a “fallow” period (O’Reilly, 1991)
where scholars made incremental theoretical refinements or ex-
tended those well-researched models (Steel, 2002). Responding to
O’Reilly’s (1991) remark about the lack of intellectual excitement
in turnover research, Lee and Mitchell (1994) put forth a radically
new turnover theory known as the “unfolding model,” challenging
the prevailing paradigm. Departing from March and Simon (1958),
they disputed three assumptions underlying their view—notably,
(a) job dissatisfaction is a paramount turnover cause, (b) dissatis-
fied employees seek and leave for alternative (better) jobs, and (c)
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535
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
prospective leavers compare alternatives to their current job based
on a rational calculation of their SEUs. To formulate a more valid
and encompassing theory, they introduced various novel con-
structs, notably, “shocks” or jarring events (including external
events) that prompt thoughts about leaving and drive alternative
paths to turnover. Their model specifies four distinct turnover
paths, including a conventional affect-initiated path (No. 4) in
which dissatisfied employees quit after procuring job offers (e.g.,
Hom & Griffeth, 1991). Lee and Mitchell, however, envisioned
that shocks (of different types) drive other paths. In one path (No.
1), some shocks activate a preexisting plan for leaving (matching
script), inducing turnover (e.g., a woman quits once she becomes
pregnant [the shock] because of preexisting plans to raise a child
full time). For another path (No. 2), negative job shocks violate
employees’ values, goals, or goal strategies (image violations, such
as a boss pressuring a subordinate to commit a crime) and thus
prompt them to reconsider their attachment to the company. Un-
solicited job offers (a shock) induces a third path (No. 3), whereby
employees compare offers to their current job and even seek
additional jobs for further comparisons. In this path, one first
quickly judges alternative jobs (unsolicited offers and those from
a search) for compatibility with personal values or goals (image
compatibility), screens out incompatible jobs, and then calculates
SEUs for the feasible set of job offers (and present job). Echoing
Hulin et al. (1985), Lee and Mitchell also upended traditional
viewpoints by realizing that leavers do not always quit for other
jobs. Rather, some Path 1 leavers exit the workforce for full-time
schooling or stay-at-home parenting.
Current Scholarship on the Unfolding Model
The unfolding model sparked many tests affirming its validity as
well as radically reshaping understanding of turnover (Holtom,
Mitchell, Lee, & Eberly, 2008). The unfolding model or its key
constructs (notably, script-based quits and shocks) have received
increasing endorsement by scholars and practitioners, becoming
the dominant turnover perspective today (Hom, 2011). Equally
important, Lee and his colleagues (1996,1999) pioneered quali-
tative methodology for validating turnover models. Based on in-
terviews with leavers, they classified turnover cases into one of
their turnover paths based on pattern matching. They determined
that the majority of leavers followed one of four theorized paths,
a finding often borne out by later investigations (Holtom et al.,
2008). Accumulated evidence further concludes that shocks drive
turnover more so than dissatisfaction (Holtom et al., 2008). Lee et
al. (1999) further examined how turnover paths vary in the speed
by which leavers first decide to leave and when they leave, finding
that shock-driven paths occur more quickly than affect-driven
paths.
Current scholarship extends or refines the unfolding model. In
particular, Mitchell and Lee (2001) combined this model with job
embeddedness theory (see below), positing that embedding forces
can buffer against shocks (Burton, Holtom, Sablynski, Mitchell, &
Lee, 2010). Next, Maertz and Campion (2004) conceived an inte-
grative framework outlining both how and why people quit. They
identified different processes for four leaver types (“decision
types”) based on different motivational forces for leaving (impe-
tuses for leaving, such as negative affect, perceived alternatives, or
normative pressures). Example process types are “impulsive quit-
ters” (those leaving without jobs in hand) and “preplanned quit-
ters” (those leaving with a definite plan). Their decision types
correspond to Lee and Mitchell’s (1994) turnover paths but are not
identical. To illustrate, Maertz and Campion (2004) differentiate
between preplanned quitters (quitting when a specific time or
event occurs) and conditional quitters (quitting if an uncertain
event happens in the future); however, the unfolding model treats
both types as Path 1 turnover. Finally, Lee and Mitchell’s (1994)
theory and methodology have been adapted to account for under-
studied forms of turnover, such as “boomerang employees” who
quit but later return (Shipp, Furst-Holloway, Harris, & Rosen,
2014).
The unfolding model is a ground-breaking theoretical achieve-
ment in the annals of turnover research, identifying novel con-
structs and processes that deepen insight into why and how em-
ployees quit. Further, predictive tests sustain key model tenets
(e.g., shocks, multiple turnover paths; Kammeyer-Mueller, Wan-
berg, Glomb, & Ahlburg, 2005;Lee et al., 2008). On the other
hand, the unfolding model has yet to be tested in its entirety with
predictive research designs. Its corroboration rests primarily on
qualitative findings based on leavers’ retrospective reports, which
can suffer from recall errors or self-serving biases (Hom, 2011).
Methodological Contributions: Qualitative Research
Almost 20 ago, Lee and colleagues (1996) demonstrated how
qualitative design can be deployed for testing complex models,
such as the unfolding model. This first qualitative study illustrated
the power of qualitative methodology for model testing and initi-
ated innumerable replications (Holtom et al., 2008;Lee et al.,
1999). Lee’s (1999) book further popularized this methodology in
organizational research. Over the years, extensive qualitative tests
on the unfolding model helped legitimize this approach for both
theory testing (Maertz & Campion, 2004) and grounded theory
development (Rothausen, Henderson, Arnold, & Malshe, 2015).
21st Century Theory and Research
(ca. 2000 to present)
Job Embeddedness Theory
With the advent of the new century, the fertile and “exciting”
scholarship on turnover that began with the unfolding model
continued its forward progress. Again leading the way, Mitchell,
Holtom, Lee, Sablynski, and Erez (2001) originated job embed-
dedness to elucidate why people stay and thus supplement the
age-old inquiry into why people leave. Although the act of leaving
is merely the opposite of staying, they contend that motives for
leaving and staying are not necessarily polar opposites. That is,
what induces someone to leave (e.g., unfair or low pay) may differ
from what induces that person to stay (e.g., training opportunities).
To delineate the latter motives, Mitchell et al. envisioned a causal-
indicator construct (or formative measurement model) comprising
on-the-job forces for staying—namely, job fit, links, and sacrific-
es—as well as corresponding off-the-job forces (i.e., community
fit, links, and sacrifices). Although some on-the-job forces (e.g.,
job sacrifices; Meyer & Allen, 1997) resemble prior constructs
(e.g., costs of turnover; Mobley, 1977), community embeddedness
captures turnover deterrents long neglected by prevailing thought
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536 HOM, LEE, SHAW, AND HAUSKNECHT
(e.g., nonwork influences; Mobley et al., 1979). In a short time
span, embeddedness research has mushroomed and clearly estab-
lished that job embeddedness explains additional variance in turn-
over beyond that explained by traditional determinants, such as job
attitudes and perceived alternatives (Jiang et al., 2012;Lee, Burch,
& Mitchell, 2014).
Embeddedness theory also stimulated theoretical generaliza-
tions to elucidate different forms of staying (Kiazad, Holtom,
Hom, & Newman, 2015). Extending this theory cross-culturally,
Ramesh and Gelfand (2010) thus validated the basic model in
India but also advanced “family embeddedness,” comprising a
family’s pride in a family member’s employment in a company,
the benefits a family derives from the company (e.g., health
insurance), and family ties to company personnel. Unlike individ-
ualists who stay to fulfill self-interests, they claimed that Indian
collectivists often join and remain in organizations to satisfy
family needs, status, or obligations. In support, they found that
family embeddedness explains unique variance in turnover in India
but also in America. Pointing out the narrow scope of community
embeddedness, Feldman et al. (2012) similarly conceptualize that
family embeddedness in the community also matters— even to
Americans—who may stay in a job or community they dislike
because relocating would disrupt spousal careers or children’s
education. Mitchell et al.’s (2001) original view of community
embeddedness thus underrepresents how families can embed em-
ployees (though their community embeddedness index taps em-
ployees’ marital status and number of relatives living nearby)
when families too are embedded in the organization or community
(which Feldman et al. [2012] term “embeddedness by proxy”).
Moreover, Feldman and Ng (2007) conceived “occupational
embeddedness,” identifying specific forces relevant to occupa-
tions, such as industry contacts, involvement in professional soci-
eties, compatibility with occupational demands and rewards,
human capital investments, and occupational status. This embed-
dedness form does not necessarily promote loyalty to organizations as
people embedded in professional fields may quit to practice or hone
their professional skills elsewhere. Further, Tharenou and Caulfield
(2010) adapted Mitchell and Lee’s (2001) theory to explain why
expatriates would stay abroad instead of repatriating, noting that they
can become embedded in overseas assignments if they derive career
benefits there and fit the foreign culture. Finally, Reiche, Kraimer, and
Harzing (2011) established that inpatriates (i.e., foreign nationals from
offshore subsidiaries assigned to corporate headquarters [HQ]) who fit
the HQ, have trusting HQ ties, and would give up career prospects
available from HQ if they leave, become embedded abroad and thus
are less likely to return home.
Besides applying Mitchell et al.’s (2001) theory to other forms
of staying, scholars explored indirect embeddedness effects. In
particular, studies report that job embeddedness can attenuate
shocks’ deleterious consequences (e.g., higher quit intentions;
Burton et al., 2010;Mitchell & Lee, 2001), while showing that
employees whose colleagues or superiors are embedded are less
quit-prone (Felps et al., 2009;Ng & Feldman, 2012). Apart from
loyalty effects, Lee, Mitchell, Sablynski, Burton, and Holtom
(2004) revealed that job embeddedness enhances job performance
and organizational citizenship, unifying two distinct research tra-
ditions on employee decisions to perform and participate (March
& Simon, 1958). While motivational and turnover theorists invoke
different explanatory constructs for these decisions, Lee et al.
(2004) observed that embedding forces underlying decisions to
participate can shape decisions to perform, consistent with Meyer,
Becker, and Vandenberghe’s (2004) integration of commitment
and motivational models to explain varied work behaviors, includ-
ing leaving.
Although a large body of work identifies the benefits of job
embeddedness, emerging research increasingly documents adverse
effects. Specifically, Ng and Feldman (2010) noted declining
social capital development among embedded incumbents, presum-
ably because they had already amassed social contacts and felt less
need to cultivate new ones. Ng and Feldman (2012) further doc-
umented that rising job embeddedness over time escalates work-
family conflicts. Finally, Huysse-Gaytandjieva, Groot, and Pav-
lova (2013) described how the experience of being trapped in a
dissatisfying job (“job lock”) impairs employees’ mental health.
The Evolutionary Job Search Process
To close a conspicuous gap in turnover theorizing, Steel (2002)
elaborated the job search process, which has been underspecified
by standard theories that assume that successful job pursuits enable
employees to quit for better jobs (March & Simon, 1958;Mobley,
1977;Steers & Mowday, 1981). Going beyond oversimplified (or
implicit) representations of job search in prevailing models (Mo-
bley, 1977;Steers & Mowday, 1981), Steel (2002) put forth a
multistage process through which employees move from passive
scanning of the labor market to active solicitation of employers.
His cybernetic theory described how job seekers progressively
acquire more particularistic labor market information by selec-
tively attending to certain information levels or sources and gain-
ing feedback about job prospects and thus their employability. In
support, he marshaled evidence that leavers’ labor market percep-
tions better match labor market statistics (e.g., unemployment
rates) than do stayers’ perceptions, presumably because leavers
actively pursue jobs and thus gather more valid labor market data.
Steel (2002) also explained that individuals can exit without a job
search when they have other income sources or receive unsolicited
job offers, whereas others search to upgrade their current circum-
stances with counteroffers (not because they want to leave; Bretz,
Boudreau, & Judge, 1994).
Reiterating Mobley (1982) 20 years later, Steel (2002) advo-
cated abandoning the standard research design for a longitudinal
design tracking cohorts over time and repeatedly gauging their
labor-market perceptions, search intensity, and job-search success.
This design can capture dynamic learning during job search, self-
efficacy shifts, and dynamic relationships among job-search vari-
ables. In line with Steel’s advice, recent panel studies using ran-
dom coefficient modeling (RCM) find that job satisfaction’s
change trajectory explains additional variance in quit propensity
beyond static satisfaction scores (Chen, Ployhart, Thomas, Ander-
son, & Bliese, 2011;Liu, Mitchell, Lee, Holtom, & Hinkin, 2012),
upholding the time-honored claim that attitudinal shifts predate
leaving (Hom & Griffeth, 1991;Hulin, 1966;Porter et al., 1976).
Steel’s (2002) cybernetic formulation yielded invaluable in-
sights into how employment searches impact leaving. Given its
relative newness (and difficulty of implementing longitudinal re-
search), his theory has yet to be fully tested. Recent panel research
on job search among the unemployed nonetheless substantiate
Steel’s methodological prescriptions as the standard research de-
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537
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
sign misses changes in job search intensity that often occur when
(jobless) individuals seek work over long periods (Wanberg, Zhu,
Kanfer, & Zhang, 2012;Wanberg, Zhu, & Van Hooft, 2010).
Other scholarly work also sustained other propositions from
Steel’s theory—notably, some leavers quit without job offers in
hand (due to impulsive quitting or unsolicited job offers; Maertz &
Campion, 2004), whereas some incumbents solicit job offers to
negotiate better pay or conditions from their employers (Boswell,
Boudreau, & Dunford, 2004).
Turnover Rate and Collective Turnover Models
The 21st century also heralded significant scholarly attention to
employee turnover at the group, team, work unit, and organiza-
tional levels. Whether described as turnover rates or collective
turnover, such work represents a distinct and emerging area of
focus (Hausknecht & Trevor, 2011;Shaw, 2011). Decades earlier,
scholars understood the importance of collective turnover (e.g.,
Mueller & Price, 1989;Price, 1977), but empirical research was
slow to materialize (Terborg & Lee, 1984, is a rare exception).
Systematic scholarship on turnover rates appeared in the late 1990s
and beyond (e.g., Miller, Hom, & Gomez-Mejia, 2001;Shaw,
Delery, Jenkins, & Gupta, 1998) with the emerging recognition
that individual-level turnover theories could not be vertically syn-
thesized to account for all collective processes and outcomes
(Hausknecht & Trevor, 2011). Studies in this domain have theo-
rized and tested organizational turnover’s antecedents (e.g., HRM
practices, labor market conditions, collective attitudes), conse-
quences (e.g., satisfaction, organizational performance), and
boundary conditions of those effects (e.g., unit size, proportion of
newcomers; Hausknecht et al., 2009;Shaw et al., 1998).
Regarding antecedents, many studies adopt an employee-
organization relationship (EOR; Tsui, Pearce, Porter, & Tripoli,
1997) conceptual lens whereby employment relationships are
based on two distinct continua: offered inducements (in the form
of base pay, benefits, training, job security, and justice from
employers) and expected contributions (in the form of higher
performance, organizational citizenship, commitment by employ-
ees; e.g., Hom et al., 2009). To illustrate, “mutual investment”
EOR represents companies furnishing ample inducements to em-
ployees but expecting them to reciprocate with high and broad
organizational contributions. Other research adopts a single con-
tinuum approach and examines how HRM investments (under
various labels such as “high involvement,” “high commitment,” or
“high performance” systems; Arthur, 1994;Guthrie, 2001) affect
turnover. These studies, in toto, generally show that HRM invest-
ments decrease turnover rates (Heavey et al., 2013).
Even so, overall correlations between HRM investments and
turnover rates mask nuances tied to specific practices or bundles of
similar practices (Shaw et al., 2009), which may exert conflicting
effects (e.g., HRM inducement and investment vs. HRM
expectation-enhancing practices). To illustrate, self-managing
work teams promulgated in high-commitment HRM systems can
reduce voluntary quits (by offering intrinsic and social rewards),
but these systems’ higher performance standards and reward con-
tingencies also boost voluntary quits (due to greater work stress,
work-family conflict, and income risks for meeting fixed living
expenses; Batt & Colvin, 2011). Studies disclose differential rela-
tionships between these practices and overall turnover rates, but
also with turnover patterns among good and poor performers
(Shaw, 2015;Shaw et al., 2009;Shaw & Gupta, 2007). This
inquiry further demonstrated that HRM practices reduce attrition
via collective commitment (Gardner, Wright, & Moynihan, 2011),
differentially affect quit and fire rates (Batt & Colvin, 2011), and
lessen the effects of prior layoffs on quits (via embedding HRM
practices; Trevor & Nyberg, 2008). Finally, the most thorough
meta-analysis on antecedents of collective turnover to date iden-
tified many predictors besides HRM practices, such as climate,
supervisory relations, and diversity (Heavey et al., 2013).
Concerning organizational consequences of turnover, and be-
ginning with Fisher (1917b), scholars have speculated about how
turnover affects organizational performance (Abelson & Bay-
singer, 1984;Mowday et al., 1982;Price, 1977;Shaw, 2011).
Despite such longstanding conjecture, most studies historically
scrutinized individual-level turnover effects (e.g., good performer
quits, stayers’ attitudes; Dalton et al., 1981;Krackhardt & Porter,
1985). When coupled with occasional pre1990s empirical tests
(e.g., Mueller & Price, 1989;Terborg & Lee, 1984), a spate of
recent primary studies and meta-analytic tests reveal stable nega-
tive associations between turnover rates and various dimensions of
organizational performance (Hancock, Allen, Bosco, McDaniel, &
Pierce, 2013;Heavey et al., 2013;Park & Shaw, 2013). Nonethe-
less, many of these correlations were derived from studies lacking
a theoretical focus on turnover rates or collective turnover, which
leaves ample opportunity for investigations that develop new the-
ory (e.g., “turnover capacity,” Hausknecht & Holwerda, 2013;
“context-emergent turnover theory,” Nyberg & Ployhart, 2013)
and/or test existing or emerging models.
Regarding boundary conditions, and although some alternative
findings exist, recent evidence supports an attenuated-Uturnover-
performance relationship, such that the linkage is strongly negative
initially, but weakens at high turnover rates (Shaw, Duffy, et al.,
2005;Shaw et al., 2013). Several studies explored mechanisms
between turnover rates and organizational performance and/or
moderators of these effects. Kacmar, Andrews, van Rooy, Steil-
berg, and Cerrone (2006) showed that high supervisory and crew
turnover at fast-food restaurants lower store sales and profits by
prolonging customer wait time (verifying mediation via worsening
customer service). Shaw and colleagues (2005) examined a differ-
ent type of dysfunctional turnover—those occupying central
niches in workplace communication networks—and revealed how
turnover severs coworkers’ relationships, which thereby disrupts
communication networks, undermines social capital, and ulti-
mately reduces productivity. According to their findings, these
patterns are most harmful when stable relationships and social
exchange among employees exist—when store attrition is low.
Call, Nyberg, Ployhart, and Weekley (2015) further sustained this
logic by documenting that rising rates of collective turnover in
retail stores most reduce performance in stores with low turnover.
Finally, Hausknecht et al. (2009) showed that associations between
quit rates and customer service quality were attenuated among
smaller work units and those with smaller proportions of newcom-
ers, factors theorized to reflect greater ability to navigate turnover-
induced disruption. Consistent with conceptual propositions (e.g.,
Hausknecht & Holwerda, 2013), the findings demonstrate that
turnover effects depend on “who remains” as well as “who leaves.”
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538 HOM, LEE, SHAW, AND HAUSKNECHT
Methodological Contributions: Turnover Antecedents’
Trajectories of Change
In response to recurring calls for longitudinal research (Mitchell
& James, 2001;Mobley, 1982;Steel, 2002), Chen et al. (2011) and
Liu et al. (2012) adopted a panel design and applied RCM to
estimate how job satisfaction trajectories predict turnover. Of
interest, Liu et al. increased explained variance from 5% to 43% by
moving from static measures of satisfaction (i.e., individual and
work group scores) to dynamic measures (i.e., changes in satis-
faction among individuals and work groups). Using RCM, Stur-
man and Trevor (2001) similarly established that performance
velocity explains additional turnover variance beyond static per-
formance scores. Deploying latent growth modeling (controlling
measurement errors and instability), Bentein, Vandenberghe, Van-
denberg, and Stinglhamer (2005) showed that a declining trajec-
tory for affective organizational commitment predicts ascending
quit intentions.
Discussion
Looking Back
From the early days of applied research (Bills, 1925;Diemer,
1917;Douglas, 1918;Eberle, 1919) and informed speculation
(Barnard, 1983), employee turnover has been a vital issue for
management and applied psychology. Since March and Simon’s
(1958) theory and its elaboration by Mobley (1977) and Price
(1977), theory-driven research is a proud hallmark of turnover
scholarship and JAP publications. Over time, ever-more sophisti-
cated and innovative theories of turnover prompted a correspond-
ing search and adoption of more sophisticated research designs and
statistics. As we reflect on the last 100 years, our knowledge has
been cumulative—sometimes in a “normal and incremental” fash-
ion but sometimes in a “disruptive and discontinuous” manner
(Kuhn, 1963). In our view, applied psychologists have learned
much and should be deservedly proud of their collective efforts
(see Table 1 and Figure 1).
Looking Forward
We have highlighted promising new research directions
throughout our review, (e.g., further testing and refinement of
unfolding model and embeddedness theory, additional network-
based investigations, formal tests of job search models), and build
on those ideas to offer five broad areas in which researchers might
advance turnover scholarship in the years to come.
1. Theorize and study change in turnover antecedents and
consequences. Mitchell and James (2001) called for serious
consideration of time, while Lee et al. (2014) recently renewed that
call. Emerging research offers conceptual and empirical tools for
researchers interested in taking time seriously. Chen et al. (2011)
and Liu et al. (2012) show that whether one’s job satisfaction is
increasing or decreasing greatly enhances predictions of turnover
intentions and behaviors over and beyond a static satisfaction
measure. Besides satisfaction (and commitment and job embed-
dedness; Bentein et al., 2005;Ng & Feldman, 2012), the momen-
tum for a host of common (e.g., job involvement, absenteeism) or
less common (e.g., justice perceptions, perceived organizational
support) antecedents might be studied. For instance, Hausknecht,
Sturman, and Roberson (2011) found that “justice trajectories”
predict quit intentions after controlling for current justice levels,
suggesting that employees use past perceptions or experiences to
forecast future workplace conditions. Addressing turnover out-
comes instead, Call et al. (2015) estimated that a one standard
deviation increase in a retail store’s collective turnover shrinks its
yearly profit by 8.9%! That said, inquiries into trajectories can
meaningfully bolster understanding of turnover’s etiology and
consequences.
2. Investigate postturnover implications for employees and
organizations. Until recently, scholars have almost always
thought of turnover as the end point (i.e., the focal dependent
variable). In an imaginative switch, however, Shipp and associates
(2014) extend the unfolding model to theorize and test differences
between employees who quit but are rehired (boomerangs) and
those who do not return (alumni). Boomerangs were more likely
than alumni to experience a negative personal shock and leave via
Path 1 (but they do eventually return). In contrast, alumni were
more likely than boomerangs to experience a negative work shock
and job dissatisfaction, and thereby leave via Path 2 and 4a. In a
related vein, Hom et al. (2012) encouraged explorations into
“turnover destinations” to learn what drives decisions to pursue
another job versus other destinations such as stay-at-home parent-
ing or educational pursuits. These authors compel scholars to think
beyond the usual view that quitting is the focal end state.
3. Study distinct forms of—and motivations for—leaving
and staying mindsets. Turnover researchers historically strove
to test new predictors (e.g., job embeddedness) using the standard
research design (Steel, 2002). To balance the score, Hom et al.
(2012) proposed Proximal Withdrawal States Theory (PWST) to
argue for greater attention to proximal antecedents. By crossing
two key antecedents— one’s perceived control and preference for
leaving or staying—Hom and associates identify employees who
(a) want to leave and do (“enthusiastic leavers”), (b) want to leave
but cannot (“reluctant stayers”), (c) want to stay and do (“enthu-
siastic stayers”), and (d) want to stay but cannot (“reluctant leav-
ers”). Traditionally, turnover researchers have examined enthusi-
astic stayers and leavers, but have largely ignored reluctant stayers
and leavers. As such, Hom et al. push our thinking toward a closer
yet broader view of the phenomenon of interest (i.e., voluntary
quits) as well as different forms of staying.
4. Expand turnover studies to better capture context.
Investigations have moved away from a “one size fits all” view of
turnover, favoring instead theories specifying the conditions under
which particular factors are more or less important to quit deci-
sions (or turnover rates) in a given setting. At the individual level,
the unfolding model and PWST both reflect this more nuanced,
context-rich focus on prediction and understanding. At the collec-
tive level, researchers stress the importance of examining contex-
tual boundary conditions of antecedent-turnover and turnover-
outcome relationships (Hausknecht & Trevor, 2011;Nyberg &
Ployhart, 2013). Despite this theoretical shift, Allen et al. (2014)
report that the majority of published empirical work scrutinizes
direct effects. Clearly, researchers should delve into context-
specific investigations of turnover (while continuing to focus on
building parsimonious and generalizable theory). Indeed, some of
the most impactful theories (e.g., unfolding model) emerged from
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539
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
the recognition that contextual factors can shape the influence of
turnover’s antecedents.
5. Examine turnover management strategies and practices.
Researchers and practitioners might partner on field research
aimed at turnover control. Such studies are rare, yet Agarwal et al.
(2009), for example, studied how firms deter scientists and engi-
neers from leaving by aggressively protecting against patent in-
fringements, while Gardner (2005) clarified how firms defend
against poaching. Shapiro, Hom, Shen, and Agarwal (2016) theo-
rized about how subordinates may “follow” leaders to other com-
panies depriving source firms of their human and social capital.
Scholars have yet to consider whether turnover holds implications
for social mobility, both upward and downward (e.g., Class in
America: Mobility, measured; Economist Magazine, Feb. 1, 2014).
Relatedly, turnover may have different antecedents and conse-
quences in different cultures (Ramesh & Gelfand, 2010) or devel-
oping economies (Hom & Xiao, 2011). Close collaborations be-
tween scholars and practitioners can ensure the relevance of
research as this changing world of work unfolds—a prospect that
seems promising given the rising availability of “big data” in
organizations, the burgeoning support for internal workforce ana-
lytics teams, and the emergence of thought on how these devel-
opments might generate new opportunities to advance turnover
theory and research (e.g., Hausknecht & Li, 2015).
Thinking Big (and Golden Opportunities)
Thinking big by thinking small. In the last 100 years, schol-
ars most often theorized about large businesses (e.g., Boeing,
Amazon), but research often occurs in much smaller organizations.
It may be advisable to theorize and study what turnover means in
nascent start-ups (e.g., prior to a prototype product often required
to move beyond angel investors; a.k.a., still in “death valley”). In
such small firms, for example, the departure of a few key people
could well terminate the start-up. Do our 21st century theories
apply to such firms and employees? We think not, but new theories
should.
Thinking bigger. Our sweeping review finds that turnover
scholars often theorize and study individuals, work groups or
entire companies. What often gets forgotten, however, is the in-
dustry. Might turnover hold different meaning among “declining
versus ascending industries” (e.g., coal vs. wind energy; brick &
mortar vs. Internet retail)? Some industries are clearly more ap-
pealing to highly educated, specialized and paid “knowledge work-
ers.” We recommend that future theorists consider how different
industries and their attributes affect turnover.
Thinking really big. Most theories are often applied to entire
populations (e.g., satisfaction reduces turnover; embeddedness en-
meshes employees), but what if turnover theories apply differen-
tially across different ranges of employee populations? For exam-
ple, might rational decision making models apply better with
long-term, highly educated employees in stable industries than
short-term, poorly educated employees in turbulent environments?
Might satisfaction-based models rather than embeddedness theory
better explain quits among fast food workers? After 100 years of
scholarship, our knowledge may have advanced to the point at
which we can (or should) theorize and test more fine-grained
predictions, which in turn may hold greater value to practitioners
and consumers of our research.
Practical Suggestions for Managing Turnover
Although practitioner articles have mostly vanished from lead-
ing journals, our review suggests some practical lessons. Employ-
ers can use validated selection procedures (e.g., biodata, person-
ality, person-organizational fit) to screen out job applicants who
might become prospective leavers. Employers should also pay
special attention to on-boarding practices (including RJPs) as
longstanding research has shown that most turnover occurs among
new hires who face difficulty adjusting to the job. Organizations
might monitor prominent causes underlying turnover (via surveys
or personnel records), such as attitudinal trajectories (Liu et al.,
2012) to foreshadow turnover or learn what (deteriorating) work
conditions must be ameliorated to lessen potential turnover. Firms
might also track turnover rate trajectories to project impending
performance decrements (Call et al., 2015), use dashboards or
scorecards to assess turnover costs, and capture data about who
leaves (e.g., high performers, central actors in networks) and
where they go (e.g., exit workforce, join competitors). Moreover,
organizations might identify and assess the extent of reluctant
staying and reluctant leaving (notably those due to external forces).
While many firms assess job engagement (a symptom of reluctant
stayers), they might also assess this mindset directly as other
reasons besides poor job fit (e.g., poor organizational fit, abusive
supervision) may occasion this state. Further, assessing reluctant
leaving and its etiology (e.g., spousal relocation, unsolicited job
offer) would help employers better prepare for future turnover (i.e.,
identify replacements beforehand) or how to counteract external
forces for leaving (e.g., counter family pressures to leave by
offering family benefits or decreasing work-family conflict by
demanding less out-of-town travel).
Conclusion
In closing, this article shows that turnover research is dynamic
and ever-changing. It had a dominant paradigm and is experienc-
ing a paradigm shift. The topic’s foci expanded from the individual
to macro levels, from macro levels to cross levels, and from
cross-sectional to predictive to panel designs. Looking forward,
many new vistas remain to be explored. In our view, turnover is a
healthy and vibrant area of theory and research. Constant improve-
ments in theory and research are our legacy, our future, and our
passion. Most important, such changes are embraced by turnover
scholars themselves. In our judgment, “the best is yet to come.”
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Received June 1, 2015
Revision received January 30, 2016
Accepted February 8, 2016
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545
A CENTURY OF TURNOVER RESEARCH
... Finally, we are able to distinguish between voluntary, that is, employee-initiated, and involuntary turnover (Hom et al., 2017) during probationary period. As Rubenstein et al. (2018) emphasize, "the organizational context has generally been ignored in turnover research until recently." ...
... However, even when we regress the involuntary turnover rate on average pre-hire screening intensity in a firm and a vector of other hiring practices and standard establishment controls, we observe no statistically significant relationship. Hom et al. (2017) also recommend to analyze industry differences in turnover research, which we do. Both types of on-the-job screening are more likely in the healthcare and social services sector, as well as the company-related and financial services sector. ...
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The hiring and recruitment process is one of the main challenges to the success of companies and a significant driver of total labor costs. We use representative employer data for German private-sector establishments with at least 50 employees to explore recent developments in employer search, selection, and screening activities over the years of 2012–2018. We document changes in hiring policies over time and address heterogeneity across establishments related to size, ownership, and industry sector. Our results show that although establishment characteristics are correlated with different facets of hiring behavior, there is no homogeneous pattern for employer search and selection instruments. We highlight differences of hiring practices targeted at managerial versus non-managerial new hires. Finally, we outline potential mechanisms and research gaps for future work and discuss managerial implications. JEL Codes: J21, J63, M51
... Turnover has attracted substantial scholarly attention in recent decades because of its practical signi cance (Hausknecht & Holwerda, 2013), theoretical importance (Hom, Lee, Shaw, & Hausknecht, 2017), and implications. Turnover intentions have been posited as the wilfulness to leave or quit one's current organisation. ...
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This study aims to provide researchers and practitioners with a more elaborate instrument to measure turnover intentions based on the planned behaviour theory model. The questionnaire assesses 5 distinct aspects of turnover intentions (i.e., subjective social status, organisational culture, personal orientation, expectations, and career growth). We demonstrate the reliability, factor structure, and validity evidence based on internal structure and relationship with other variables of the new measure among two samples (N 1 = 622; N 2 = 433). In total, the study indicates that the assessment can be used to reliably assess several major indicators of turnover intentions.
... (1)离职"展开"模型 基于映 像 理论, [10] Lee 等提出了员工自愿离职的"展 开"模型。 [6] 该模型认为离职决策就是一个映像匹配过 程,并以映 像相容性检验作为主要判断标准,关注 "震 撼"对员工离职决策所起的关键作用。具体而言, "震撼" 是指一类可以辨识的、刺激 员工心理的事件,它们促使 员工开始审慎思考现有工作的意义,并可能导致离职。 [6] 这一模型围绕"震撼"刻画了三条离职路径 :①"震撼" 的发 生激 活了先前的离职计 划 ;②" 震 撼" 的发 生使 离 职者产生了映像违背从而迅速离职; ③当"震撼" 发生时, 员工受到了外部工作机会或者 试 探者的邀请,他们通过 相容性检验和利益检验对各 个工作机会进行比较,从而 选择 符 合映 像的利益最大化的机会。除了"震撼"引发 的三条路径 外,该 模型还指出了第四条路径,即由工作 不满意所 诱发的离职。随后,M itchell 等在离职" 展开" 模 型的基 础 上提 出了工作 嵌 入 理 论, [11] 聚 焦于" 人们为 什么会留在组织"这一问题,认为员工同组织和社区的 嵌入关系会阻碍员工的离职。 离职"展开"模型识 别了新的构念与过程,加深了 对员工离职机制的理 解,在离职研究的历史上具 有开创 性的理论贡献。 [12] 工作嵌入理论将进一步影响员工离职 的社会网络因素引入离职研 究中, [13] 补充与扩展了离职 " 展开" 模 型。 但 是, 离职" 展开" 模 型在 解释离职问 题 上仍 然 存在明显的局限性。首先,离职"展开"模型 并未阐明"震撼"的判断依 据和形成条件,即如何判断 一 个事件是 否会 形成"震 撼"及"震 撼"何时发生,导 致离职 决 策 在 逻 辑上 虽可以用" 震 撼" 的出现 来解释, 但 无法确定理论的适用条件。其次,离职"展开"模型 提出的映像匹配和映像相容性检验也未明确映像是如何 产生的,以及映 像相容性检验的机制是什么。这一模糊 性导致离职"展开"模型在解释离职行为的形成机制方 面 不够清 晰, 难以对具体的离职行为做出准 确的预 测。 最后,作为过程型离职理论中的典型模型,离职"展开" 模型对离职背后复杂的动机 过程揭示不足, [14] 无法完整 地把握员工的离职决策过程。如在现实生活中,当经历 "震撼"而产生了映像违背时, 并非所有的员工都会离职, 他们可能 调整自己的映 像 来 适 应" 震 撼" , 从而选 择 继 续留在组织中。总的说 来,离职"展开"模型更多的是 一个归纳和解释离职行为的模型, 其预测能力比较有限。 ...
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The Psychological Goal System-Driven Theory of Employee Turnover and Its Managerial Implications Zhang Kai, Yang Na School of Business, Renmin University of China Abstract: Employee voluntary turnover is a complex and critical management issue, which has been explicated by a variety of theories in the literature. Through literature review, this paper first summarizes seven widely used theories in the study of employee voluntary turnover, namely the "unfolding" model of turnover, evolutionary job search model, prospect theory, conservation of resources theory, self-determination theory, social exchange theory and the emotion view of turnover. We then further analyze these theories from five aspects including the theoretical perspective, the interpretation logic, the psychological entity and process behind turnover behaviors, and the limitations. In spite of the great contributions, these theories have not fully uncovered the psychological dynamic process and decision-making mechanism of turnover, and their explanatory and predictive power regarding turnover phenomenon is relatively limited. To explain and predict employee voluntary turnover in a more in-depth and comprehensive way, this paper builds a psychological goal system-driven theory of employee turnover based on the self-organization goal system theory. This new turnover theory analyzes and explains employee turnover behavior from five aspects, namely the self-driving principle of psychological goals, the principle of resource acquisition of psychological goals, the goal-driven mechanism of turnover, the creation of turnover conditions, and the initiation and post-evaluation of turnover behavior. This theory advocates that: 1) the individual psychological world has psychological goals that point to the future and seek self-realization; 2) there is a synergistic or competitive relationship among different psychological goals, and thus forming a psychological goal system with dominant goals (including a single goal or a goal group); 3) the individual's dominant goals form motivations, which initiate and organize the individual's cognition and behavior; 4) when the dominant psychological goals are difficult to achieve or impaired in the original organization, individuals will experience negative emotions continuously, which drives them to search for new and suitable job opportunities to realize themselves. Therefore, the dominant psychological goal is the organizer and driver of the employee turnover behavior, and when being threatened, it will motivate individuals to actively terminate the employment relationship with the current organization to better promote or protect their own realization process and sustainable growth. The psychological goal system-driven theory of turnover comprehensively depicts the psychological process of turnover behavior from the perspective of cognition, emotion and motivation, so that the psychological mechanism of turnover behavior can be dynamically and completely revealed. Based on the self-organization goal system theory of human motivation and personality, the psychological goal system-driven theory of employee turnover absorbs and integrates the reasonable explanations of existing turnover theories, develops new theoretical logic, and has the following four theoretical contributions to turnover research. First, it analyzes the reasons of turnover from an integrated perspective, which is not only conducive to revealing the cognitive, emotional and motivational processes of turnover behavior, but also conducive to revealing the psychological entities and processes behind turnover behavior in a more in-depth manner. In this way, it unpacks the regularity behind individual differences in the turnover behavior. Second, it clarifies that psychological goal is the psychological entity and motivation source of employee turnover behavior and resolves limitations of existing theories in terms of lacking an accurate grasp of the psychological entity and lacking comprehensive understanding of turnover behavior. Third, this new theory regards the motivating effect and the changes of the psychological goal system as the psychological basses for the formation of turnover motivation, and considers the pursuit of self-realization of the dominant goal and the cooperation and competition among multiple goals as the psychological dynamic processes of turnover decision, thereby revealing that turnover is a dynamic process driven and organized by the individual dominant psychological goal for self-realization. Fourth, with a more complete framework, it transcends the limitations of existing turnover theories and achieves better theoretical integration. 员工离职的心理目标系统驱动说及其管理蕴涵 章凯 杨娜 中国人民大学商学院 摘要: 员工主动离职是一个复杂且重要的管理问题,相关研究文献已应用多种理论来进行解释和预测。通过文献梳理,本文首先总结了员工主动离职研究中应用较多的七种理论,分别是离职“展开”模型、进化搜寻模型、前景理论、资源保存理论、自我决定理论、社会交换理论和离职的情绪观点,然后进一步从理论视角、解释逻辑、离职行为产生的心理实体与过程、局限性这五个方面对上述七种理论进行了分析总结。在肯定其贡献的同时,也发现它们在分析离职行为时没有完整地揭示离职的心理动力过程与决策机制,对离职现象的解释与预测能力都比较有限。 为了更加深入、全面地解释和预测员工的主动离职行为,本文在文献分析的基础上,基于自组织目标系统理论,分析和构建了离职的心理目标系统驱动说。这一新的离职理论从五个方面分析和解释了离职行为,分别是心理目标自驱动原理、心理目标的资源获取原理、离职的目标驱动机制、创造离职条件、以及发动离职行为与后评估。离职的心理目标系统驱动说主张:个体心理世界存在指向未来并谋求自我实现的心理目标,不同心理目标之间存在协同或竞争关系,并由此形成心理目标系统和优势目标(含单个目标或目标群);个体的优势目标是动机的来源,它们发动并组织着个体的认知与行为;当优势心理目标在原有组织中难以实现或遭受破坏时,就会产生持续的消极情绪,并驱使个体选择新的适宜的工作机会来实现自身。因此,优势心理目标是员工离职行为的组织者与驱动者,当它们遭遇威胁时,会驱动个体主动与当前组织解除雇佣关系,以更好地促进或保护自身的实现进程和持续成长。可见,离职的心理目标系统驱动说从认知、情绪和动机视角综合地刻画了离职行为产生的心理过程,从而可以动态和完整地揭示离职行为产生的心理机制。 离职的心理目标系统驱动说以动机与人格的自组织目标系统理论为基础,吸收和整合了现有理论对于员工离职解释的合理之处,发展了新的理论逻辑,对离职研究具有以下四方面的理论贡献。第一,用整合的视角分析了离职的原因,既有利于揭示离职行为产生的认知、情绪与动机过程,又有利于比较深入地揭示离职行为背后的心理实体和心理过程,从而可以把握离职行为个体差异背后的规律性。第二,明确了心理目标是员工离职行为产生的心理实体与动力来源,较好地解决了现有理论对离职行为的心理实体把握不够准确、理解不够深入的问题。第三,将心理目标系统的驱动及其变化作为离职动机形成的心理基础,将优势目标寻求自我实现以及多目标的协同与竞争作为离职决策的心理动力过程,揭示了离职是由员工优势心理目标为自我实现所驱动和组织的动态过程。第四,以一个更加完整的框架,超越了现有理论存在的局限性,较好地实现了理论整合。
... Ceci pourrait s'expliquer par le fait qu'un superviseur qui n'assume pas son rôle d'encadrement vis-à -vis d'un employé rend son travail moins inté ressant, ré duisant dè s lors le coû t qu'il y aurait pour ce dernier de quitter son emploi. Or, il est é tabli que les qualité s intrinsè ques d'un emploi contribuent au coû t perçu du dé part volontaire de l'organisation (Hom et al., 2017). ...
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