Monday, October 18, 2021

Businesses benefit from employee retention


President Donald Trump today pushed out his chief of staff, retired General Reince Priebus, revealing a somewhat chaotic West Wing, the New York Times reports.

This allows us to turn our attention, during this most dramatic US presidency in the history of the republic, to the revolving door at the White House. Past presidents have taken the occasional ramp-up period to settle into a staff they can trust, but wild comings and goings, like those of the present administration, wouldn’t make for effective operations in any organization.

Revolving doors have most commonly been studied in businesses, many of which are concerned about employee retention, about maintaining a sense of “institutional memory” that organizations can build on. Paying attention to ways to increase employee retention is thus considered a good management practice, as high retention often leads to growth and increasing strength of the organization. Low retention rates are often a sign of an unhealthy organization.

In research dating back to the 1970s out of Cornell University, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, Richard M Steers wrote about how the most “committed” employees were the ones most likely to stay on the job, but their performance on the job was generally unrelated to their levels of commitment.

Personal characteristics, job characteristics, and work experiences influenced commitment. Moreover, commitment was found to be strongly related to intent and desire to remain and moderately related to attendance and turnover. Performance was generally unrelated to commitment.

How “committed” employees are to a given job can often be a better predictor of retention than even job satisfaction can. Commitment to an organization, whether that be a school, a small business, a church, a multinational corporation, or even a national government, can be broken down into three factors:

  • a belief in and acceptance of the organization’s goals and values
  • a willingness to exert considerable effort on the organization’s behalf
  • a strong desire to maintain membership

In other words, if an organization is experiencing a tough time keeping people, it is often a sign that people who work for the organization fail in one or more of the above factors, all of which are prerequisite for an effective national government. Certainly, Mr Trump learned this, at least, at the Wharton Business School.

In business classes at high schools today, students often learn about the importance of human resources, and it might be a good thing for the president to take a lesson from some of those courses, even at the high school level.

The Harvard Business Review last month looked at a case study from California. The article is entitled “How One California Medical Group Is Decreasing Physician Burnout” and is the work of Sophia Arabadjis and Erin E Sullivan. Physician burnout is very much the same problem as low employee retention in that when workers are less committed to an organization, evidenced by a high turnover, they provide a lower quality of service.

“Burned-out physicians deliver lower quality care, reduce their hours, or stop practicing, reducing access to care around the country,” they write. “Primary care physicians are particularly vulnerable: They have some of the highest burnout rates of any medical discipline.”

All these are signs of employees who are not fully committed to the goals of their work or their employer. The writers suggest having physicians share some of the responsibilities for care with specialists, delegating other responsibilities, leveraging technology, and standardizing important or mission-critical processes as steps to increase commitment.

These are important ways organizations from small businesses to national governments can increase employee retention, and all of these methods are objectives that Mr Trump doesn’t seem to espouse in his management style. One can therefore easily predict a low level of commitment and a subsequent high turnover rate within the White House and among the president’s staff.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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