‘Til Turnover Do Us Part

‘Til Turnover Do Us Part

At the Conversation, Irit Alony discusses a study she conducted in which she applied a method commonly used to predict divorce to predict employee turnover instead. As it turns out, she writes, unhappy employees end up quitting their jobs for reasons strikingly similar to why unhappy marriages fall apart:

Participants in this turnover study were first interviewed, and their their attitudes (like job satisfaction, commitment, intentions to quit, engagement, and burnout) were measured. A year later, their attitudes were measured again, and another year after that, the study looked at who left and who stayed. The study found that employees who left their jobs didn’t use the following coping mechanisms: they didn’t balance the good with the bad, they didn’t genuinely accept that bad things are just part of life, they didn’t avoid lengthy discussions of the negatives and they didn’t express hope. …

The predictions of employees who leave organisations in this research are very similar to predictors of divorce. Past research has shown that when there are forms of negativity in a marriage, like disappointment, withdrawal, hostility, or contempt, you know the couple is at a high risk of divorce. Couples who not only accept their struggles but even celebrate them remain happily married, and so do couples who successfully avoid conflict.

Research on divorce also demonstrated another way to know if a marriage is in trouble – looking at the emotions the couple displays when they fight. Couples stay happily married if they show at least five times more positive emotions than they show negative ones when they fight. There was similar evidence in the study on employees, but with a lower ratio: employees who showed at least two-to-one positive to negative emotions when they talked about their past in the organisation generally had better attitudes towards their work and their organisation.

One small difference between a job and a marriage, of course, is that spouses rarely split up just because one of them got a better offer elsewhere. On the other hand, both divorces and quits tend to increase when the economy is doing well, as people feel more confident in their ability to support themselves without their current job or partner. Today, turnover is on the rise in the US and around the world, reflecting a healthy and increasingly talent-driven labor market. In this context, it is especially important for employers to think about retention strategies, especially for high-potential employees. CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more about what the best companies do to develop and retain their high-potential employees here.