Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

A Critical Reflection on the Psychology of Retention

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

A Critical Reflection on the Psychology of Retention

Article excerpt


For more than a century both researchers and employers have been interested in understanding the reasons as to why employees leave their organisations (Eberle, 1919; Heffernan & Rochford, 2017). Fisher (1916), one of the first researchers to investigate ‘undesirable labour turnover’, argued that losing ‘hard working labourers’ results in significant financial losses for a company and that ‘the satisfaction of the employee […] brings best results’. Although employee needs have become more sophisticated, the nature of work is different, organisations are more dynamic and the view of labour has changed since 1916, the fundamental principle is still the same: For an organisation to perform, it needs to retain top talent (Redelinghuys, Rothmann, & Botha, 2018).

In spite of scholarly endeavours in the last 110 years or so to understand why individuals leave, researchers are still perplexed as to the universal, psychological principles or conditions that lead to this phenomenon. This is evident in the upsurge of research on turnover intentions and talent retention interventions during the past decade (Hancock, Allen, Bosco, McDaniel, & Pierce, 2013). Although some fundamental principles underpinning retention is evident (e.g. people leave organisations, not managers), the dynamic changes in the nature of work, digitisation, Industry 4.0 and continued focus on the future world of work poses new challenges for organisations to retain top talent. Although increasing an employee’s hourly wage, allowing for opportunities to rotate jobs and providing lunch were effective ways to retain talent a century ago (Eberle, 1919), the same strategies would not be effective today. Similarly, merely investing in the professional development of employees, creating a positive working climate and creating a clear career path – which are contemporary retention strategies – are not enough to retain talented millennials today (Cassell, 2017). As such, new talent retention approaches are needed to ensure that organisations are equipped to manage the challenges of tomorrow.

In the edited volume, Psychology of Retention: Theory, Research and Practice, by Coetzee, Potgieter and Ferreira (2018), the authors attempt to collectively construct a multidimensional, psychological model aimed at understanding, predicting and managing employee retention within the current volatile work-environment ( Figure 1.). Through the course of 20 chapters, the authors systematically unpack the individual, group, organisational and contextual factors influencing and attributing to the retention of talent within the modalities of contemporary organisational contexts.


Coetzee et al.’s (2018) conceptual framework for the psychology of retention in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).


General overview and critical reflection

The book positions the psychology of retention as a function of six inter-related factors: (1) an appropriate evaluative paradigm through which retention is explored, (2) retention as a function of environmental/contextual factors, (3) organisational processes, practices and dynamics that influence turnover intentions, (4) individual characteristics that buffer or affect retention, (5) the dynamic relationship between the individual and the organisation and (6) the conscious efforts organisations employ to practically affect retention of top talent. These inter-related retention factors are systematically addressed throughout the six sections of the book.

In Part 1 of the manuscript, Roodt argues that the classical job-demands, job-resources (JDR) model is an effective means through which to diagnose, interpret and manage the psychological attributes that account for turnover intentions. In Chapter 1, Roodt populates the JDR model with contemporary factors known to affect the retention of staff and argues that retention is a function of the dynamic relationship between the person and his/her environment. …

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