Employee Engagement

Job Embeddedness – Employees’ Connections and Workplace Turnover

Employee Retention and Turnover - Mentoring and Job Embeddness - interview with Brooks Holtom

In the last few blogs, we have written about the high level of dissatisfaction in today’s workplace.  The most recent Manpower survey found that 84% of workers hope to find a new job in 2011, more than a doubling from expression of dissatisfaction in late 2008.

This was followed with some contemporary ideas about social networks and how they overlap and potentially enhance the spread of innovation in the workplace.  WisdomShare™, the software for the administration of mentor programs from Mentor Resources, produces great matches for Mentor-Mentee pairing and enhances the development of social networks for the benefit of companies.

This led us directly to Brooks Holtom, the Georgetown Professor who specializes in how organizations acquire, develop and retain human and social capital.  Two of his papers, “Why people stay: Using job embeddedness to predict voluntary turnover,” andHow to keep your best employees: The development of an effective retention policy received a great deal of attention from the Academy of Management and were finalists for awards.

Notes from an interview with Professor Holtom will be posted here in a few days, but we thought we’d start with a quick overview of his research.  Professor Holtom is a key developer of the concept of Job Embeddness, which is a way to describe an employee’s links (to other people, teams and groups), their fit (into the corporate culture and community) and what they would have to sacrifice to leave their job.  Job Embeddedness is much more than a network described in Christakis and Fowler’s Connected, and can be used to predict both intent to leave and voluntary turnover. It offers a key factor in understanding why people stay on their jobs.

Job Embeddedness is a broad constellation of influences in three areas: Links, Fit and Sacrifice.  It is much broader than the older measures of job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job alternatives. It has been known for over a decade that work attitudes alone play a relatively small role in employee retention and leaving.  Even in periods like today, with high unemployment, perceptions of support, justice and burnout will cause breakage in the links which keep employees at their desks. Embedded employees are immersed in their “background” and find it hard to separate.  It is as if they are stuck in a perception of life where many aspects are connected usually in many different ways. 

Links: Their links to their co-workers include outside activities, or shared experiences and values.  They may be connected through a BRG/ERG, or their church.  They may share a passion for the outdoors, or travel, or their children’s sports teams. The links are social, psychological and financial and includes work and non-work friends, groups, hobbies, schools, etc. Since the links are built over time, highly linked employees tend to be older, married, have more tenure and have children.

Fit: An employee’s perceived compatibility or comfort with an organization is described as his or her fit with the corporate culture.  Again, it is well known that companies with a strong corporate culture “spit out” those who don’t fit, usually at about 18 months.  The better the fit, the higher the likelihood the employee will feel professionally and personally tied to the organization.  If they can identify the culture, potential employees will self-select on value congruence.  Job Embeddedness includes a community dimension to fit as well – outdoor activities, cultural opportunities, food and wine, colleges, population density and so on, vary by region and influence the community fit.

Sacrifice: Sacrifice is a label for the material or psychological benefits which may be forfeit in leaving one’s job.  Compensation is included, but this aspect of Job Embeddedness also attempts to capture the intangibles.  Possible non-portable aspects of a job include apparent job stability, anticipated advancement, status among peers, opportunities for interesting projects, sabbaticals and other accrued advantages. There may also be community sacrifices if one has to relocate.


In our next blog, Brooks Holtom will discuss how Job Embeddedness can help managers think about the specific on-the-job and off-the-job factors that influence employee retention.  It is our hope that these ideas will help you find more effective ways to manage through this challenging employment environment.

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