Academic journal article International Journal of Employment Studies

Unfolding the Way Valued Knowledge Workers Decide to Quit

Academic journal article International Journal of Employment Studies

Unfolding the Way Valued Knowledge Workers Decide to Quit

Article excerpt

A shock, or jarring event, which challenges habitual ways of

thinking about one's work situation, inducing new thoughts

about the prospect of quitting, is the crucial component of the

unfolding model of turnover (Lee & Mitchell, 1994). However,

there is a dearth of information about the nature of such shocks,

even though Lee, Mitchell and their colleagues regard it as

critical to investigate the types of shock that people report

(Holtom, Mitchell, Lee & Interrieden, 2005).

This paper reports a qualitative investigation of the experience of

shock. Drawing on principles from the psychology of memory we

interviewed 62 Australian knowledge workers who had

voluntarily quit their jobs in a global high technology engineering

company during the past two years. Company human resource

records classified their departure as regrettable with a criterion

that they would be re-hired at any time should they wish.

Interviewers attempted to gain an understanding of conditions

leading up to their decision to quit including the moderating

variables of job embeddedness and organisational identification,

which should influence quitting decisions. The majority, of both

antecedent factors and shocks, were related to management

behaviour and I speculate about the role of leader-member

exchange as an antecedent condition. Embeddedness and

identification were both found but in, and with, industry,

customers and co-workers, rather than the company.


A recent survey of senior HR personnel indicated that 75 per cent of respondents felt that 'attracting and retaining' valued staff was their number one priority (Wooldridge, 2006). Direct costs of turnover include recruitment, selection, induction and training of replacement staff, loss of valuable skills and experience and disruption of work and customer relations. But there are indirect costs, some hidden, that can include loss of tacit knowledge or of intellectual property to competitors (Abassi & Hollman, 2000; Hacker, 2003). The cost of turnover among professional and managerial staff is particularly high (Cascio, 1991).

Early research aggregated turnover (Johnson, Griffeth & Griffin, 2000; Kacmar, Andrews, Van Rooy, Steilberg & Cerrone, 2006) and rarely considered the different contributions of individuals (Gaertner & Robinson, 1999; Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner, 2000). Models attempted to identify an optimal point between too much turnover with consequent excessive replacement costs, reduced efficiency and loss of knowledge, and too little turnover, which promotes inflexible, stultified and change averse organisations (Dalton & Todor, 1979; Staw, 1980). Alternatively they argued for an optimal point in an inverse relationship between expenditure on retaining employees, and turnover (Abelson & Baysinger, 1984; Glebbeek & Bax, 2004).

More recent approaches recognise the difference between functional and dysfunctional departures, but the number of studies is small (Campion, 1991; Dalton, Krackhardt & Porter, 1981; Hollenbeck & Williams, 1986; Johnston & Futrell, 1989; Johnson, et al., 2000; Williams, 2000) and the criteria of functionality are limited to easily accessible measures such as supervisors ratings (Dalton, et al., 1981) or sales volume (Hollenbeck & Williams, 1986). However, it makes sense to focus attention where turnover has the greatest influence and where management can do something about it.

Classical theory held that "The primary factor influencing employee motivation to leave is employee satisfaction with the job as defined by him" (March & Simon, 1958, p. 94.) Support for subjective utility models of quitting is not strong. Research by Griffeth and colleagues (Griffeth et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.