Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Determinants of Turnover Intention of Social Workers: Effects of Emotional Labor and Organizational Trust

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Determinants of Turnover Intention of Social Workers: Effects of Emotional Labor and Organizational Trust

Article excerpt


Employee turnover has been a critical issue of human resource management (Cotton & Tuttle, 1986; Griffeth, Horn, & Gaertner, 2000; Porter & Steers, 1973). Although recruiting competent employees is critical to building an effective workforce, of equal or even greater importance is retaining those employees. Employee turnover is not only the loss of human capital of an organization but also the loss of institutional knowledge of the organization. That is, when an employee leaves an organization, the intangible knowledge that he or she learned from the organization is also lost. To attain comparable personnel, the organization should invest substantial resources such as recruiting efforts and training costs (Balfour & Neff, 1993). The retirement wave of the baby boom generation is inevitable to some extent because it is generated from the demographic change. However, from a management perspective, the voluntary turnover of younger generations needs to be managed.

Although the retention of competent workers is critical in all organizations, retaining social workers in nonprofit organizations is especially important because they mainly determine the quality of the social services (H. Kim & Stoner, 2008; Mor Barak, Nissly, & Levin, 2001; Watson & Abzug, 2010). This research focuses on the turnover intention of social workers in South Korea, where the inferior working environment has been an issue. According to Son, Park, Son, and Kim's (2015) study, the percentage of Korean social workers having turnover intention is 63.5%, which is much higher than that of the United States (43.2%) and New Zealand and Australia (28.9%). The 2015 Statistical Yearbook of Social Workers in Korea reports that 60% of social workers already experienced turnover more than once, and one third of them plan to leave the current organization (Choi, Son, & Shin, 2015). The main reasons for the high turnover of social workers include low salary level, heavy workload, emotional labor, low-quality relationship with supervisor, and lack of communication (Choi et al., 2015). Especially for emotional labor, during frequent contacts with service recipients, social workers in Korea often experience violence from them. According to the survey by the National Human Rights Commission in Korea, among social workers who responded to the survey, 28.9% heard violent language from service clients and 14.3% experienced physical assault (National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea, 2013). Because of the inferior work environments, several social workers committed suicide in 2013, which received national attention. However, the situation has not much improved and few relevant studies exist.

This research seeks to fill the gap by demonstrating what factors influence turnover intention of social workers as well as providing managerial prescriptions to retain them. Thus, the main research questions include the following:

Research Question 1 : What factors affect turnover intention of social workers?

Research Question 2: Which factors are worthwhile to obtain the attention of social welfare organizations to retain their employees?

Although there are many factors to consider, including raising salaries and improving the overall working environment, most nonprofit organizations in Korea suffer from financial hardship, which prevents resolving some issues in a short period of time. Accordingly, this research pays attention to the two factors that can be leveraged by managerial efforts without much financial investment: emotional labor and trust in organizations. Defined as the management of one's own emotions to achieve organizational goals (Roh, Moon, Yang, & Jung, 2016), emotional labor characterizes the tasks of social workers in that most of them are regularly in contact with service clients. Trust is understood as the willingness to be vulnerable to a certain entity even without the means of monitoring or control (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995), and considerable research demonstrates its importance as a valuable managerial resource (e. …

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