Thursday, May 29, 2008

Predicting turnover

Turnover can be caused by many things. Inadequate supervision/ leadership. Too much work. Not enough work. Insufficient career growth opportunities.

According to many surveys (e.g.,'s recent one), these are the types of things people report as primary motivators driving them to change employers.

But these are all factors outside of the employee. What about aspects of employees themselves that might contribute to turnover? We know that people are changing jobs more frequently these days (every 2-3 years in the U.S.), and there seems to be a persistent dissatisfaction among the Gen Xers with their careers, but what about someone's personality? Might there be individual differences between people when it comes to changing jobs?

You bet, according to a new study published in the Summer 2008 issue of Personnel Psychology. After meta-analyzing 86 studies, author Ryan Zimmerman found that personality factors, particularly emotional stability and agreeableness, play a big role in predicting turnover. Emotional stability best predicted intent to quit, while agreeableness best predicted actual turnover.

In fact, personality traits predicted turnover better than did non-self report measures such as job complexity and job characteristics.

Implications? Many initiatives designed to reduce turnover may disappoint because it's not the job, it's the person. The next time you design an exit interview or turnover study, make sure to add this reason for why the person left: It had nothing to do with the job, it was just me.

This also provides more support for using personality tests to predict important outcomes.


The other study in this issue we should look at provides some support for all you O*NET fans out there. You know...O*NET? The replacement for the Dictionary of Occupational Titles? Developed by the Department of Labor? A fount of job analysis knowledge? If you don't know it, you should.

Anyway, in this study, the authors used O*NET data to predict literacy requirements across a wide variety of occupations compared to scores on the national adult literacy survey (NALS). Results? O*NET did well--quite well in fact, with correlations around .80.

What does this mean? It means that occupational requirements listed in O*NET just got a big boost in terms of their validity. When it comes to job analysis, don't leave O*NET out.


Josh said...

Interesting post Bryan. As you point out there are so many reasons for turnover, so it's compelling to see that a meta-analysis show significant correlations with Big Five traits. I'm going to have to actually read the study now--thanks for the summary.

S. said...

This post pointed out some things I haven't given much thought to. In the past I have applied for several jobs that use a PEO to administer assessment tests. In these tests I have been asked questions ranging from what kind of experience I have to personality. Now when I think about these past tests, there were questions that asked how much work load you like, how much stress can you handle, etc. Those questions gave the employers a better idea if the job is right for you, however. The jobs that I have left were not because of the job itself. It was true to the test questions in workload, stress levels, etc. It was for personal reasons for leaving the job. In some cases I left because of other employees, and other cases I left because the job just wasn't what I thought it would be. In other words- misleading. Maybe some assessment tests should start to focus more on personality assessment and go more in depth.