Job Embeddedness

Reducing Staff Turnover

Woman thinking about jobs.

Learn how to build "job embeddedness" and decrease staff turnover.

© iStockphoto/kizilkayaphotos

Stop for a minute, and think about why you stay in your job.

You may be respected, or have good friends in the workplace.

Perhaps you have a short commute, or your organization has good benefits.

Or, maybe, you enjoy your work and your boss appreciates you.

There can be many positive factors that anchor you in your job, and the happier you feel about your work, the less likely you are to look for a position elsewhere.

"Job embeddedness" brings together all of these factors, and determines how committed people are to their jobs. We'll look at it in this article, and we'll explore what you can do to increase it. This is particularly important if your organization struggles to keep hold of good people!

What is Job Embeddedness?

Terence Mitchell, Brooks Holtom, Thomas Lee, Chris Sablynski, and Miriam Erez first introduced the concept of job embeddedness in their 2001 Academy of Management Journal paper, "Why People Stay: Using Job Embeddedness to Predict Voluntary Turnover."

According to the authors, job turnover has traditionally been assumed to relate to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction: if someone believes that another job has more factors of satisfaction and fewer of dissatisfaction than their current role, and if their organizational commitment is low, then they're likely to leave the organization.

However, the researchers say that this is only partly true. The reality is that many things influence whether an employee stays with an organization, and job embeddedness deals with some of these. There are three aspects to it:

  1. Links: The connections that people have with other people or activities.
  2. Fit: How well the job and the working environment suits them.
  3. Sacrifice: How easily links can be broken. What would they give up if they left?

People become embedded in many different ways. The more links that they have with both their organization (on the job) and their outside community (off the job), the more likely they are to remain engaged, positive, and committed to the organization.

Example

When Lana joined her new company, she quickly came to love her job. She had great relationships with her colleagues, she was able to use her skills and strengths in her work, and the company's values aligned closely with her own.

A few years later, Lana got married, bought a home, and had children. The organization supported her with a generous maternity allowance, and it also provided on-site daycare, where she built friendships with other working mothers.

Lana is highly embedded, not just because she loves her job, but also because her organization supported her desire to have children, and made it easy for her to be a working mother. She cares about her colleagues and feels fulfilled in her role; and she owns a home and is involved in her community.

These activities, values, and desires have caused Lana to become attached to her organization and to her role, so it's unlikely that she'll look for another job.

Considerations and Uses

In a later paper, also published in The Academy of Management Journal, the authors argued that off-the-job factors, such as family life and security, can have a bigger effect on voluntary turnover and absence than on-the-job factors.

However, they also argued that on-the-job embeddedness led to a greater feeling of organizational citizenship and higher job performance than off-the-job embeddedness.

In short, you'll retain people best if they have a good quality of life outside work, and you'll get the best from them if their work is satisfying.

In the end, focusing on improving job embeddedness in both areas – job and community – can help you boost morale, strengthen commitment, increase resilience, improve work relationships, and reduce job turnover; as well as increasing feelings of well-being and job satisfaction within your team.

Note:

This idea should be used to increase your team members' job and life satisfaction. You shouldn't use it to persuade people to stay in poorly-fitting roles – this is bad for them, and it's bad for your organization.

Increasing Commitment with Job Embeddedness

To use the concept of job embeddedness, focus on each of the three factors.

1. Links

Links are the connections that you have with people, activities, and institutions in your life.

These links include connections to the organization, family, friends, work colleagues, civic groups, religious institutions, and charities. Links also include hobbies and sports that you enjoy; your spouse's working relationships; and the friendships that your children have locally, and at school.

Essentially, the more links that a person has with other people and institutions within their community, the more settled and engaged they are likely to be. Moving to a new organization or relocating would be harder because these links will be severed.

Application

Although you can't directly encourage your people to build links in their family or community, there are plenty of ways that you can help them build links within your organization.

Start by building good work relationships   between your team members. Encourage after-work socializing, and make an effort to bring people together to celebrate key events, achievements, and birthdays.

Organize team-building activities   to establish a foundation of trust; these exercises can help break the ice and build friendships. You can also build links on an individual level through coaching   and mentoring.

Next, build trust   by communicating openly with everyone in the group. Everyone on the team should feel comfortable talking openly with each other, but this will only happen if you lead by example.

When you're in a meeting, discuss any problems that you're experiencing with a project, and ask your team members for solutions.

Remember, you want to strengthen your team members' links with each other, as well as with you, so allow some time during meetings for friendly conversation; although this might seem like a waste of time, it's an important part of relationship building.

2. Fit

Fit describes how far the organization and wider environment suit individual employees.

This includes how far their work contributes to their career goals (and how well the organization supports those goals), how often they use their strengths in their job, how well their values align with those of their organization, and how well they fit in with the corporate culture.

Fit also applies to the environment and community. This includes things like the weather; the political, religious and ethical environment; available hobbies and sports; culture, and entertainment options.

Application

Make sure that everyone on your team is in a role that not only fits with their strengths and skills, but that also means something to them.

First, use Management by Objectives   to link your team members' personal and group goals to the organization's objectives. This helps your people see the meaning in their work, and understand how it contributes to the organization's overall mission.

Next, meet with your people individually, and ask about their career goals. If they're unsure what those goals are, work with them to develop a career strategy  , and brainstorm ways that you can support that strategy.

As part of this, help them define their values and understand how they're using their values in their work. You can then increase engagement and job satisfaction   by linking personal values with tasks or projects.

Last, use the MPS Process   to identify what makes your team members truly happy. You can then use principles from job crafting   to incorporate those factors into their role. When shaping a role to fit someone better, take into account the person's interpersonal skills and strengths; and use the Four Dimensions of Relational Work   model to match people with the right tasks and projects.

3. Sacrifice

The last element in job embeddedness is sacrifice; that is, the perceived psychological and material loss that people would experience if they left their job.

For example, leaving an organization can mean that people lose key projects, valued work relationships, and other benefits, such as training, flextime, or telecommuting. They might also lose perks such as a company car or health insurance, and they might give up accrued advantages and benefits that come with tenure, like longer vacation time.

They might also give up outside benefits, such as a short or convenient commute, or daycare facilities. If they relocate, they will also sacrifice many aspects of their community, such as friendships, family connections, and familiarity with others.

Application

You should always do your best to create a happy, healthy, and rewarding work environment for everyone on your team, regardless of whether you're trying to decrease turnover.

First, make sure that your team has a healthy work environment  . It should be bright, well-lit, and comfortable; and you should make an effort to minimize workplace stress.

Next, help your team members thrive (see our article on the PERMA Model   for more on this), and help them to become happier at work. When your team members are happy and healthy, they will have fewer reasons to look for a position elsewhere.

Last, show your people how much you appreciate their hard work. Give plenty of praise  , reward   them appropriately for good performance, and practice Management by Walking Around  , so that you can quickly identify problems and say "thank you" in person.

Downsides

There are some risks to job embeddedness. Researchers Thomas Ng and Daniel Feldman found that if people are embedded deeply in their job, they're less inclined to develop a rich, diverse social and professional network. In other words, they might maintain a small, steady group of friends and colleagues, and they might become "comfortable" with their expertise and career position.

This disinclination to network and to expand their social and professional groups means that employees can miss out on learning new concepts and skills. It can also slow the growth of their expertise.

You can overcome this risk by encouraging your team members to network in their industry through LinkedIn   and Twitter  . Help them build expertise   with additional training opportunities; and push them to attend trade conferences to network and stay up to date on the industry  .

Note:

See our article on the Three Component Model of Commitment   for more on encouraging commitment to your organization.

Key Points

Many people have researched the concept of job embeddedness, but Terence Mitchell, Brooks Holtom, Thomas Lee, Chris Sablynski, and Miriam Erez laid the foundations of the subject in their 2001 paper, "Why People Stay: Using Job Embeddedness to Predict Voluntary Turnover."

According to these researchers, job embeddedness consists of three key elements: links, fit, and sacrifice. By strengthening each element, managers can improve employee happiness and productivity, and they can reduce job turnover and absenteeism.

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