At Hogan, we have recently seen an uptick in client concerns regarding employee turnover. This developing concern parallels a general increase throughout the workforce in employees’ desires to quit their jobs after experiencing organizational changes sparked by the pandemic.1 According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,2 an average of 4.3 million employees per month quit their jobs between March 2021 and March 2022. This trend, termed the Great Resignation, can harm organizational effectiveness due to replacement costs, reduced efficiency, loss of clients, lower customer satisfaction, overburdened HR, and a decrease in workforce morale.3–5
Involuntary Versus Voluntary Turnover
Turnover can occur involuntarily or voluntarily. Involuntary turnover refers to employer-initiated termination of employment, typically because an employee has fallen below performance standards. Organizations may view involuntary turnover as somewhat desirable because it removes poor performers from the workplace; however, organizations likely prefer implementing well-designed developmental interventions to correct poor performers or using accurate hiring practices to avoid hiring them in the first place. Because involuntary turnover is the employer’s choice, Hogan can assist employers with solutions to accurately hire or develop high-performing employees and thus avoid involuntary turnover.
Although addressing involuntary turnover is always important, the current rise in voluntary turnover requires special attention. Voluntary turnover is when the employee chooses to end their relationship with the organization. Compared to involuntary turnover, voluntary turnover compounds the problems associated with needing to replace and retrain new employees because the organization is also losing otherwise good talent. Thus, the primary focus of our post is to highlight science-based tools for addressing voluntary turnover.
What Are the Signs an Employee Might Quit?
Research provides various indicators that can help identify employees who are more likely to quit. Many of these are directly relevant to the solutions Hogan offers.
In a previous blog post, another Hogan expert highlighted personality characteristics and work values associated with burnout and empowerment, both of which are linked to voluntary turnover. In addition, researchers have documented a few general trends linking personality and voluntary turnover across several jobs and organizations. Specifically, higher openness (e.g., HPI Inquisitive and Learning Approach), lower conscientiousness (e.g., HPI Prudence), lower agreeableness (e.g., HPI Interpersonal Sensitivity), and lower emotional stability (e.g., HPI Adjustment) predicted turnover across multiple studies.6,7 Personality characteristics even provide unique insight into turnover beyond other factors, such as job complexity, job satisfaction, intent to quit, and job performance.6
While a few general trends have been established across jobs and organizations, it can be meaningful to take a more nuanced look at specific organizations or situations. In an electronics manufacturing firm, for instance, outside researchers showed that higher scores on HPI Inquisitive and Learning Approach predicted turnover regardless of individuals’ work satisfaction and commitment.8 Higher Learning Approach scores also increased the risk of turnover over time. Furthermore, the HDS Moving Against scales (i.e., Bold, Mischievous, Colorful, and Imaginative) predicted quicker turnover, and the Moving Toward scales (i.e., Diligent and Dutiful) indicated slower turnover. As the label would imply, the Moving Away scales (i.e., Excitable, Skeptical, Cautious, Reserved, and Leisurely) most strongly predicted turnover in cases where the employee disappeared without notice.
Readers should interpret these findings while keeping in mind that they were observed in a single organization, and effects of personality characteristics can vary by job or organization. Even the most recent analysis across multiple studies showed that higher emotional stability predicted turnover in some situations, but lower emotional stability predicted turnover in others.6 Although to a lesser degree, the turnover relationships with agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness also varied notably depending on the situation. This finding underscores the need to understand how the dynamics of personality characteristics operate within the specific job and organization. One way to approach such specificity is to focus on job alignment.
The alignment of individual characteristics, such as personality and work values, with the job requirements and work environment can provide insight into employee turnover. Generally speaking, turnover is more likely when an employee’s personality characteristics or work values do not align with the given job or organization, whether based on perception or objective measurement.6,9–11
For example, turnover is decreased when congruence exists between the employees’ social values and those of their supervisors and workgroups.10 These social values (i.e., service, family fun, and inclusion) conceptually map onto Hogan’s Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) scales (i.e., Altruism, Hedonism, and Affiliation/Altruism, respectively). Organizations should focus on fostering congruence between supervisor, workgroup, and employee social values. Other values (e.g., compensation and flexibility) are less relevant. In addition, value misalignment predicts decreased employee engagement, which then predicts increased turnover.1 This suggests that drops in engagement could serve as an early warning sign of future turnover. Tools such as the MVPI can help decrease the likelihood of both turnover and declining engagement.
How to Reduce Turnover and Improve Employee Retention
Hogan provides many solutions to help reduce voluntary turnover and improve retention of employees who are “too legit to quit,” as MC Hammer would say. An earlier blog shared some ideas on leader-focused interventions, with which Hogan can help. Based on the research discussed here, we highlight additional ways Hogan can help address voluntary employee turnover across all job levels. But don’t just take our word for it! Even external talent scientists argue that organizations can use personality assessments in their hiring processes to reduce the likelihood of voluntary turnover.7 Specifically, Hogan can help (1) improve job fit and (2) identify specific characteristics that predict turnover in particular work contexts.
Virtually all of Hogan’s solutions provide personality or work value configurations that our own research indicates will align best with the focal job and work environment. We thoroughly and systematically examine the specific work context for which a solution is designed. We then leverage our massive data archives and, at times, collect new local data to identify Hogan scales that are especially relevant to that job and work context.
Consequently, proper implementation of our tools increases the desired alignment between employees’ individual characteristics and their work. As the research shows, this alignment is what will forecast reduced turnover. Hogan’s talent acquisition tools can help reduce turnover by identifying better-fitting applicants from the beginning, and our talent development recommendations can help by improving the fit of current employees.
In situations where turnover is a heightened concern, Hogan’s talent analytics team can construct custom solutions that include scales predictive of turnover in a specific job and organization. If an organization has enough previous employees who have taken Hogan’s assessments and have since quit, Hogan can identify specific personality and value scales that distinguish such employees from those who have not quit. When Hogan data on employees who have quit is not available, Hogan can collect new data to identify scales that characterize individuals who show warning signs of impending turnover. Specifically, we have a pool of survey questions that have been developed by outside researchers to identify employees who are about to quit. In response to said questions, supervisors rate their direct reports’ behaviors that tend to precede turnover. Their employees also respond to Hogan’s assessments, allowing our talent analytics team to recommend profiles of individuals less likely to engage in pre-quitting behaviors.
Indeed, Hogan has a track record of successfully improving employee retention for clients. For example, a global financial services provider saw approximately 300 fewer sales representatives quit per year after implementing a custom talent acquisition profile built by Hogan. This helped save the company an estimated $4.5 million in replacement costs. Another business services company found that health assistants who scored high on their custom Hogan profile were nearly 13 times more likely to stay with the company than those who did not. Likewise, a custom-built Hogan profile helped a global telecommunications company reduce 90-day turnover rates by 50%, saving the company more than $70,000 in employee replacement costs.
Other Factors to Consider
We know that, although personality characteristics explain a substantial chunk of voluntary turnover, they do not tell the full story. Fortunately, research points to additional things to look for that, in conjunction with personality, can help you paint the full turnover picture. Decades of research suggests that thoughts, withdrawal states, attitudes, job characteristics, behaviors, and wellness are all factors associated with voluntary turnover. Of these, job characteristics and behaviors are typically easier to identify. A recent analysis of multiple studies found that less pay predicted more turnover.6 In addition, fewer opportunities for promotion, less role clarity, more role conflict, more role overload, and more overall stress predicted more turnover.12Some work behaviors that predicted turnover include decreased job performance, increased absenteeism, and increased misconduct.6,11,12 Employers will typically have more success in improving employee retention if they pair consideration of these additional factors with a focus on personality and work values. If your organization needs to improve employee retention, consider the personality-based solutions Hogan provides.
This blog post was authored by Lauren Murphy, Chase Winterberg, and Linda Muller.
1. Coley, S., & Gallagher, P. (2022, April 27-30). The Buffering Effects of Purpose Alignment Against Turnover Intentions at Work [Conference presentation]. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Conference, Seattle, WA, United States.
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, May 3). Quits Levels and Rates by Industry and Region, Seasonally Adjusted. US Department of Labor. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t04.htm
3. Heavy, A. L., Holwerda, J. A., & Hausknecht, J. P. (2013). Causes and consequences of collective turnover: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 412-453.
4. Judge, T. A., & Kammeyer-Mueller, J. (2022). Staffing Organizations (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill Irwin.
5. Tyler, K. (2021). How Can HR Professionals Prepare for the Wave of Voluntary Employee Departures That Experts Are Predicting? HR Magazine, 66, 26-31.
6. Rubenstein, A. L., Eberly, M. B., Lee, T. W., & Mitchell, T. R. (2018). Surveying the Forest: A Meta-Analysis, Moderator Investigation, And Future-Oriented Discussion of Antecedents of Voluntary Employee Turnover. Personnel Psychology, 71, 23-65.
7. Zimmerman, R. D. (2008). Understanding the Impact of Personality Traits on Individuals’ Turnover Decisions: A Meta-Analytic Path Model. Personnel Psychology, 61, 309-348.
8. Woo, S. E., Chae, M., Jebb, A. T., & Kim, Y. (2016). A Closer Look at the Personality-Turnover Relationship: Criterion Expansion, Dark Traits, and Time. Journal of Management, 42, 357-385.
9. Crossley, C. D., Bennett, R. J., Jex, S. M., & Burnfield, J. L. (2007). Development of a Global Measure of Job Embeddedness and Integration into a Traditional Model of Voluntary Turnover. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1031-1042.
10. McFarland, L. A., Ray, C., Shepherd, W., & Harold, C. M. (2022, April 27-30). The Consequences of Value Congruence: It Depends on Value Type [Poster presentation]. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Conference, Seattle, WA.
11. Moon, Y., & O’Brien, K. E. (2022, April 27-30). “I Put in My Two Weeks Notice!” Employee Behavior and Wellness Prior to Exit [Poster presentation]. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Conference, Seattle, WA.
12. Griffeth, R., Hom, P., & Gaertner, S. (2000). A Meta-Analysis of Antecedents and Correlations of Employee Turnover: Update, Moderator Tests, and Research Implications for the Next Millennium. Journal of Management, 26, 463-488.