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Behind the Research: Why Strong Community Ties Lower Turnover

Mark Henricks

It only makes sense for an employer trying to boost job satisfaction and reduce turnover to focus on the workplace. After all, that's where the work takes place. But there may be actions employers can take outside the workplace that will also encourage their employees to stick around. 

That's according to recent research from Oscar Holmes IV, an assistant professor of management in the business school at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in Camden, and Ian Williamson, professor and associate dean at the University of Melbourne. Researchers looked at how employees' connections to their communities, including work communities, influenced their job-switching plans. Employees with stronger ties were more "embedded," to use the researchers' term. They also examined how culture guided the development of embedding.

Studying South African companies for an article co-authored for Africa Journal of Management, Holmes identified several factors that controlled embedding. They included the business location, whether employees owned homes or rented and their spouses' employment status. Other factors included how involved employees were in their communities and whether they were friendly with co-workers.

A key takeaway for business owners is that they can encourage embedding — and juice up job satisfaction while reducing costly turnover — by doing things such as offering free or discounted country club or gym memberships and assisting with home purchases. Business News Daily talked with Holmes about whether and how employers should encourage embedding.

Business News Daily: What should readers know about your background on this topic?

Oscar Holmes IV: My expertise is in the areas of organizational behavior and human resource management. My research interests include examining how leaders can maximize productivity and well-being by fostering more inclusive environments that mitigate interpersonal and organizational threats.

BND: Why did you decide to study how embedding employees in communities affects their attachment to their jobs?

Holmes: I've always wanted to work with my co-author on this paper, Dr. Ian Williamson, who is a professor and associate dean at the University of Melbourne, as he's always been a person I looked up to as a role model. Currently, he and I serve on the editorial review board of the Africa Journal of Management, which is a new journal that seeks to publish high-quality research, specifically focusing on the African context. He was asked to contribute original research to the journal and he had a great data set of professionals from different countries who attended a leadership development program. One of the countries was South Africa. He asked me if I wanted to collaborate on the project with him, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. 

BND: What did you expect to learn? What was your starting hypothesis?

Holmes: We thought that job embeddedness would be positively related to employees' organizational commitment and negatively related to their turnover intentions. We hypothesized that people who were higher in collectivism would have a stronger positive relationship with organizational commitment and stronger negative commitment with turnover intentions. Additionally, we hypothesized that people who were higher on power distance would have a stronger positive relationship with organizational commitment and stronger negative relationship with turnover intentions. 

BND: Which, if any, of your findings surprised you? What was unexpected about them?

Holmes: First, we found that the main effects of job embeddedness on job attitudes, including organizational commitment and turnover intentions, replicate in a sample of South African professionals, suggesting that job embeddedness theory is also relevant to employees in a non-Western context.

Second, we found that individual-level cultural values significantly moderated the relationship, suggesting that its effect operates dissimilarly across South African employees. Specifically, we found that the negative relationship between job embeddedness and turnover intentions was strongest among people with high collectivism and, contrary to our prediction, the positive relationship between job embeddedness and organizational commitment was strongest among people with low collectivism. 

Third, we found that power distance positively moderated the job embeddedness-organizational commitment relationship. However, we did not find any significant moderating effect of power distance on the job embeddedness-turnover intentions relationship.

BND: Can embedding make up for low wages and encourage employees to stay despite being underpaid?

Holmes: Although this is not what we specifically tested in our study, previous research informs us that people become embedded for many different reasons —some for reasons that have nothing to do with work. So for some people, yes, it can make up for low wages. 

BND: Can these findings on African businesses be translated to American companies?

Holmes: We studied South African employees, not businesses, but job embeddedness is a construct that was originated in 2001 by Terence Mitchell and his colleagues when they conducted research on hospital workers and grocery store employees in the United States. 

BND: What are the implications for business owners? Should they try to embed employees?

Holmes: Our findings suggest that it would be prudent of organizational leaders in South Africa to implement ways to embed employees into their organization and community. The increased embeddedness is likely to augment their employees' organizational commitment and decrease their likelihood to quit, which could save the organization a significant amount of money in turnover-related expenses. 

BND: What were some limitations of your study? What other questions about this remain?

Holmes: First, we recognize that although we found statistically significant effects for most of our hypotheses, our sample size is not large enough to make sweeping generalizations about job embeddedness effects and cultural values in South African employees. We encourage researchers to replicate our findings using larger samples and South African employees within different industries. 

In this study, we were also unable to collect data on the ethnic background of the participants. South Africa has a large diversity of ethnic groups, which have had very different social, economic, political and historical experiences. It would be of value for future research to examine the role that South African employees' ethnic group membership plays in both the formation of culture values and the relationship between individual-level values and job attitudes and outcomes. 

Another limitation is that we only report on job attitudes within this study. Although we report on a behavioral attitude — turnover intentions — we cannot speak to the effect that job embeddedness and cultural values have on actual turnover behavior, as there is some variance between people's attitudinal intentions and actual behaviors. We encourage researchers to investigate these relationships using actual turnover data for a more conclusive understanding of job embeddedness and cultural values on South African employees' behavior. 

Finally, we encourage researchers to examine these relationships in other African countries. Although Ubuntu is a principle shared across the African continent, there is still much variation in the cultures, politics and histories of African countries that necessitate caution when extrapolating research findings from one African country to another.

BND: What's your next research project? 

Holmes: Right now I am working on several projects that examine which strategies people use to respond to identity threats, how stereotype spillover leads to discrimination in personnel selection and which factors affect diversity climate perceptions. 

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Mark Henricks Member
<p>Mark Henricks writes about business, personal finance, health, fitness and other topics from Austin, Texas. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Journalism, he has worked as a reporter, editor, author and freelance writer for many leading publishers. Reach him by <a href="">email</a>, on Twitter (<a href="">@markhenricks</a>) or visit his website, <a href="">The Article Authority</a>.</p>