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The Effects of Autonomy and Empowerment on Employee Turnover: Test of a Multilevel Model in Teams

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Extending research on voluntary turnover in the team setting, this study adopts a multilevel self-determination theoretical approach to examine the unique roles of individual and social-contextual motivational precursors, autonomy orientation and autonomy support, in reducing team member voluntary turnover. Analysis of multilevel time-lagged data collected from 817 employees on 115 teams indicates that psychological empowerment mediates the main effect of autonomy orientation and the interactive effect of autonomy support and its differentiation on a team member's voluntary turnover. The findings have meaningful implications for the turnover and self-determination literatures as well as for managers who endeavor to prevent voluntary turnover in teams.
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RESEARCH REPORT
The Effects of Autonomy and Empowerment on Employee Turnover:
Test of a Multilevel Model in Teams
Dong Liu
Georgia Institute of Technology
Shu Zhang
Columbia Business School
Lei Wang
Xi’an JiaoTong University
Thomas W. Lee
University of Washington, Seattle
Extending research on voluntary turnover in the team setting, this study adopts a multilevel self-
determination theoretical approach to examine the unique roles of individual and social-contextual
motivational precursors, autonomy orientation and autonomy support, in reducing team member volun-
tary turnover. Analysis of multilevel time-lagged data collected from 817 employees on 115 teams
indicates that psychological empowerment mediates the main effect of autonomy orientation and the
interactive effect of autonomy support and its differentiation on a team member’s voluntary turnover. The
findings have meaningful implications for the turnover and self-determination literatures as well as for
managers who endeavor to prevent voluntary turnover in teams.
Keywords: turnover, self-determination, psychological empowerment, motivation, teams
Voluntary employee turnover has long been of interest to orga-
nizational scholars, in part because of its potential for a negative
effect on organizational productivity and morale (Chen, Ployhart,
Cooper-Thomas, Anderson, & Bliese, 2011; Shaw, Gupta, & Del-
ery, 2005). Despite the widespread shift toward team-based work
in today’s organizations (Lim & Ployhart, 2004), research on
voluntary turnover in work teams remains scarce. Most of the
previous turnover studies were limited to the individual level,
leaving the potential effects of multilevel factors largely unex-
plored (Holtom, Mitchell, Lee, & Eberly, 2008). As Hitt, Beamish,
Jackson, and Mathieu (2007) suggested, approximately 70% of
employee turnover rates can be explained by higher level contex-
tual phenomena, in contrast to 15%–20% that is predicted by
individual-level variables. Moreover, the few studies that do ex-
plore turnover within teams mostly revolve around team hetero-
geneity in demographic variables, such as age, race, tenure, and
education (e.g., McKay et al., 2007; Wiersema & Bird, 1993).
Although these studies have expanded the scope of turnover re-
search, their focus is on the surface-level characteristics that tend
to have decreasing effects on individual outcomes over time (Har-
rison, Price, & Bell, 1998). In contrast, the more stable, deep-level
motivational precursors and mechanisms of turnover in the team
context are studied less and not as well understood.
Given the potential effect of team contexts on employee moti-
vation and turnover (Hitt et al., 2007; Kozlowski & Bell, 2003),
the present research draws on self-determination theory (SDT) to
examine multilevel motivational mechanisms that underlie indi-
vidual turnover in the work teams. In doing so, we first investigate
at the individual level how a team member’s dispositional orien-
tation toward autonomy and autonomy support received from the
team leader and peers have unique contributions to the member’s
psychological empowerment. Second, to further capture team con-
textual effects at the team level, we employ Hackman’s (1992)
team stimuli typology and Chan’s (1998) dispersion model to
propose a new team-level construct—autonomy support differen-
tiation. Whereas autonomy support differentiation as a main effect
may exert either positive or negative effects on psychological
empowerment, this research focuses on its moderating effect on
the positive relationship between autonomy support and psycho-
logical empowerment. Third, considering the motivational role of
psychological empowerment in enhancing one’s attachment to the
organization (Niehoff, Moorman, Blakely, & Fuller, 2001), we test
a mediated moderation model of turnover (see Figure 1), where
psychological empowerment is highlighted as the pivotal motiva-
tional process that translates the main effect of a team member’s
autonomy orientation, the interactive effect of the team leader’s
autonomy support and its differentiation, and the interactive effect
This article was published Online First July 11, 2011.
Dong Liu, College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology;
Shu Zhang, Management Department, Columbia Business School; Lei
Wang, Research Center for Chinese Management, School of Management,
Xi’an JiaoTong University, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China; Thomas W. Lee, Man-
agement and Organization Department, Michael G. Foster School of Busi-
ness, University of Washington, Seattle.
The first two authors contributed equally to this article. This research
was supported by research grants from the Ministry of Education of China
(09XJC630008, 20100201120051) and the Natural Science Foundation of
China (71032002).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dong Liu,
College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, 800 West Peachtree
Street, NW, Atlanta, GA 30308-1149. E-mail: dong.liu@mgt.gatech.edu
Journal of Applied Psychology © 2011 American Psychological Association
2011, Vol. 96, No. 6, 1305–1316 0021-9010/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0024518
1305
of peers’ autonomy support and its differentiation on a member’s
turnover.
Theoretical Framework and Hypotheses
In their review of turnover research, Maertz and Campion
(2004) called for the development of process models that explicate
the motivations behind circumstances under which employees
leave. In response to their call, we focus on psychological empow-
erment, an intrinsic work motivation that derives directly from
one’s workplace and leads one to perceive the choice of shaping
one’s work role and contexts according to one’s personal interests
and goals (Spreitzer, 1995; Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). Given the
crucial role of autonomy in intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci,
2000), this study examines how psychological empowerment may
develop from both individual- and team-level autonomy factors
and further channel multilevel effects to mitigate voluntary turn-
over in teams.
As a core concept of SDT, autonomy refers to the experience of
acting with a sense of volition and having choice in pursuing an
activity (Gagne´ & Deci, 2005). Human beings, moreover, are
theorized to have a basic psychological need for autonomy. When
able to execute personal choice and gain autonomy in carrying out
work activities, people endorse these activities to a high level and
become intrinsically motivated at work (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Indeed, autonomy plays such a critical role in intrinsic motivation
that the latter is often viewed as “an example of autonomous
motivation” (Gagne´ & Deci, 2005, p. 334). Both dispositional
autonomy orientation and contextual support for autonomy have
been shown to trigger autonomy need satisfaction and conse-
quently fuel intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008). As shown
in Figure 1, our motivational process model investigates how
autonomy orientation (the dispositional aspect of autonomy) and
autonomy support (the contextual aspect of autonomy) enhance a
team member’s psychological empowerment, which decreases his
or her turnover likelihood in the team setting.
Autonomy Orientation and Psychological
Empowerment
Autonomy orientation refers to one’s dispositional tendency “to
be self-regulating and to orient toward the interest value of the
environment and contextual supports for self-initiation” (Baard,
Deci, & Ryan, 2004, pp. 2048 –2049). Depending on their hered-
itary factors and early social experiences, people vary in their
autonomy orientation toward initiating and regulating their own
behavior rather than being externally regulated by the environment
(Gagne´, 2003). A strong autonomy orientation predisposes indi-
viduals to pursue actively opportunities for self-determination and
orient toward autonomy stimuli in the social environment (Deci &
Ryan, 1985a; F. K. Lee, Sheldon, & Turban, 2003). Even when
team tasks may be regulated externally by the environment, those
with a strong autonomy orientation are still likely to experience
their tasks as self-endorsed by adjusting the tasks in accordance
with their own values and needs (Gagne´ & Deci, 2005). Applying
this reasoning to our research context, we expect that team mem-
bers with a stronger autonomy orientation will feel more choice
and volition in carrying out work tasks and interpret their tasks as
more intrinsically motivating, thereby experiencing a higher level
of psychological empowerment. Supporting this argument, indi-
viduals with a stronger autonomy orientation were found to be
more intrinsically motivated toward their work and feel more
empowered to shape their work roles and environments (Baard et
al., 2004; Lam & Gurland, 2008; Williams, Grow, Freedman,
Ryan, & Deci, 1996). Thus,
Hypothesis 1: A team member’s autonomy orientation is
positively related to his or her psychological empowerment.
Contextual Autonomy Support and Psychological
Empowerment
In addition to the dispositional orientation toward autonomy, the
social characteristics of one’s work context are important for
development of psychological empowerment (Chen & Klimoski,
Figure 1. Theoretical model. H hypothesis.
1306 LIU, ZHANG, WANG, AND LEE
2003; Liden, Wayne, & Sparrowe, 2000; Spreitzer, DeJanasz, &
Quinn, 1999). Consistent with the typology that distinguishes task,
social, and physical characteristics of work contexts (Hattrup &
Jackson, 1996; Johns, 2006; Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006), au-
tonomy support is viewed as the most important social-contextual
factor for predicting intrinsic motivation (Gagne´ & Deci, 2005).
Specifically, autonomy support involves one individual relating to
target individuals by “taking their perspective, encouraging initi-
ation, supporting a sense of choice, and being responsive to their
thoughts, questions, and initiatives” (Deci & Ryan, 2008, p. 18).
Because of the different forms of social exchange and relations one
maintains with the team leader and peers (Chiaburu & Harrison,
2008; Liden et al., 2000), we treat the team leader and peers as
distinct sources of autonomy support and examine how each
source independently contributes to a focal member’s psycholog-
ical empowerment in the team context.
Autonomy support from a high status person, such as one’s
supervisor, has been researched more extensively than autonomy
support from other sources (e.g., Deci, Connell, & Ryan, 1989;
Deci, Ryan, & Koestner, 2001; Pearce & Sims, 2002). As the
person in charge of team decision making and resource allocation,
a team leader plays a vital role in team members’ motivational
development (Chen & Kanfer, 2006). An autonomy-supportive
team leader can cultivate the sense of self-determination among
team members by acknowledging their perspectives, offering op-
portunities for choice, and encouraging self-initiation (Gagne´,
2003). As a result, increasing decision latitude and influence on
work outcomes will enable team members to develop a strong
sense of empowerment. In support of these arguments, research
has shown a positive relationship between managerial autonomy
support and employee responses such as higher involvement,
greater persistence, and better psychological adjustment, all of
which indicate an enhanced sense of empowerment (Baard et al.,
2004; Deci et al., 2001; Liu & Fu, 2007).
Hypothesis 2a: Autonomy support from the team leader is
positively related to a team member’s psychological empow-
erment.
Peers in the team represent another critical source of autonomy
support. Because team-based work requires frequent and meaning-
ful interactions among team members, the social influence of peers
is magnified in teams, such that “peers do make the place” even
after the influence of the team leader is controlled (Chiaburu &
Harrison, 2008). Peers contribute to one’s feeling of empowerment
primarily through task interdependence and social collaboration.
On the one hand, exchanging work information and resources with
autonomy-supportive peers enhances one’s belief in fulfilling
work roles and having an impact on the work environment (Seers,
1989; Seers, Petty, & Cashman, 1995). On the other hand, receiv-
ing constructive feedback from autonomy-supportive peers en-
courages full development of one’s potentials (Tse, Dasborough,
& Ashkanasy, 2008). Thus, complementary to the team leader’s
autonomy support, autonomy support from peers is likely to have
a non-redundant effect on a team member’s psychological empow-
erment. Indeed, social exchanges with peers have been shown to
explain additional variance beyond those with the team leader in
employee attitudes and behaviors, such as organizational commit-
ment and job performance (Liden et al., 2000). Hence,
Hypothesis 2b: Autonomy support from peers is positively
related to a team member’s psychological empowerment.
The Contingent Effects of Autonomy Support
Differentiation
We further contend that autonomy support differentiation mod-
erates the hypothesized effects of autonomy support (Hypotheses
2a & 2b), because team members tend to make inferences con-
cerning the idiosyncrasy of autonomy support from the team leader
and peers (Eisenberger, Cummings, Armeli, & Lynch, 1997). In
other words, how a member interprets autonomy support and
consequently derives psychological empowerment may depend on
the idiosyncrasy of this support relative to the levels of autonomy
support received by other members in the team.
The importance of autonomy support idiosyncrasy is implied by
Hackman’s (1992) typology of team stimuli, which distinguishes
two types of team stimuli that distinctively affect team members’
motivation: (a) ambient stimuli, which are equally available to all
team members and pervade the team as a whole, and (b) discre-
tionary stimuli, which are directed to specific team members and
differentially affect team members. According to this framework,
when team members receive the same level of autonomy support
from the leader or peers, they will perceive strong ambient stimuli
and attribute the support to a general team phenomenon (e.g., an
empowering team climate). In contrast, when team members re-
ceive different levels of autonomy support from the leader or
peers, they will perceive strong discretionary stimuli and attribute
the support to their idiosyncratic relationships with the leader or
peers. Thus, discretionary autonomy support represents a person-
alized treatment and has higher personal relevance and greater
influence on a member’s psychological empowerment than ambi-
ent autonomy support. Indeed, a differential relationship with the
team leader more strongly predicted individual empowerment than
an ambient team climate (Chen, Kirkman, Kanfer, Allen, & Rosen,
2007). Given that team members may also develop varying rela-
tionships with peers (Seers, 1989; Sherony & Green, 2002), it is
possible for them to access different levels of autonomy support
from peers, which further moderate the effect of peers’ autonomy
support on their psychological empowerment.
To conceptualize the team-level idiosyncrasy of autonomy sup-
port from the team leader or peers, we propose a team-level
dispersion construct—differentiation in autonomy support. In light
of Kirkman and Shapiro’s (2005) deep-level team diversity and
Chan’s (1998) dispersion model, we define differentiation in au-
tonomy support as the extent to which the team leader or peers
offer varying levels of autonomy support to different members.
This conceptualization is consistent with research on leader–
member and team–member exchange, which shows that team
leaders and peers do differentiate in treating team members (Er-
dogan & Liden, 2002; Seers, 1989). By this definition, a larger
differentiation in autonomy support from the team leader or peers
indicates more idiosyncratic leader–member or member–member
relationships, which leads a focal member to value this support
more and thus strengthens the positive link between autonomy
support and psychological empowerment. In contrast, little or no
differentiation in autonomy support will attenuate this link, in that
team members may perceive this support as a depersonalized
team-level feature that is non-contingent on their idiosyncratic
1307
TURNOVER IN TEAMS
relationships with the leader or peers, and consequently are less
likely to feel empowered by this support.
Hypothesis 3a: Differentiation in autonomy support from a
team leader moderates the positive relationship between the
team leader’s autonomy support to a focal member and this
member’s psychological empowerment, such that the rela-
tionship is stronger when this differentiation is larger.
Hypothesis 3b: Differentiation in autonomy support from
peers moderates the positive relationship between their au-
tonomy support to a focal member and this member’s psy-
chological empowerment, such that the relationship is stron-
ger when this differentiation is larger.
The Role of Psychological Empowerment as a
Mediator
Despite the abundant evidence that both autonomy orientation
and autonomy support are negatively related to turnover (Chiaburu
& Harrison, 2008; Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, & Vandenberghe,
2002; Mossholder, Settoon, & Henagan, 2005), these findings are
primarily at the individual level, leaving open the question whether
higher level contextual factors may moderate these relationships.
Further, little attention has been directed toward uncovering the
psychological mechanism underlying these relationships. Thus, we
explore the possibility that psychological empowerment mediates
both the main effect of autonomy orientation and the multilevel
interactive effects of autonomy support and its differentiation on a
focal member’s turnover behavior in teams.
Psychological empowerment is widely viewed as the pivotal
motivational mechanism through which both individual and con-
textual factors affect employees’ work attitudes and behaviors
(e.g., Avolio, Zhu, Koh, & Bhatia, 2004; Conger & Kanungo,
1988; Koberg, Boss, Senjem, & Goodman, 1999; Liden & Tewks-
bury, 1995; Seibert, Silver, & Randolph, 2004). Our conceptual
arguments for Hypotheses 1a–3b indicate that both autonomy
orientation and autonomy support will facilitate psychological
empowerment. When feeling empowered, individuals appreciate
the intrinsic meaning, personal choice, and impact of their work
(Spreitzer, 1995, 1996), which further leads to reciprocation by
being more willing to stay at their jobs (Eisenberger, Fasolo, &
Davis-LaMastro, 1990; Kraimer, Seibert, & Liden, 1999). Indeed,
psychological empowerment has been demonstrated to directly
enhance employee attachment to their organizations (Spreitzer &
Mishra, 2002). Therefore, as the critical motivational mechanism
underlying the turnover process, psychological empowerment is
likely to channel the effect of autonomy orientation, as well as the
multilevel interactive effect between autonomy support and its
team-level idiosyncrasy, to reduce turnover in the team setting.
When considered together, these arguments suggest an overall
mediation model, which involves one simple mediation and two
mediated moderation effects.
Hypothesis 4a: A team member’s psychological empower-
ment mediates the relationship between his or her autonomy
orientation and turnover.
Hypothesis 4b: A team member’s psychological empower-
ment mediates the interactive effect of a team leader’s auton-
omy support and the differentiation in this support on the
member’s turnover.
Hypothesis 4c: A team member’s psychological empower-
ment mediates the interactive effect of peers’ autonomy sup-
port and the differentiation in this support on the member’s
turnover.
Method
Sample and Procedure
The data were collected from a large Northeast manufacturing
company for automobile parts. To control for job task character-
istics, our sample was composed of the production teams perform-
ing the same task—manufacturing a type of automotive bearing.
The data collection had three evenly separated phases throughout
an 8-month period to minimize common method variance and
explore the causality among the variables (Podsakoff, MacKenzie,
Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). In Phase 1, online surveys were admin-
istered to 1,703 members from 168 teams, and the survey included
measures of demographics and antecedents of psychological em-
powerment (i.e., autonomy orientation, autonomy support from the
team leader and peers). Ultimately, the return of 1,215 surveys
from 132 teams yielded a response rate of 71% at the individual
level and 79% at the team level. In Phase 2, which took place 4
months later, respondents in Phase 1 were asked to assess their
psychological empowerment. We received responses from 817
members on 115 teams, resulting in a response rate of 76% at the
individual level and 95% at the team level. In Phase 3, which took
place 4 months after Phase 2, information on voluntary turnover
was obtained from the company’s human resources department,
resulting in our final sample of 817 members from 115 teams. The
average age and tenure were 27.78 (SD 3.39) and 1.43 years
(SD 0.86), respectively. Among the participants, 395 were
female (about 48% of the sample). Given that a majority of the
responding teams (91.30%) involved members who left, alterna-
tive explanations based on unique team characteristics are un-
likely.
Measures
Seven-point Likert scales were used for all multi-item measures,
with anchors ranging from 1 (strongly disagree)to7(strongly
agree).
Autonomy orientation of team members. In line with the
self-determination literature (e.g., Gagne´, 2003; Williams et al.,
1996), the General Causality Orientations Scale (Deci & Ryan,
1985a) was employed to measure autonomy orientation. Team
members read 12 scenarios of typical social situations and rated
the likelihood of reacting to each scenario in an autonomous way.
An example scenario was “You are embarking on a new career.
The most important consideration is likely to be: How interested
you are in that kind of work.” The scores for the 12 scenarios were
averaged to form a scale score. The Cronbach’s alpha for the scale
was .92.
A team leader’s autonomy support. We followed previous
self-determination studies to apply Baard et al.’s (2004) 15-item
scale on autonomy support in the organizational context to mea-
1308 LIU, ZHANG, WANG, AND LEE
sure a team leader’s autonomy support. One sample item was “I
am able to be open with my team leader at work.” The Cronbach’s
alpha for the scale was .79.
Peers’ autonomy support. To measure the autonomy sup-
port from peers on the team, the above 15-item scale of a team
leader’s autonomy support (Baard et al., 2004) was adapted by
replacing “my team leader” with “my peers on the team.” One
representative item was “My peers on the team provide me with
choices and options.” The Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was .76.
Psychological empowerment. Psychological empowerment
was measured using the 12-item scale developed by Spreitzer
(1995, 1996). One sample item was “I have a chance to use
personal initiative in carrying out my work.” The Cronbach’s alpha
for the scale was .89.
Differentiation in the autonomy support from the team
leader and from peers. Differentiation in autonomy support
from each source (i.e., the team leader or peers) was operational-
ized under Chan’s (1998) dispersion model as a team-level con-
figural property (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000): namely, the within-
team variance of the autonomy support that team members
received from the team leader or peers on the team.
Turnover. From company records, voluntary turnover that
occurred during the 4 months following Phase 2 was coded.
“Stayers” were coded as 0 and leavers were coded as 1.
Control variables. The mean levels of the team leader’s
autonomy support and peers’ autonomy support were controlled,
as well as the interactions between the mean level of autonomy
support from each source and its variance, because the mean and
variance of a team-level construct represent distinct team psycho-
logical processes and should be examined simultaneously to more
fully capture the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in teams
to avoid under-specifying regression models (Boies & Howell,
2006; Kirkman & Shapiro, 2005). Team members’ demographic
variables (i.e., age, gender, education, organization tenure, job
performance, and technical levels) were also controlled in the
initial data analyses. We controlled for job performance and tech-
nical levels, as the turnover literature highlights that competent and
experienced employees have more alternative job opportunities
and thus are more likely to quit their current jobs (Holtom et al.,
2008). To maximize statistical power in the final analyses, we
dropped all demographic control variables that were not significant
in the initial analyses.
Analyses and Results
Preliminary Analyses
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics, correlations, and reliabili-
ties of key variables. Confirmatory factor analyses using LISREL 8.7
(Jöreskog & Sörbom, 2004) confirmed the discriminant validity of
autonomy orientation, autonomy support from the team leader,
autonomy support from peers, and psychological empowerment.
The hypothesized four-factor model (
2
[1371] 3,909.38, stan-
dardized root-mean-square residual [SRMR] .05, root-mean-
square error of approximation [RMSEA] .07, comparative fit
index [CFI] .91, nonnormed fit index [NNFI] .90) fit the data
significantly better than all alternative models, such as the three-
factor model combining autonomy support from the team leader
and from peers into one factor (SRMR .10, RMSEA .13,
CFI .81, NNFI .80), with a significant reduction in chi-square
of 5,823.68 (df 3, p.001).
Main Effects
Given the nested data structure, we performed hierarchical lin-
ear modeling (HLM) with the statistical software HLM 6.06 to test
the hypotheses on the antecedents of psychological empowerment
(Hypotheses 1–3b). The results of Model 1 in Table 2 support
Hypotheses 1, 2a, and 2b, as autonomy orientation (␥⫽.10, p
.05) and autonomy support from the team leader (␥⫽.35, p.01)
and from peers (␥⫽.32, p.01) were all positively related to
psychological empowerment.
Moderation Effects
As shown by the HLM results of Model 2 in Table 2, Hypoth-
eses 3a and 3b were supported: The interactive effects of auton-
omy support from the team leader and differentiation in this
support (␥⫽.08, p.05), as well as autonomy support from
peers and differentiation in this support (␥⫽.12, p.05), on a
team member’s psychological empowerment were significant. Fig-
ure 2 shows how autonomy support from the team leader is more
positively related to a focal member’s psychological empower-
ment when there is a large within-team differentiation in this
support (1 SD above the mean; ␥⫽.39, p.01) than when there
is a small within-team differentiation in this support (1 SD below
the mean; ␥⫽.23, p.01). The interactive effect of autonomy
support from peers and its differentiation on a focal member’s
psychological empowerment follows a similar pattern, such that
this support is more positively related to a focal member’s psy-
chological empowerment when there is a large within-team differ-
entiation in this support (1 SD above the mean; ␥⫽.35, p.01)
than when there is a small within-team differentiation in this
support (1 SD below the mean; ␥⫽.21, p.01). To quantify
further the results in terms of effect size, we followed Combs’s
(2010) criterion to calculate the economic impact of these inter-
action terms. Holding all other variables constant at mean levels,
the effect of a team leader’s autonomy support on a focal mem-
ber’s psychological empowerment increases by 9% when the mod-
erator—the team leader’s autonomy support differentiation—is at
1SD above its mean. Additionally, the effect of peers’ autonomy
support on a focal member’s psychological empowerment in-
creases by 12% when peers’ autonomy support differentiation is at
1SD above its mean.
Mediation Effects
We used hierarchical generalized linear modeling (HGLM; Guo
& Zhao, 2000) with the statistical software HLM 6.06 to test
Hypotheses 4a– 4c. HGLM allows for binary outcome variables
(e.g., stay/leave), accounts for non-independence between vari-
ables, and overcomes severe biases in dispersion components of
binary data (Y. Lee & Nelder, 2001). Hypothesis 4a, which indi-
cates a simple mediation, was supported based on Baron and
Kenny’s (1986) procedure. First, the results of Model 1 in Table 3
suggest that autonomy orientation is negatively related to turnover
(␥⫽–.21, p.05). Second, the significant relationship between
autonomy orientation and psychological empowerment was also
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TURNOVER IN TEAMS
verified (Hypothesis 1). Further, when psychological empower-
ment is entered in Model 2 in Table 3, it is not only negatively
related to turnover (␥⫽–.25, p.01), but it also renders the
relationship between autonomy orientation and turnover nonsig-
nificant (␥⫽–.12, ns), thereby supporting Hypothesis 4a.
Hypotheses 4b and 4c posited two mediated moderations and
are thus tested according to the moderated path analysis procedure
developed by Edwards and Lambert (2007), which resolves the
deficiencies in the traditional Baron and Kenny (1986) approach to
mediated moderation tests. Specifically, we investigated a series of
models that clearly generated the first-stage effect (from the inde-
pendent variable to the mediator), the second-stage effect (from the
mediator to the dependent variable), the direct effect (from the
independent variable to the dependent variable), and the indirect
effect (from the independent variable to the dependent variable
through the mediator) at different levels of the moderator. As
shown in Table 4, when the differentiation in autonomy support
from the team leader is large, the indirect effect of this support on
a focal member’s turnover via psychological empowerment is
significant (␥⫽–.12, p.05). However, when the differentiation
is small, the indirect effect becomes weaker (␥⫽–.06, p.05).
Overall, the difference in the indirect effects of autonomy support
from the team leader is significant (␥⫽.06, p.05). Thus,
Hypothesis 4b was supported. Additionally, when the differentia-
tion in autonomy support from peers is large, the indirect effect of
this support on a focal member’s turnover via psychological em-
powerment is significant (␥⫽–.10, p.05). When the differen-
tiation is small, this indirect effect decreases (␥⫽–.05, p.05).
Overall, the difference in the indirect effects of autonomy support
from peers is significant (⌬␥ ⫽ .05, p.05). Therefore, Hypoth-
esis 4c was also verified. Figure 3 shows how autonomy support
from the team leader (autonomy support from peers follows a
similar pattern) has a stronger effect on a focal member’s turnover
through psychological empowerment when there is a large versus
small differentiation in this support. We also applied Preacher,
Rucker, and Hayes’s (2007) conditional indirect effect test to
Table 1
Descriptive Statistics, Reliabilities, and Intercorrelations Among Measures
Variable MSD1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
1. Age (Phase 1) 27.78 3.39
2. Gender (Phase 1) 0.48 0.52 .02
3. Education (Phase 1) 4.00 0.85 .04 .06 —
4. Tenure (Phase 1) 1.43 0.86 .00 .00 .03
5. Technical level
(Phase 1) 3.01 0.36 .02 .07 .39
ⴱⴱ
.03 —
6. Job performance
(Phase 1) 59.58 15.34 .50 .05 .14
ⴱⴱ
.02 .09
7. Team leader’s
autonomy support
(Phase 1) 4.86 1.00 .02 .03 .07
.00 .01 .04 (.79)
8. Peers’ autonomy
support (Phase 1) 4.09 0.96 .00 .01 .06 .06 .00 .30
ⴱⴱ
.02 (.74)
9. Team member’s
autonomy orientation
(Phase 1) 3.90 0.88 .02 .06 .07 .02 .14
ⴱⴱ
.44
ⴱⴱ
.03 .30
ⴱⴱ
(.90)
10. Team member’s
psychological
empowerment
(Phase 2) 4.44 1.09 .02 .07 .01 .01 .03 .04 .30
ⴱⴱ
.20
ⴱⴱ
.15
ⴱⴱ
(.89)
11. Team leader’s
autonomy support
mean (Phase 1) 4.86 0.57 .01 .06 .05 .03 .03 .04 .58
ⴱⴱ
.02 .08
.08
12. Team leader’s
autonomy support
differentiation
(Phase 1) 0.78 0.64 .02 .06 .07 .00 .08
.10
ⴱⴱ
.13
ⴱⴱ
.00 .05 .07 .24
ⴱⴱ
13. Peers’ autonomy
support mean
(Phase 1) 4.08 0.67 .00 .02 .06 .08
.03 .36
ⴱⴱ
.01 .70
ⴱⴱ
.37
ⴱⴱ
.23
ⴱⴱ
.03 .01 —
14. Peers’ autonomy
support
differentiation
(Phase 1) 0.57 0.75 .01 .06 .05 .04 .05 .11
ⴱⴱ
.11
ⴱⴱ
.06 .05 .02 .19
ⴱⴱ
.37
ⴱⴱ
.06 —
15. Team member’s
turnover (Phase 3) 0.35 0.48 .02 .05 .01 .02 .01 .01 .15
ⴱⴱ
.11
ⴱⴱ
.11
ⴱⴱ
.18
ⴱⴱ
.02 .04 .10
.02 —
Note. N 817 at the individual level, N115 at the team level; reliabilities of the scales are boldfaced inside parentheses and noted on the diagonal.
Variables 1– 4 and 7–10 were reported by individual team members, Variables 11–14 were created at the team level based on individual team members’
ratings, and information on Variables 5, 6, and 15 for each individual in the sample was obtained from the company’s production and quality department
or human resources department.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01 (two-tailed).
1310 LIU, ZHANG, WANG, AND LEE
verify Hypotheses 4b and 4c. Although the specific estimates of
the indirect effects with the Preacher et al. method differ from
those generated with the Edwards and Lambert technique, the
indirect effects continue to be significantly stronger at the high
level of the moderator than at its low level.
Discussion
Drawing on SDT, this research investigates whether and how the
individual and social-contextual aspects of autonomy simultane-
ously fuel employees’ psychological empowerment, which in turn
reduces their turnover rates in organizational teams. Our multi-
level, time-lagged data generate several valuable insights with both
theoretical and practical implications.
Theoretical Implications
The present research has significant implications for the turn-
over and self-determination literatures. First, to unravel the moti-
vational process associated with employee turnover in teams, we
adopted a self-determination theoretical perspective and examined
how multilevel factors foster team members’ psychological em-
powerment and, ultimately, reduce their turnover. Whereas turn-
over has long been viewed as a function of both individual and
contextual variables (Hitt et al., 2007; Hom & Griffeth, 1991), it
has not been clear which particular aspects of personality or
context actually motivate individuals to stay or quit in a team
setting. To fill this gap, we follow SDT to demonstrate that
individual autonomy orientation and contextual autonomy support
simultaneously serve as driving forces of psychological empow-
erment, which further keeps employees in their jobs. In support of
our theoretical model, using a sample of teams where all members
perform the same task, we find that psychological empowerment
translates the positive effects of autonomy orientation and auton-
omy support into team member retention. To our knowledge, this
study is the first to investigate both individual and social-
contextual precursors to employees’ motivational experience and
turnover in teams.
Table 2
Hierarchical Linear Modeling Results: The Main and Interactive Effects of Autonomy
Orientation, Autonomy Support, and Autonomy Support Differentiation on Psychological
Empowerment
Variable
Psychological empowerment
Model 1
H1, H2a, & H2b
Model 2
H3a & H3b
1. Level 1 independent variables
Team leader’s autonomy support .35
ⴱⴱ
.30
ⴱⴱ
Peers’ autonomy support .32
ⴱⴱ
.29
ⴱⴱ
Team member’s autonomy orientation .10
.11
2. Level 2 independent variables
Team leader’s autonomy support mean .07
Team leader’s autonomy support differentiation .09
Peers’ autonomy support mean .30
ⴱⴱ
Peers’ autonomy support differentiation .03
Team Leader’s Autonomy Support Mean Team
Leader’s Autonomy Support Differentiation .07
Peers’ Autonomy Support Mean Peers’ Autonomy
Support Differentiation .05
3. Cross-level interaction variables
Team Leader’s Autonomy Support Team Leader’s
Autonomy Support Differentiation .08
Peers’ Autonomy Support Peers’ Autonomy
Support Differentiation .12
Level 1 variance .38 .32
Level 2 variance .12 .07
Pseudo R
2
.35 .15
Note. N 817 at the individual level, N115 at the team level.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01 (two-tailed).
Figure 2. The interactive effect of a team leader’s autonomy support and
autonomy support differentiation (TLASD) on a team member’s psycho-
logical empowerment.
1311
TURNOVER IN TEAMS
Second, our cross-level analysis demonstrates that as a team-
level construct, differentiation in autonomy support augments the
effects of this support on psychological empowerment and turn-
over, thereby indicating the need to account for the dispersion
feature of social-contextual phenomena in predicting employee
turnover in teams. On this point, previous team research appears to
attend more to direct consensus or referent shift models of aggre-
gation (Chan, 1998), treating dispersion as error variance (e.g.,
Liao & Rupp, 2005). In light of the distinction made between
ambient and discretionary team stimuli (Hackman, 1992), as well
as recent findings of their differential effects on team members
(Chen et al., 2007), we contend that the dispersion aspect of
autonomy support is perceived by a focal member as indicative of
varied, idiosyncratic work relationships with the team leader and
peers, from which inferences can be made concerning the auton-
omy support received from each source. Supportive of this argu-
ment, our findings show that not only will the absolute level of
autonomy support have an impact on a focal member’s psycho-
logical empowerment and turnover, but the extent to which this
support varies across team members can moderate this impact.
Therefore, our research contributes to the team-level theory build-
ing by stressing the necessity to incorporate the dispersion feature
of team-level social-contextual characteristics in predicting turn-
over.
Third, our research extends the self-determination literature,
which generally adopts a single-level research design and focuses
exclusively on the autonomy-supportive role of authority figures
(e.g., Baard et al., 2004; Gaine & La Guardia, 2009). Adding to
SDT, on the one hand, our findings attest to the importance of a
multilevel perspective on the interaction between contextual au-
tonomy support and its differentiation in teams. On the other hand,
we verify the significant independent contributions of the team
leader’s and peers’ autonomy support to improving team member
psychological empowerment and, ultimately, their retention. Ac-
cordingly, future self-determination research might need to con-
sider multilevel contextual influences as well as to explore differ-
ent sources of autonomy support.
Practical Implications
Our findings have valuable implications for managers. Perhaps,
the most obvious implication is that an autonomy-supportive work
environment is an effective way to foster employees’ experience of
psychological empowerment and increase their retention. Accord-
ingly, human resources practices should take employees’ perspec-
tives, offer relevant information and opportunities for their
choices, and avoid pressure and demands on their work (Deci &
Ryan, 2008). In addition, organizations may adopt recruiting and
selection practices to attract candidates who orient toward contex-
tual supports for self-initiation.
Our results also underscore the importance of employees’ rela-
tionships with team leaders and coworkers to employees’ experi-
Table 3
Hierarchical Generalized Linear Modeling Results: The Mediation Effects of Psychological
Empowerment
Variable
Turnover
Model 1
Model 2
H4a
1. Level 1 independent variables
Team leader’s autonomy support .22
.12
Peers’ autonomy support .14
.09
Team member’s autonomy orientation .21
.12
Team member’s psychological empowerment .25
ⴱⴱ
2. Level 2 independent variables
Team leader’s autonomy support mean .01 .01
Team leader’s autonomy support differentiation .02 .01
Peers’ autonomy support mean .19
.12
Peers’ autonomy support differentiation .05 .04
Team Leader’s Autonomy Support Mean Team Leader’s
Autonomy Support Differentiation .02 .01
Peers’ Autonomy Support Mean Peers’ Autonomy Support
Differentiation .04 .02
3. Cross-level interaction variables
Team Leader’s Autonomy Support Team Leader’s Autonomy
Support Differentiation .08
.03
Peers’ Autonomy Support Peers’ Autonomy Support
Differentiation .21
.11
Team Member’s Psychological Empowerment Team Leader’s
Autonomy Support Differentiation .07
Team Member’s Psychological Empowerment Peers’
Autonomy Support Differentiation .10
Level 2 variance .42 .36
Pseudo R
2
.30 .10
Note. N 817 at the individual level, N115 at the team level.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01 (two-tailed).
1312 LIU, ZHANG, WANG, AND LEE
ence of autonomy. Thus, special managerial attention should be
devoted to both formal and informal opportunities to strengthen
the autonomy-supportive aspects of these relationships. For in-
stance, managers may initiate training programs and social activ-
ities, where team leaders and members can learn and practice to be
autonomy supportive. An autonomy-supportive organizational
member should allow others to feel that they have some say in how
and when they complete their job tasks, that they can somewhat
decide on the way they are rewarded according to their work
performance, and that they are not constantly monitored and dis-
ciplined by controlling supervisors and coworkers (Gagne´ & Deci,
2005). Employees are also advised to develop informal ties in
teams and not rely only on their team leaders as a source of
autonomy support, in that this research demonstrates that team
leader’s and peers’ autonomy support have independent effects on
a team member’s psychological empowerment and turnover.
Limitations and Future Directions
As a measure of individual differences in autonomous self-
regulation, autonomy orientation may relate to other constructs,
such as locus of control, self-efficacy, and proactive personality.
However, unlike autonomy orientation that focuses on autonomous
disposition before performing an activity (Deci & Ryan, 1985a,
1985b), locus of control refers to an attributional process after an
activity occurs (Rotter, 1966, 1975), and both self-efficacy and
proactive personality tap into the human need for competency
rather than for autonomy (Bandura, 1997; Parker, Williams, &
Turner, 2006; Ryan & Deci, 2000). However, future research is
needed to empirically distinguish autonomy orientation and other
related constructs.
In addition, whereas our study collected data from production
teams manufacturing the same type of automotive bearings, we did
not directly measure autonomy support that employees may obtain
from their task environment. As such, to more completely reveal
the role of work environment in one’s turnover process, future
studies should develop a measure of autonomy support from one’s
task environment and probe the ways in which it may affect
employees’ psychological empowerment and turnover. Addition-
ally, people’s differences in autonomy orientation may lead them
to choose different careers. Thus, employees from other occupa-
tional groups are likely to experience psychological empowerment
in different ways from our sample of production workers. Thus, a
meaningful extension of this research is to test the robustness of
our results using samples from other occupations.
Table 4
Results of the Moderated Path Analysis for Hypotheses 4b and 4c
Moderator variable
Team leader’s autonomy support (X1) 3psychological empowerment (M) 3
turnover (Y)
Stage Effect
First P
MX1
Second P
YM
Direct P
YX1
Indirect P
MX1
*P
YM
Team leader’s autonomy support differentiation (TLASD)
a
Low TLASD differentiation (1SD) 0.23
ⴱⴱ
0.25
ⴱⴱ
0.02 0.06
High TLASD differentiation (1SD) 0.39
ⴱⴱ
0.30
ⴱⴱ
0.04 0.12
Differences between low and high 0.16
0.05 0.02 0.06
Peers’ autonomy support (X2) 3psychological empowerment (M) 3turnover (Y)
Stage Effect
First P
MX2
Second P
YM
Direct P
YX2
Indirect P
MX2
*P
YM
Peers’ autonomy support differentiation (PASD)
a
Low PASD differentiation (1SD) 0.21
ⴱⴱ
0.26
ⴱⴱ
0.03 0.05
High PASD differentiation (1SD) 0.35
ⴱⴱ
0.28
ⴱⴱ
0.04 0.10
Differences between low and high 0.14
0.02 0.01 0.05
Note. N 817 at the individual level, N115 at the team level. P
MX1
path from team leader’s autonomy support to psychological empowerment;
P
YM
path from psychological empowerment to turnover; P
YX1
path from team leader’s autonomy support to turnover; P
MX2
path from peers’
autonomy support to psychological empowerment; P
YX2
path from peers’ autonomy support to turnover.
a
Low moderator variable refers to 1 SD below the mean of the moderator; high moderator variable refers to 1 SD above the mean of the moderator.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01 (two-tailed).
Figure 3. The indirect interactive effect of a team leader’s autonomy
support and autonomy support differentiation (TLASD) on a team mem-
ber’s turnover probability via psychological empowerment.
1313
TURNOVER IN TEAMS
Conclusion
When adopting work teams as primary organizational units,
managers need to cope with the dual challenge of selecting team
members who are less likely to quit their jobs and fostering a team
environment that helps employee retention. Our results yield a
viable solution to managers, suggesting that individual autonomy
orientation and the interaction between contextual autonomy sup-
port and its differentiation catalyze team members’ psychological
empowerment and ultimately, reduce the likelihood of turnover.
We hope that this study can further both researchers’ and practi-
tioners’ understanding of turnover in the team context.
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Received August 30, 2009
Revision received November 29, 2010
Accepted December 10, 2010
Clarification to Crossley et al. (2007)
In the original article “Development of a Global Measure of Job Embeddedness and Integration Into
a Traditional Model of Voluntary Turnover,” by Craig D. Crossley, Rebecca J. Bennett, Steve M.
Jex, and Jennifer L. Burnfield (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 4, pp. 1031–
1042), we published a seven-item measure of Global Job Embeddedness rated on a 5-point
agreement scale (1strongly disagree,5strongly agree).
Critical to job embeddedness theory and measures, this construct is designed to capture both
organization and community factors that work together to embed or enmesh people in their current
job and organization. Although we used instructions that ensured participants would consider both
work and nonwork factors, these instructions were unintentionally omitted from the original
published article. These instructions are included below, along with orginal items. Researchers are
encouraged to use these instructions when using this scale.
Instructions:
After considering both work related (such as relationships, fit with job, benefits) and nonwork
related factors (such as neighbors, hobbies, community perks), please rate your agreement with the
statements below.
1. I feel attached to this organization.
2. It would be difficult for me to leave this organization.
3. I’m too caught up in this organization to leave.
4. I feel tied to this organization.
5. I simply could not leave the organization that I work for.
6. It would be easy for me to leave this organization. (reverse scored)
7. I am tightly connected to this organization.
DOI: 10.1037/a0025569
1316 LIU, ZHANG, WANG, AND LEE
... In addition, several empirical studies demonstrated that autonomy support has an even stronger positive effect on well-being when employees are less autonomy-oriented (e.g. Black and Deci, 2000;Liu et al., 2011b). Nevertheless, to our best knowledge, there is no prior empirical evidence regarding the moderating effect of autonomy orientation in the context of Malaysia. ...
... Research has shown a consistent pattern of evidence on the positive effect of autonomy support on employee well-being and performance (e.g. Gagn e, 2014a; Jamal et al., 2021;Liu et al., 2011b;Vansteenkiste et al., 2004). For example, Gagne (2003) found autonomy support is positively related to prosocial behaviour engagement among volunteer workers in Canada. ...
... For example, Gagne (2003) found autonomy support is positively related to prosocial behaviour engagement among volunteer workers in Canada. Liu et al. (2011b), using a longitudinal dataset, demonstrated that leaders' autonomy support enhances team members' psychological empowerment, which in turn reduces voluntary turnover of manufacturing workers in China. ...
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... Research has shown a consistent pattern of evidence on the positive effect of autonomy support on employee well-being and performance (e.g. Gagn e, 2014a; Jamal et al., 2021;Liu et al., 2011b;Vansteenkiste et al., 2004). For example, Gagne (2003) found autonomy support is positively related to prosocial behaviour engagement among volunteer workers in Canada. ...
... For example, Gagne (2003) found autonomy support is positively related to prosocial behaviour engagement among volunteer workers in Canada. Liu et al. (2011b), using a longitudinal dataset, demonstrated that leaders' autonomy support enhances team members' psychological empowerment, which in turn reduces voluntary turnover of manufacturing workers in China. ...
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... When employees experience greater empowerment, they report increased job satisfaction (Seibert et al., 2004;Wang & Lee, 2009) and organizational commitment (Avolio et al., 2004;Liden et al., 2000;Spreitzer & Mishra, 2002). Empowerment even predicts behavioral outcomes in organizations such as performance (D'Innocenzo et al., 2016;Sessions et al., 2021), turnover (Liu et al., 2011), organizational citizenship behaviors (Seibert et al., 2011;Wat & Shaffer, 2005), and creativity (Sun et al., 2012;Zhang & Bartol, 2010). ...
... An employee in this situation may feel dissatisfied with their job (Seibert et al., 2004;Wang & Lee, 2009) and less committed to the organization (Avolio et al., 2004;Liden et al., 2000;Spreitzer & Mishra, 2002). They may perform more poorly (D'Innocenzo et al., 2016;Sessions et al., 2021), be less creative (Sun et al., 2012;Zhang & Bartol, 2010), be less willing to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors (Seibert et al., 2011;Wat & Shaffer, 2005), and may even choose to leave the organization (Liu et al., 2011) as a consequence. In fact, an employee may feel they have such little control over their work that they become motivated to restore control (i.e., psychological reactance; Brehm, 1966) by engaging in resistance practices (Anteby & Chan, 2018;Lawrence & Robinson, 2007;Yost et al., 2019). ...
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... Indeed, some research has highlighted that certain professionals would willingly take a pay cut in order to have more flexibility in their work hours (Idris, 2014). As well, employees who feel they lack autonomy in their work consider voluntarily leaving an organization at higher rates than those who have a greater degree of independence in their job environments and professional responsibilities (Liu, Zhang, Wang, & Lee, 2011). ...
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