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InternationalJournal of Manpower15,9/10
Understanding EmployeeTurnover: The Need for aContingency Approach
Rachid M. Zeffane
University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia 
Contingency theory has been at the centre of much debate in the area of organizational analysis and design[1-7]. Despite disagreement among these andother researchers, there is strong evidence to suggest that the theory bearsextremely valuable potentials in explaining and predicting varyingorganizational phenomena. These potentials are quite apparent in the morerecent research[6-8]. However, despite scattered attempts, the bulk of theresearch featuring this theory has focused essentially on interactions betweenmacro-level organizational characteristics, to the detriment of the interfacebetween these and the individual level characteristics. By and large, studiesthat have endorsed the contingency approach to organizational analysishave concentrated on the organization structure-environment interface.The integration of micro and macro levels of analysis is required forcontingency theory to be forthcoming. If these two levels can be integrated,hypotheses about the effective and behavioural responses of individuals andgroups in organizations may be sharpened[9].This article attempts to show that the theory remains extremely useful andmay be extended to individual level phenomena, such as the study of turnover[10]. The seminal work of Argyris on the individual-organizationinterface is probably one of the most inspiring pieces of work in thisendeavour[11]. Argyris argued that a great deal of organizational outcomesdepend on the degree of congruence (or consonance) between individual(personal) characteristics and those of the organization. The rejoinder betweenArgyris’ thesis and contingency theory is the basic notion of congruency andfit. However, while the dominant interpretations of contingency theory stressthe notion of congruency and fit by reference to the organization structure andthe environment, Argyris’ view focuses on the individual-organizationinterface. Nevertheless, both views strongly underline the potential impact of fit/misfit on organizational effectiveness and performance (see [12]). One of themain performance criteria is the ability of organizations to retain theirmanpower and thereby minimize employee turnover. We endorse Argyris’ view
The project on which this article is based was funded by a research grant from the University of Newcastle Research Management Committee (UN-RMC).
International Journal of Manpower,Vol. 15 No.9/10, 1994, pp. 22-37,© MCBUniversity Press,0143-7720
on the necessary consonance between individual and organizationalcharacteristics for better performance. By the same token we also endorse itsconcomitant (i.e. the fit/misfit) postulate which is also emphasized incontingency theory. The aim is to show that future research on employeeturnover could benefit greatly by fully exploiting the usefulness of the abovepostulate.
Employee Turnover Research
Employee turnover remains one of the most widely researched topics inorganizational analyses[13]. Despite significant research progress there stillremains a great deal of confusion as to what might actually cause employees toleave/remain in their organizations. Also, the lack of convergence among themodels proposed in previous research has added to this confusion.Fundamentally, these models were aimed at enlightening our understandingand predictions of employee movements within/out of the organization.However, the significant divergence among these models seems to militateagainst uniformity and hence generalizations. Among those factors are theexternal factors (the labour market) ; institutional factors (such as physicalworking conditions, pay, job skill, supervision and so on) ; employee personalcharacteristics (such as intelligence and aptitude, personal history, sex,interests, age, length of service and so on) and employee’s reaction to his/her job(including aspects such as job satisfaction, job involvement and jobexpectations) (see Knowles[14] for a more complete description of these factors).Some have speculated on the role of individual performance in effectingturnover[13,15,16]. While individual performance might well trigger intentionsto quit, the argument cannot be sustained at the general level. Performanceoccurs in given contexts and is generally tied to particular situations. It is not,of course, always concomitant with general aptitudes. It may well increase theconfidence of individuals in seeking similar jobs (offering better advantages)elsewhere. However, in general, individuals are aware of the circumstantialcharacteristics leading to their improved performance and may not put it(i.e. performance) at the forefront of the criteria determining their decision toquit. For instance, high performers who have strong value-ties with theirimmediate work-environment may not necessarily foresee a replication of theircurrent behaviour to be equally successful in another organizational setting.Also, the potential effect of performance on turnover does not apply equally toall individuals. Personal styles and perceptions of the work environment couldplay an important role in shaping the above linkage between performance andturnover (see for example Jamal and Vishwanath[17]). But performance as suchis not necessarily a predictor of turnover. Contrary to previous researchevidence, Dreher[15] exposes data which purports that it is not always the goodperformers who tend to leave the organization. Should this pattern persist, thenone would argue that the turnover-related costs would be minimized over timesince it is only the lower-level performers who tend to leave. Dreher[15] onlycompares levels of performance (on a series of aptitude tests) between leavers
InternationalJournal of Manpower15,9/10
and stayers. He does not test for relationships between these tests. Furthermore,some of the aspects measured by the aptitude tests used are not strictlyperformance criteria. The variable named “initial potential”, for instance, hasmore to do with aspects of personal aptitude than aptitude on the job.Studies that have incorporated personality as a potential cause of turnoverhave generally assumed direct causal linkages between these variables[17,18].These studies have undermined the potential relevance of wider organizationalcharacteristics (such as organization structure and management style) whichmight affect turnover. When these characteristics have been considered, theyhave generally been aligned to other independent variables in order to test theirrelative precedence in predicting turnover. Guest’s early comparative study of assembly and non-assembly workers’ reaction to their jobs suggests that thegreater job-repetitiveness led to increased turnover[19]. While providingsignificant evidence on the above impact, Guest’s study seems to have ignoredthe potential moderating effects that personality variables may have on suchimpact.Few studies on turnover have considered macro-level variables such asorganization structure and management style as potential predictors[13,20].Porter and Steers[20] have advocated the need to consider both individual andorganizational factors in making predictions about employee attitudes andrelated behaviour. Other researchers have also echoed the need to consider bothindividual and organizational characteristics in studying attitudes[21] andperformance[11]. Typically, the type of studies conducted to date have notshown any great concern for the potential impact of these interactions. Whilethese studies apply to a range of behavioural and attitudinal aspects, thislacuna is most apparent in studies on organizational commitment. Similarly,Herman and Hulin[21] observed that studies investigating the simultaneousinfluence of organizational variables and individual characteristics onmembers’ attitudes and behaviour have simply not been done. Herman andHulin[21] also note that a review of the literature indicates the strategy (to studyinteractions between organizational and individual characteristics and theireffects on attitudes) has not been translated into the methodology necessary forempirical research. They remark that studies investigating the simultaneousinfluence of organizational variables and individual characteristics onmembers’ attitude and behaviour have simply not been done.
The Relevance of Organization Structure/Culture and ManagementStyle
There is some evidence showing that characteristics of organizational structureconsistently accounted for a large percentage of the variance in employeeresponses to their relevant work environment[21,22]. In fact, the structuraleffect was found to be a lot more prevalent than the basic demographiccharacteristics[22]. As they put it:
The significant relationship which was unique to organizational structure and psychologicalresponses suggests that differential organizational experiences are distributed across the

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