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Why Unhappy Workers Don't Always Quit

Why Unhappy Workers Don't Always Quit
Credit: Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

Regardless of how unhappy they are in their jobs, some workers are in it for the long haul.

While some employees are quick to find new work when they don't like their jobs, others stick it out because of factors not directly tied to the job they do each day, according to research from Rutgers University–Camden in New Jersey.

Oscar Holmes IV, an assistant professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, said factors such as location, home ownership, a spouse's employment status, the employee's relationship status, job benefits, community involvement and friendly relationships with co-workers can all affect whether an employee stays in a job he or she isn't happy with.

"They can be powerful factors that can determine the level of commitment a person has to an organization and how long they might stay with an organization," Holmes said in a statement.

These outside factors, which contribute to what Holmes calls an employee's "job embeddedness," are playing a larger role then previously when deciding to stick around or look for another job. [Unhappy Workers Name Their Biggest Complaints ]

Employers looking to reduce turnover should use these outside factors to their advantage when creating compensation plans, Holmes said.

"For example, some companies may offer free or reduced memberships to country clubs, chambers of commerce, gyms and theaters, as well as have delayed vesting schedules on compensations and retirement packages," he said. "Likewise, some companies offer assistance with the purchase of homes, because people who purchase homes are more likely to stay longer in a particular location than people who just rent."

While some employers might think holding on to an unhappy employee doesn't make a lot of sense, there are some upsides, Holmes said. This includes lower turnover costs, greater retention of hard-to-replace skilled employees and the ability to preserve some institutional knowledge for a longer time. 

"Although there is a correlation between an employee's happiness and their work performance, it is still quite possible that employees can be unhappy and still perform superbly at work," Holmes said. "So, just because an employee is unhappy at work, [that] doesn't necessarily mean that he or she will perform any worse than a happy employee."

Job embeddedness can also be used to help predict employee turnover, Holmes said. Regardless of how happy or unhappy a worker is, turnover is more likely to happen faster among employees who don't have strong embedded ties, he said.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.