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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Examining the Job Search - Turnover Relationship: The Role of Embeddedness, Job Satisfaction & Available Alternatives

Summary & Commentary by Ian Mondrow, M.A.

A Job search is defined as "the actions of an individual to generate job opportunities in other organization" (Swider, Boswell & Zimmerman, 2011).  The relationship between job searching and turnover is based on the notion that a job search reveals alternative employment opportunities. This search identifies favorable alternatives, thus resulting in turn over. Previous research by Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner (2000) demonstrated a positive relationship between job search behaviors and turnover, which accounted for 7% of the variance. Swider, Boswell, & Zimmerman (2011) sought out to examine the search efforts of currently employed individuals. Their study focuses only on voluntary turnover and examines embeddedness, job satisfaction and employment alternatives.

Job embeddedness includes stable forces that refrain employees from seeking alternatives and are broken into three subdimensions: Links (i.e. formal or informal connections), fit (i.e. alignment with organizational culture), and sacrifice (i.e. the cost of tangible or intangible benefits that would be forfeited by resignation). Job embeddedness is defined as the ease at which an employee can be without these subdimensions. In other words, the more difficult it is to be without these ties, the less likely an employee will separate from the organization.

Job satisfaction is the affective and/or attitudinal reaction to the job and its responsibilities. Previous research promotes two models regarding job satisfaction: (1) dissatisfied workers will have a increased desire to seek opportunities with increased likelihood of accepting an alternative and (2) job seekers with low satisfaction are more likely to seek other opportunities with the intent to leave.

Job alternatives is defined as the available opportunities to employees that they are both qualified for and willing to accept. Alternative opportunities may entice employees away from organization and may be a contributing factor in their turnover decision. These opportunities are heavily based on the job market and can fluctuate with the economy.

Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner collected a study sample of staff employees are a large university located in the southwest of the United States. 3,600 individuals were invited to participate in a survey via e-mail. The survey measured job embeddedness using the 31 items from Lee et. al.'s (2004) six job embeddedness dimensions. It measured job satisfaction using 24 items from Spector's (1985) job satisfaction survey. Available alternatives were collected utilizing a weighted average of the nation and local employment level from BLS.gov. Voluntary turnover was collected from the organization's record over an 18 month period.

The study ended up with a total of 895 completed responses. 68% of the participants were female. The race/ethnicity distribution of participants can be seen in Figure 1. Since the dependent variable was dichotomous, a hierarchal moderated logistic regression was conducted. Results showed that all three two-way interactions produced a significant model improvement, X(3) = 13.54, p < .01. Search-job satisfaction and search-available alternatives were also statistically significant at p < .05.

Based on the results, it was determined to examine each two-way interaction independently:

Job search - turnover & job embeddedness: The test was conducted by entering the control variables at step 1, main effects and job embeddedness at step 2 and the interaction in step 3. Step 2 produced a significant chi-squared model improvement, x(2) = 76.62, p < .01, with a significant main effect for job search (p < .01). Adding the search embeddedness interaction produced a marginally significant model improvement, x(1) = 2.94,  p  = .08.  Based on these results, the relationship between job search and turnover was stronger with those who experienced low job embeddedness.

Job search - turnover & job satisfaction: Control variables were entered in step 1, the main effects of job search and job satisfaction in step 2. This produced a significant chi-square model improvement, X(2) = 77.09, p < .01. The interaction was added at step 3 and produced a significant model improvement, X(1) = 9.56, p < .01. These results suggest that turnover was significantly higher for individuals who conducted high levels of job search activity and had low job satisfaction when compared to individuals with similar job search activity and high job satisfaction.

Job search - turnover and available alternatives: Control variables were entered into step 1, main effects for job search and available alternatives were entered into step 2, and the interaction in step 3. Step 2 produced a significant chi-square model improvement, X(2) = 76.60, p < .01. After adding the interaction, a significant chi-square model improvement was present, X(1) = 4.19, p < .05. The results reveal that when more jobs available, turnover is increased.

Overall, the results revealed that job search activity was increased when employees were less embedded, had lower job satisfaction and more employment opportunities were present. Based on the findings of the research, one can conclude that retention strategies that are not targeted are ineffective. Instead, it is beneficial for organizations to regular assess and oversee employee work attitudes. Organizations need to examine market trends to determine where the greatest risk and implement organization initiatives to reduce the likelihood of turnover.

A variety of limitations exist in this study. First and foremost, the study was conducted on one organization and therefore can't be applied to the population. Furthermore, the sample was from a public organization and therefore results may differ in the private sector. The surveys were also self-reported which increase the risk of bias.


The authors of this article suggest that if an employee is exhibiting high levels of search activity, it may be beneficial for a manager or HR profession to approach them & discuss their concerns. This can be a valuable approach if it is implemented properly. When approaching employees, one should always be supportive and emphasize how valuable they are the organization. Ask for their feedback and listen to them more instead of talking. It is also important to understand that turnover happens and you can't stop every employee from leaving. The best approach is collect information to prevent other employees from leaving and do what you can to improve the work situation for the employee who is considering resignation. 

The best approach for any organization is a proactive retention strategy. If employees have already started to actively explore new opportunities, it can be considered too late. One of the most affective strategies is to regularly survey employees on the organizational culture, job satisfaction, and how they perceive their position/organization compared to other companies. The data from these surveys can help HR professionals assess the organizational strengths and the areas that need improvement. However, just surveying employees is not sufficient. HR professionals need to share the results of the survey to employees and take action on the results. Failure to do result will produce counterproductive results of the survey and a decreased amount of participation in the next survey.

Exit interviews are also a valuable source of information when a company is experiencing turnover. Unlike other surveys, these results should not be communicated to the organization but when action is taken, employees should be able to notice the difference. 

When the job market is competitive, it is especially important for organizations to show value to their employees. However, failure to recognize employees in a job market with low alternatives can still result in turnover. Talented employees are generally unaffected by the economy and are likely to be the first ones to leave. Futhermore, when the economy improves, employees will be more likely to jump ship based on how they were treated in the past. Therefore, it is important for organizations to continually evaluate the perspectives of their employees and strive to provide the best workplace for all employees.

Source: Swider, B.W., Boswell, W.R., Zimmerman, R.D. (2011). Examining the job search-turnover relationship: the role of embeddedness, job satisfaction and available alternatives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96 (2), 432-441.

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