According to Peter Hom and Rodger Griffeth (Hom and Griffeth 1995), employee turnover represents an employee’s voluntary employment from an employing organization. Summarizing a hundred years of research, a review by Peter Hom, Thomas Lee, Jason Shaw, and John Hausknecht for the centennial issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that management scholars have sought to predict, explain, and control turnover because it can be costly to employers: this is due to the financial burden of recruiting and training replacements, its disruption of operations, and its long-term impact on organizational effectiveness (due to client and human capital losses and transfer of proprietary knowledge about operations and technology to competitors). Although the classic work by James March and Herbert Simon (March and Simon 1958) first recognized that managing employees’ participation in organizations (i.e., workforce retention) is as important as managing their motivation to produce, it was not until the 1970s that theory and research about turnover truly emerged and flourished.
Overview of Early Turnover Theory and Research
Several scholarly books summarized early research on employee turnover during the 20th century, as illustrated in Hom and Griffeth 1995; Mobley 1982; Mowday, et al. 1982; and Price 1977. While not exclusively focused on turnover, March and Simon 1958 formulated the first theory specifically designed to explain turnover (i.e., organizational participation). In an exhaustive review of the empirical literature from the dawn of the 20th century to mid-20th century, Price 1977 identified reliable predictors of turnover from which he derived a theory (also partly inspired by March and Simon’s model) that he and his colleagues later tested and refined over the years. While less scholarly in focus, Mobley 1982 broadly covered not only turnover predictors and models (including his influential models rooted in March and Simon 1958) but also other aspects of turnover (e.g., tracking its costs and consequences and ways to reduce turnover). Mowday, et al. 1982 narrowly focused on their central contributions to the turnover literature, such as pioneering organizational commitment as another attitudinal antecedent of turnover besides job satisfaction and introducing a more comprehensive model of the turnover process that builds on prior models. Finally, Hom and Griffeth 1995 primarily updated Mobley’s earlier topical coverage, though they also reported an early comprehensive meta-analysis of turnover correlates, reviewed ancillary studies linking turnover to other behaviors (e.g., performance), and discussed methodological shortcomings of turnover research. Given the explosive growth of turnover research since those books appeared, they have become dated (though having historical merit). Scholarly journals offer contemporary sources about turnover.
Hom, Peter W., and Rodger W. Griffeth. Employee Turnover. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College Publishing, 1995.
An introductory textbook (based on the scholarly literature) for graduate students and faculty covering similar topics as Mobley’s pioneering 1982 book but updating the latter (and thus more comprehensive in coverage). Authors also report an early meta-analysis of turnover causes and predictors, critique a rising number of theoretical models, link turnover to other behaviors, and review methodological problems afflicting turnover studies.
March, James G., and Herbert A. Simon. Organizations. New York: Wiley, 1958.
While not solely focused on turnover, the book introduces the first formal theory of turnover and pioneers the prime determinants—namely, the desirability and ease of interfirm movement. This model shaped the development of turnover models and persists in modern theorizing.
Mobley, William H. Employee Turnover: Causes, Consequences, and Control. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982.
A classic, this textbook is accessible to a broader audience, not simply scholars. The book examines a broad array of topics about turnover, such as its consequences, computation formulas for turnover rates, ways to control turnover, turnover causes and correlates, and then-prevailing turnover models (some of which are conceived by the author).
Mowday, Richard T., Lyman W. Porter, and Richard M. Steers. Employee-Organization Linkages. New York: Academic Press, 1982.
Covers the authors’ programmatic research on turnover and absenteeism. While narrower in scope than other books, they showcase their seminal theories and research—notably, organizational commitment as a prime turnover cause, a complex model about absences (that may progress into turnover), an updated model of the process by which employees quit, and an attribution theory about how employees explain their own turnover as well as those of colleagues.
Price, James L. The Study of Turnover. Ames, IA: Iowa State Press, 1977.
A remarkable work of scholarship, this book summarizes early studies dating from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s from various disciplines (e.g., sociology, labor economics, psychology) to systematically derive the first broad taxonomy of turnover causes and predictors. This formulation later evolved in subsequent testing and initiated a long-standing research effort by the author and his colleagues, refining its explanatory constructs—both their operationalizations and structural connections.
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