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Discussion: Organization AttractivenessBefore any potential employees consider applying for a position in an organization, there are attributes that make them interested in the organization in the first place. Whether potential employees find out about these attributes through a job posting or word of mouth, organizations are ultimately responsible for making themselves attractive to potential employees. These attributes may include but are not limited to pay, rapport with coworkers, benefits, job growth, and enjoyment of job responsibilities.For this Discussion, you will post a cohesive and scholarly response based on your readings and research this week that addresses the following:What attributes make an organization attractive to you?Do you think the attributes you identified are applicable to recruiting talent within the general workforce?In addition, what are the main attributes that contribute to talented people choosing one organization over another?Justify your answers with references to the literature this week and any outside resources you find. APA Format.By Day 3Post a response that answers the above questions. Readings:Felps, W., Mitchell, T. R., Hekman, D. R., Lee, T. W., Holtom, B. C., & Harman, W. S. (2009). Turnover contagion: How coworkers’ job embeddedness and job search behaviors influence quitting. Academy of Management Journal, 52(3), 545-561. Retrieved from the Walden library databases.Research has shown that organizations with lower turnover tend to outperform their competitors. The authors in this article look at the social dimension of turnover and how coworkers influence other employees to leave an organization. When this information is available to organizations, it can aid them in better retaining employees.Greenberg, H., & Sweeney, P. (2010). Invest in your best. T+D, 64(7), 56-59. Retrieved from the Walden library databases.This article discusses the need to ensure that top talent is valued in the organization. The authors discuss that this will help retain top talent, so they can be part of the organization’s vision and future.


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娀 Academy of Management Journal
2009, Vol. 52, No. 3, 545–561.
Erasmus University
University of Washington, Seattle
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
University of Washington, Seattle
Georgetown University
Central Washington University
This research developed and tested a model of turnover contagion in which the job
embeddedness and job search behaviors of coworkers influence employees’ decisions
to quit. In a sample of 45 branches of a regional bank and 1,038 departments of a
national hospitality firm, multilevel analysis revealed that coworkers’ job embeddedness and job search behaviors explain variance in individual “voluntary turnover”
over and above that explained by other individual and group-level predictors. Broadly
speaking, these results suggest that coworkers’ job embeddedness and job search
behaviors play critical roles in explaining why people quit their jobs. Implications are
On the macro side, economic research often looks
at particular industries or localities to explain how
market forces such as unemployment rates or job
supply and demand affect the frequency with
which people leave their jobs (e.g., Banerjee & Gaston, 2004). Sociological research has also looked at
how turnover affects and is affected by institutional
changes within and across industries (e.g., Haveman, 1995), as well as organizational variables such
as size (Price, 1977).
The unique contribution of management scholarship is not only to investigate the individual or
institutional level, but also what emanates from the
careful exploration of “the space in between”
(Bradbury & Lichtenstein, 2000). For this reason,
organizational researchers are often encouraged to
do “meso-level” research, in which individuals are
studied in their social contexts (e.g., House, Rousseau, & Thomas-Hunt, 1995; Johns, 2006). However, there is surprisingly little work on how social
relationships affect turnover. To quote Pfeffer,
“Turnover has most often been examined as the
As the global economy becomes increasingly
knowledge based, organizations that can successfully retain their human resources have an advantage over organizations that cannot. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that turnover negatively
effects performance (e.g., Shaw, Gupta, & Delery,
2005). Hatch and Dyer summarized such findings
with the observation that “firms with high turnover
significantly under-perform their rivals” (2004:
1155). As such, organizational leaders are interested in understanding why people choose to leave
their jobs and insights that might help with employee retention (Ulrich & Smallwood, 2006). Accordingly, researchers have spent considerable effort developing and testing models to explain why
people quit.
To explain the phenomenon of employee turnover, the social sciences have offered both psychological (i.e., micro) and organizational and economic (i.e., macro) explanations. On the micro
side, job satisfaction and organizational commitment have captured most of the research interest.
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Academy of Management Journal
consequence of an individual decision process,
with the individual acting in isolation. . . . Virtually all of the dominant models of turnover conceptualize it as an individual decision, without considering the effect of social structure” (1991: 795).
Although Pfeffer’s comment overlooks the work of
economists and sociologists, he is broadly correct
in stating that the bulk of management research on
turnover focuses on individual attitudes as the sole
precursor to leaving. The influence of one’s immediate coworkers on turnover decisions (what Pfeffer
describes as social structure) has been largely
This article investigates the social dimensions of
quitting and offers a model of “turnover contagion”
in which the decision to stay at or leave a job is
influenced by coworkers. We provide evidence that
turnover decisions are a domain in which coworkers can influence an actor’s thoughts, judgments,
feelings, and behaviors (Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978).
Two field studies support the predictive validity of
our model, offering new insights into the interpersonal precursors of “voluntary turnover” (job leaving). We argue that this type of meso-level research
can widen researchers’ conceptual lenses, increase
our ability to predict turnover, and enhance the
utility of turnover research for practitioners.
Turnover Research Heritage
March and Simon’s (1958) seminal book, Organizations, marks the real beginning of the attempt
to develop an overall theory explaining why people
leave their jobs. According to March and Simon’s
theory, the two factors that determine whether an
employee will leave his or her job are the perceived
desirability of leaving the employing organization
(conceptualized as job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and the perceived ease of leaving the organization (conceptualized as the quality
of job alternatives). The research focusing on job
satisfaction and organizational commitment, in
particular, has been extensive. Mobley (1977) identified the sequential and intermediary variables
leading from job dissatisfaction to eventual quitting. In an exemplar of programmatic turnover research, Price and Mueller (1986) added to this
model by cataloging the antecedents of organizational commitment and job satisfaction, including
pay, social integration, instrumental communication, formal communication, centralization, routinization, role overload, promotional opportunity,
professionalism, general training, supervisor sup-
port, coworker support, and distributive justice
(Price, 1977; Price & Mueller, 1986). It is important
to note that in Price and Mueller’s model, as in
virtually all other traditional models, various factors influence turnover through their impact on
organizational commitment and job satisfaction,
which in turn influence intent to leave, which then
leads to voluntary turnover.
The result of subsequent scholarship based on
these ideas is both impressive and troublesome. It
is impressive in that turnover theory and research
have proceeded programmatically in such a way
that researchers can be confident about a pair of
assertions. First, less satisfied and less committed
employees think about leaving, look for alternative
jobs, are more likely to quit, and do each of these to
a greater degree when they believe that desirable
job alternatives exist. Second, many individualand macro-level variables are related to turnover
through satisfaction and commitment. However,
the turnover literature is also troublesome in that
even the most inclusive models leave the vast majority of variance unexplained (e.g., Griffeth, Hom,
& Gaertner, 2000; Maertz & Campion, 1998; Price &
Mueller, 1986). A number of authors have therefore
suggested that scholars need to expand their conceptual lenses to better understand employee turnover (e.g., Kammeyer-Mueller, Wanberg, Glomb, &
Ahlburg, 2005; Maertz & Campion, 1998; Mitchell
& Lee, 2001; Mossholder, Settoon, & Henagan,
2005). The framework we describe below, in which
we outline the turnover contagion process, is such
an expansionary attempt.
The Turnover Contagion Process
The central theoretical claim made here is that
when an employee’s coworker engages in behaviors
antecedent to leaving a job, these activities sometimes spill over onto others in such a way that the
affected others are more likely to leave. Put more
precisely, a coworker’s search for job alternatives or
actual quitting can spread, through a process of
social contagion, to affect another employee’s quitting behavior. Like the contagion of illness, the
process involves the transmission of something
from one individual to another. For us, the “something” is the tendency to leave a job. Others have
used the contagion metaphor to understand the
spread of burnout (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2000), emotions (Barsade, 2002), and long work hours (Brett &
Stroh, 2003).
We believe that the primary mechanism in turnover contagion is people’s pervasive tendency to
compare themselves to others. Research on social
comparison has documented that this tendency is
Felps, Mitchell, Hekman, Lee, Holtom, and Harman
among the most robust and ubiquitous of psychological phenomena (Kruglanski & Mayseless, 1990).
“The notion that people rely on others to help
define reality in ambiguous circumstances has long
been a core tenet in social psychology” (Degoey,
2000: 58). Salancik and Pfeffer (1978) extended
Festinger’s (1954) original work on social comparison to organizational behavior and job attitudes,
and Bandura (1977) applied these insights to learning theory. Social comparisons are especially likely
to be made in novel, risky, or ambiguous situations
(Festinger, 1954; Tesser, Campbell, & Mickler,
1983; Wooten & Reed, 1998). When comparisons
reveal differences with a relevant other’s thoughts,
feelings, or behaviors, an individual’s propensity to
change his or her understanding of a situation so
that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors become consistent with those of the relevant other increases
(Festinger, 1954). Chartrand and Bargh stated this:
“Throughout the history of psychology, many have
argued that the act of perceiving another person’s
behavior creates a tendency to behave similarly
oneself” (1999: 813).
The application to turnover theory is straightforward. Given that high levels of risk and uncertainty
often characterize job transition (Steel, 2002), we
expect employees to look to others in evaluating
whether to seek alternative employment. When a
number of coworkers are looking for other jobs, it
may increase the salience and perceived viability of
leaving for a focal employee, especially since immediate coworkers are likely targets for social comparison (Kulik & Ambrose, 1992). Conversely, if
few coworkers are looking for other jobs, it is likely
that a focal employee will be less inclined to initiate the turnover process. In either case, social comparison helps to answer the question, “Should I
consider leaving?” We posit that the chance that
the answer will be yes increases when many coworkers are looking for jobs. In this way, the transmission of a tendency to leave occurs as employees
watch and converse with their coworkers. The focal
person may observe such job search behaviors in a
dyadic interaction (e.g., “I am going on a job interview this week”) or in a group interaction (e.g.,
“You all should probably know that I have a job
interview this week”). Moreover, there are a variety
of leaving behaviors that can be observed; the employee might see a coworker update a résumé,
search classified ads, or schedule interviews. In
short, a range of behaviors may indicate that one or
multiple coworkers are in the process of leaving.
Some research has addressed the topic of withdrawal caused by group-level variables. Mathieu
and Kohler (1990), for example, found that the frequency of absenteeism among work group members
was related to individual employee absenteeism.
And Eder and Eisenberger (2008) demonstrated
that the average tardiness of work group members
is related to individual tardiness. They also
showed, in a second study, that withdrawal behaviors carried out at the group level, such as taking
undeserved work breaks or engaging in idle conversation, influence the probability that individuals
do the same. Thus, the idea that withdrawal behaviors of group members can influence an individual’s likelihood of engaging in those behaviors
clearly has some precedent. Importantly, we do not
presume here that either job satisfaction or organizational commitment plays a key role in the process. The turnover contagion model highlights the
role that simply observing others plays and suggests that a key determinant of whether quitting is
a viable option at any given point in time is
whether coworkers are leaving.
From Theory to Hypotheses
Above we have presented a theory of turnover
contagion whereby the tendency to quit spreads
throughout a work group. We now offer two specific hypotheses about factors that are central to the
turnover contagion process. First, we hypothesize
that turnover contagion is most likely to occur
when the coworkers around a focal employee are
not “embedded” in their jobs. We choose to focus
on job embeddedness, as opposed to job satisfaction or organizational commitment, because it is a
broader construct that captures a greater range of
factors that provoke leaving. In Mitchell, Holtom,
Lee, Sablynski, and Erez’s (2001) original formulation, the job embeddedness construct addressed
how well people fit in their jobs (e.g., personal
skills are well suited to the work assigned) and
community (e.g., they like the amenities a community provides); the interpersonal links they have on
and off the job (e.g., their number of ties to people
and groups); and what they would have to give up
or sacrifice in leaving their place of employment or
community (e.g., what opportunities they would
forego). In sum, job embeddedness includes several
individual-level factors that enmesh employees in
their jobs, and numerous studies have shown it to
be a good predictor of an employee’s tendency to
quit (Allen, 2006; Crossley, Bennett, Jex, & Burnfield, 2007; Holtom, Mitchell, & Lee, 2006; Holtom
& O’Neill, 2004; Lee, Mitchell, Sablynski, Burton, &
Holtom, 2004; Mitchell et al., 2001; Van Dijk &
Kirk-Brown, 2003; Zatzick & Iverson 2006). In
many of these studies, job embeddedness has gone
beyond job satisfaction and organizational commitment in predicting variance in individual turnover.
Academy of Management Journal
When coworkers’ job embeddedness is low, we
believe that the resultant social context will make
individuals more likely to entertain the possibility
of changing jobs. When coworkers are not tethered
to— embedded in—a job, they are likely to be open
to the possibility of leaving. It is this willingness to
leave that transfers from low-embeddedness coworkers to a focal employee in their work unit.
Thus, we expect the average job embeddedness of
coworkers to predict focal employee turnover. Further, since job embeddedness is a broad construct
that includes nonaffective elements such as the
number of links to important others and family ties,
we would expect this effect to be observed even
when a focal employee is satisfied with the work
itself or committed to his/her organization.
Let us briefly take some examples from the
Mitchell et al. (2001) job embeddedness measure to
provide a more grounded understanding of how
turnover contagion might operate. Imagine a workplace where most people strongly agree with the
following statements: “I feel like I am a good match
for my organization,” “I really love the place I live,”
“I would sacrifice a lot if I left this job,” “My family
roots are in this community,” and “I work closely
with my coworkers.” Interactions among employees who feel this way are likely to mutually reinforce each other’s perceptions that “I belong here, I
should be here, and I must remain here.” In such a
setting, people are unlikely to be looking at want
ads, talking about available jobs elsewhere, or saying things that indicate they want to leave. Contrast
this situation with a workplace populated by those
who are less embedded in their jobs and communities (e.g., people who feel they don’t fit in their
work group or community, or people who have
little to sacrifice in renegotiating their relationships
to their jobs). In this sort of environment, even if
they like their jobs, employees have little to lose by
voicing ideas about leaving or about alternative
avenues of employment (Bartunek, Huang, &
Walsh, 2008). Frequent discussions about leaving
are likely to prime other employees, possibly even
those who are fairly embedded, to consider quitting. Thus, we hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 1. Coworkers’ job embeddedness is
negatively related to voluntary turnover.
The next question naturally follows: How does a
willingness to quit engendered by low job embeddedness influence others? As noted previously, we
hypothesize that the transmission of this leaving
tendency occurs as employees watch and converse
with coworkers searching for alternative employment. In Study 1 (see below), we gathered data
through a series of focus groups designed to help us
better understand the turnover process. A qualitative analysis of the behaviors discussed by the focus group members provides some information
about how employees may be influenced by their
coworkers’ comments about leaving. In Study 2, we
sought to specifically measure coworkers’ searches
for alternative employment using the Job Search
Behavior Index (Kopelman, Rovenpor, & Millsap,
1992). These authors reported that this measure
(aggregated to the group level) did an excellent job
of predicting leaving and internal transfer and went
over and above eight affective, perceptional, attitudinal, and intention measures (e.g., organizational
commitment, intent to stay, and general job satisfaction) in such prediction. For our purposes, the
argument is simple. When an employee sees and
hears about coworkers looking for other jobs, leaving becomes a more salient option for her/him,
which leads to a greater propensity to quit. Figure 1
presents a summary of these ideas. It should be
noted that although both of the studies described
below measured coworkers’ job embeddedness,
only the second study assessed coworker job search
behavior using the Kopelman et al. (1992) measure.
Thus, Hypothesis 2 is only empirically tested in
Study 2.
Hypothesis 2. Coworkers’ job search behaviors
mediate the negative relationship between coworkers’ job embeddedness and focal employee turnover.
From Hypotheses to Analytics
Although undisputedly important, pursuing
meso-level research can be challenging (House et
al., 1995). When one defines meso-level research as
research that includes activities and processes that
take place between the micro and macro, this challenge comes into stark relief. “Micro” and “macro”
are defined relative to each other, and there are a
number of potentially relevant “levels” for both
predictors and criteria, including individuals, dyads, small groups, organizations, industries, and
societies. The number of possible combinations is
extensive; comments by Klein and Kozlowski
(2000) were helpful for our definitional analysis.
We are particularly interested in how the behaviors
that occur in dyads or existing groups (our independent variable) influence individual members to
quit (our dependent variable). Rousseau (1985) described such an influence process as a cross-level
phenomenon. In our case, the phenomenon of interest is turnover contagion. More specifically, each
person’s job embeddedness reflects an overall
“stuckness” in the job (the inverse of which is a
Felps, Mitchell, Hekman, Lee, Holtom, and Harman
The Turnover Contagion Model
Coworkers’ Job Embeddedness
(average job embeddedness
score of employees in
department or branch)
Coworkers’ Job Search
Behavior (qualitative and
Level 2 Variables
Level 1 Variables
Individual Job
willingness …
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