Employee’s first month on the job can predict turnover, UF study shows
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Growing job discontentment and sudden negative events during an employee’s first month on the job are crucial in determining whether he or she will leave within the first two years, according to a study by a University of Florida researcher on early employee job turnover.
The study, which involved 1,000 professionals at seven different companies, found that factors including disagreements with coworkers and employers, project reassignment and steadily increasing discontentment influence an employee’s tendency to leave a job. That’s valuable information for companies trying to reduce early and costly employee turnover, said UF business professor John Kammeyer-Mueller, who conducted the study in collaboration with University of Minnesota business researchers.
“Individuals who are just starting their careers are especially likely to turnover, so understanding the process of turnover from their perspective is especially interesting from an academic point of view,” Kammeyer-Mueller said. “Our results suggest that early work experiences are critical for the decisions people make about staying or leaving, so companies should pay particular attention to how people first experience their jobs.”
Kammeyer-Mueller’s study, which will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, involved new employees completing surveys when they had been on a job for one month, and then continuing to be surveyed for two years. The surveys included questions related to personality, job satisfaction, belief in the company, commitment to the company, whether employees were looking for other jobs while working for the company and whether they had formed specific intentions to leave.
“We had originally thought it was going to be a personality factor, that people would have a kind of ‘leaver’ personality where they would be prone to [leave],” Kammeyer-Mueller said. “But from the personality measures on our survey, assessing the personality traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and emotional stability, we realized personality didn’t seem to matter.”
Rather than personality influences, the study found that dissatisfaction on the initial survey — indicating a negative first approach to the job — led employees to believe a position was not a place they wanted to stay.
“The other thing we found was that for some people, the reason they left the job had things to do with sudden events, rather than people becoming slowly, thoughtfully dissatisfied,” Kammeyer-Mueller said.
Those sudden events may involve a fight with a coworker, or a supervisor doing something the employee finds disturbing that negatively affects him or her. “We knew about some of these sudden, critical events because our surveys included a section for the employees to provide narrative detail about their negative experiences,” he said.
Some of the narrative responses on the surveys included: ”I thought I was lined up for a promotion,” “I thought this was something that was going to help my career a lot,” “My supervisor arbitrarily switched me to another assignment” or ”I just can’t take this anymore.”
Kammeyer-Mueller said he started the study at the request of companies wanting to know how to identify employees who were likely to leave.
“Companies lose the most people in the employee’s first months on the job, so that’s when the threat of turnover is the highest,” he said. “But as far as research literature, we really don’t know a whole lot about those people who leave.”
The employees surveyed were “in jobs where they expected to stick around for a long time,” Kammeyer-Mueller said. “We asked people in the first survey how long they thought they were going to stay with their jobs, and on average their answer was about seven years.”
Some of the employees surveyed included scientists and teachers.
“One expects that people are going to leave pretty quickly from jobs like McDonald’s or something like that, so if it is showing that people are turning over in two years from those kinds of jobs, it’s like ‘so what,’” Kammeyer-Mueller said. “But these were professional jobs – you don’t expect a high turnover so soon.”
Employers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the results, he said.
“This study provides a way for potential employees to examine themselves and think about their feelings about a job,” he said. “This way, if they fall into the leaver category, they would know that ‘Maybe I shouldn’t take this job, so I don’t have to leave and be dislocated.’”
By understanding the kinds of events that cause early leaving, organizations can move to reduce it, said Terence R. Mitchell, Carlson Professor of Management at the University of Washington.
“Realistic job previews can help reduce turnover, and knowing what issues and events cause it will help with the construction of such previews,” Mitchell said. “One can also design training and socialization strategies for newcomers that will help them adjust to these events or issues.”
This research project was supported through the Human Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota department of human resources and industrial relations. Kammeyer-Mueller collaborated with Connie Wanberg, Theresa Glomb and Dennis Ahlburg on the study that used data collected as part of the University of Minnesota Project on New Organizational Employees.
- Meredith Jean Morton
- John Kammeyer-Mueller, email@example.com, (352) 392-0108