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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

March 1, 2004

Study shows why employees stay

It's an eternal business question - how do you spot the best potential worker among a pool of candidates and how do you keep them from leaving once they're hired?

To organizational behavior and environment professor Chris Sablynski, the key is "job embeddedness," a concept that focuses on why people choose to stay with a job rather than why they choose to leave a job.

"Most traditional research is concerned with why people leave jobs but we flipped it around and asked, 'Why do people stay?'" says Sablynski, whose work has appeared in the Academy of Management Journal and other publications. The distinction may seem subtle but the difference is profound.

"We find that it's actually a web of forces that determines how well suited someone is to a job, how productive they are and how likely they are to stay," Sablynski says. Based on initial findings, job embeddedness also seems to be a much more powerful predictor of turnover, absenteeism, job performance and workplace citizenship than traditional concepts.

"Job embeddedness is a powerful indicator because it accounts for far more than simply salary or whether or not a person likes their boss," he says. "It is a stronger predictor of turnover than traditional ideas about employee retention because it taps into more components of a person's life and includes non-work factors."

Sablynski breaks embeddedness down into three basic categories - "fit," "links" and "sacrifice." Each of these categories involves both on-the-job and off-the-job factors.

A person who fits well with their work, their workplace and the community where they live is much more likely to be a productive employee. They are also much less likely to leave their job, regardless of the incentives or opportunity to go elsewhere. "In other words, if someone is thinking about taking a job in Seattle but hates the rain, doesn't really like the values of the organization and does not fit the community outside of work, no matter how well qualified they think they are, they should think twice about taking the job - it's not a good fit," he says.

The second category of job embeddedness, links, includes factors that make a person feel connected to a job, a company and a community. The key to forming links is personal relationships, Sablynski says.

On-the-job links come through personal relationships between coworkers, friendships that create emotional ties to a job that transcend the actual work. Sablynski says people who are members of several work teams and have co-workers depending on them are also much less likely to leave that job.

Off-the-job links come through the personal relationships someone establishes in their community. A person with several strong friendships is emotionally invested in a community and much less likely to want to leave that community to take another job.

The third category of job embeddedness, sacrifice, involves those things a person must give up in order to take a new job. People who feel they have such things as a good benefits plan, opportunities for promotion and the respect of management, face the prospect of tremendous sacrifice in leaving a job.

Employers can encourage embeddedness in a variety of ways, Sablynski says, and it starts with the hiring process. "Hire a qualified applicant who you think fits well not only with the work they will be doing but also with the people they will be working with, the work environment, the business philosophy and the community they'll be living in," he says.

Links can be fostered through company mentoring programs, teams and committees, especially ones that bring together employees with similar off-the-job interests. Businesses can also foster community links by forming company-sponsored sports teams, supporting and sponsoring community events and getting involved in other community programs.

Offering perks is another strategy companies can use to help promote embeddedness. Sablynski lists on-site day care as one example of an especially attractive perk provided by some companies. Even small perks, such as flex time, can go a long way in making an employee reluctant to leave a job. "Allow employees to be human," Sablynski says. "Recognize that people are individuals with unique situations and concerns, and design perks that treat them accordingly."

However, he cautions, such policies should not to be implemented half-heartedly. "If upper management doesn't buy into this approach it will fail."

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu