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The relationship between organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness


Orientation: The global economic crisis and increased competition for human talent between organisations have led to increased emigration and skills shortages. In various countries, concerns about skills shortages and loss of talent in the medical and IT sector have resulted in an increased interest in effective retention strategies.
Research purpose: The objectives of the study were: (1) to determine the relationship between organisational commitment (measured by the Organisational Commitment Scale), retention factors (measured by the Retention Factor Scale) and perceived job embeddedness (measured by the Job Embeddedness Questionnaire), and (2) to determine whether employees from different gender, age, race, marital status, tenure and job level groups differ significantly in their levels of organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness.
Motivation for the study: Research on organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness among various biographical groups is important for talent retention in the medical and IT industry.
Research design, approach or method: A quantitative survey was conducted on a purposive sample (N = 206) of medical and IT service staff in the South African client service sector.
Main findings: Correlational and inferential statistical analyses reflected significant relationships between organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness. Significant differences between gender, age, race, marital status, tenure and job level groups were also found.
Practical implications in terms of Industrial Organisational Psychology practices: Practitioners need to recognise the way in which retention factors influence job embeddedness and commitment to the organisation when designing talent retention strategies for employees from various biographical groups.
1Please note: The guidelines provided by the South African Journal of Industrial Psychology have been used as a very broad and general guideline for the framework of the research article.
Contribution/value-add: These findings contribute valuable insight and knowledge to the field of Career Psychology that can be applied in the retention of employees in the medical and IT industry.
Key words: affective commitment; continuance commitment; normative commitment; retention factors, perceived job embeddedness; talent retention.


The following section explains the focus and background of the study. General trends found in the literature will be highlighted, and the objectives and potential value-added by the study will be identified.

Key focus of the study

Organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of their knowledge workers and the need to engage and retain human talent (Thorne & Pellant, 2007). Thorne and Pellant (2007) argue that a relatively small number of employees are developing specialist skills and if these employees leave the organisation there is a high risk that a part of the organisation will leave with them. The competition between healthcare organisations has never been more dominant (Bryant-Hampton, Walton, Carroll & Strickler, 2010).
Hill (2011) states that there is a paucity of information on the desire and intention to stay of experienced nurses. Medical employees’ expertise and organisational knowledge are invaluable to their patients and colleagues and to the intellectual capital of the organisation (Bryant-Hampton et al., 2010). Similarly, the retention of IT employees is vital to organisations since they often hold implicit knowledge about systems and business processes. Hence, it is expensive for organisations to replace their medical and IT employees since these skills tend to be specialised and hard to replace (Hill, 2011; McKnight, Phillips & Hardgrave, 2009). Moreover, turnover increases the workloads of and demands made on existing staff and, as a result, overburdening and burnout appear, which may further result in additional turnover (Stroth, 2010).
South Africa needs to find solutions to overcome these skills shortages in order to enable a striving for increased economic growth and global competitiveness (Rasool & Botha, 2011). In the multicultural South African work context, it would appear to be beneficial to gain insight into the relationship between organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness for the purpose of developing effective talent retention strategies.

 Background to the study

Firms in developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Great Britain and Canada are recruiting highly skilled South Africans with high levels of education and advanced occupational skills (Van Rooyen, 2000). The official number of emigrants per 1000 of the population is 4.98 (Immigration Statistics, 2011). Rasool and Botha (2011) state that skill shortages are affecting the economic growth of South Africa and limit the level of global participation. This loss of skilled workers is referred to as the “brain drain” (Rasool & Botha, 2011) and may have an adverse effect the direct foreign investment necessary to drive the country forward economically (Rasool & Botha, 2011).
Benson and Brown (2011) state that the differences found between generations in terms of job satisfaction and the willingness to quit have important implications for management. Today’s younger employees are much more mobile than previous generations (Thorne & Pellant, 2007). Management therefore needs to understand how work and people interact in order to make predictions about the way employees will respond to these various interactions, since this understanding will help to keep workers more satisfied and prevent them from leaving the organisation (Benson & Brown, 2011).
The nursing workforce is aging at a rapid rate since nurses tend to leave the profession earlier than the usual retirement age (Bleich, Cleary, Davis, Hatcher, Hewlett & Hill, 2009). In contrast, a growing and aging population is creating an upsurge in demand for health services (Hirschkorn, West, Hill, Cleary & Hewlett, 2010). Hirschkorn et al. (2010) state that 55% of nurses plan to retire between 2011 and 2020, thus heightening the need for effective retention strategies.
Korunka et al. (2008) state that IT employees have a strong tendency to leave their organisations, the reason being that IT employees work in a dynamic environment where a continuous updating of skills is required (Lee, 2000). These employees therefore tend to be highly employable which can further result in intentions to leave. Moreover, the demand from organisations for IT employees is increasing and therefore it is easy to land new jobs (McKnight et al., 2009). In addition, IT employees have a need for challenges and achievements which play a significant role in their turnover intentions (Lee, 2000). However, these employees tend to suffer from extensive projects and aggressive timelines (Messersmith, 2007) which can result in stress and burnout.
The relationship between organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness should therefore be investigated in order to inform talent retention strategies. As a result of South Africa’s diverse culture and work environment, possible differences between biographical groups’ organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness need to be considered when adopting talent retention strategies.

 Trends from the research literature

The following section provides a brief outline of the dominant trends in the research literature on the constructs organisational commitment, retention factors and perceived job embeddedness.

 Organisational commitment

Meyer and Allen (1991) describe organisational commitment as an inner condition that connects employees to a certain organisation. Meyer and Allen’s (1991) multidimensional approach integrates attitudinal and behavioural approaches to commitment in order to create three distinct dimensions of organisational commitment, namely, affective, normative and continuance commitment, as indicated in figure 3.1. Meyer and Allen (1991) argue that one can achieve a better understanding of an employee’s attachment to the organisation if all three forms of commitment are taken into consideration. Allen and Meyer (1990) view affective, continuance and normative commitment as different psychological components, each of which can be experienced to differing degrees. Meyer and Allen (1991) hypothesise that each component develops as a result of different experiences and has different implications for on-the-job behaviour.
Organisational commitment is generally expected to reduce abandonment behaviours, which include tardiness and turnover. In addition, employees who are committed to their organisation may possibly be more willing to participate in “extra-role” activities, such as being creative or innovative, which frequently guarantee an organisation’s competitiveness in the market (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Research by Martin (2008) indicates that affective commitment positively influences normative commitment, and, in turn, that continuance commitment is determined by normative commitment and affective commitment. Nevertheless, affective commitment makes a stronger impact on the desire and intention to continue working in the organisation than normative commitment.
Research by Ferreira, Basson and Coetzee (2010) indicate that employees who prefer a managerial and freedom/autonomy career tend to feel emotionally attached to their organisation. Similarly, Beck and Wilson (2000) suggest that individuals who are dedicated on an emotional level usually remain with the organisation because they see their individual employment relationship as being in harmony with the goals and values of the organisation for which they are currently working. Ferreira et al. (2010) suggest that participants, who perceive themselves as having the skills to plan, implement and manage their career goals in innovative ways, tend to feel emotionally attached to the organisation. Moreover, people who are emotionally well educated are able to form supportive social networks, which increase their sense of belonging to the organisation (Sinclair, 2009).
Manetje and Martins (2009) concluded that respondents who are affectively committed to the organisation are more willing to maintain their relationship with the organisation than those who are normatively and continuance committed. Affectively committed employees may therefore demonstrate feelings of identification with, attachment to and involvement in the organisation. In addition, Martin (2008) argues that when employees trust their organisation, are satisfied with their job and the labour conditions, feel there is flexibility to adapt to changing conditions, feel their opinions are valuable to the organisation and the relevant information is provided, then they will commit affectively to the organisation, will be responsible at work (normative commitment) and will desire to continue working in the same organisation (continuance commitment).

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 Retention factors

Netswera et al. (2005) refer to retention factors as factors that would facilitate the stay or exit of employees and the decision to leave or stay, depending on the perceived direction of an individual’s priorities. In a literature survey, Döckel (2003) identified six critical factors that need to be considered in the retention of high technology employees. These factors will be relevant to this study and include compensation, job characteristics, training and development opportunities, supervisor support, career opportunities and work–life policies.
In the context of the present study, compensation refers to monetary and non-monetary rewards in return for the work delivered by employees. Monetary rewards may include the base salary, incentives and stock options, while non-monetary rewards are the indirect financial rewards employees receive for their labour (Döckel, 2003).
Job characteristics include skill variety and job autonomy since highly specialised knowledge workers prefer jobs where they can use a variety of skills and have challenging assignments and job autonomy. The term “knowledge workers” refers to employees who have critical knowledge of and skills in core products and services (Coetzee & Roythorne-Jacobs, 2007). In order to increase satisfaction with the job in terms of job characteristics, Kraimer et al. (2011) state that organisations can provide programmes and training opportunities that support employee growth and development. Employees can participate in formal development activities provided by the organisation or informal experiences, such as quality developmental relationships with senior managers (e.g. career mentoring).
Supervisor support includes recognition and feedback from supervisors to employees. Various research studies indicate the importance of recognition and feedback in the retention of valuable employees (Allen et al., 2003).
Career opportunities may include the internal and external career options that an employee may have. Internal career opportunities may be in the employee’s current organisation, for example a promotion or being moved to a different position inside the same organisation, while external career opportunities may include obtaining a position at another organisation (Coetzee & Roythorne-Jacobs, 2007).
Parkes and Langford (2008) describe work–life balance as an individual’s ability to meet both work and family commitments, as well as other non-work responsibilities and activities. Döckel (2003) argues that organisations need to accommodate employees by providing remote access for telecommuting, childcare centres, referral programmes and employee assistance programmes. Organisations may then be perceived as concerned employers, which can positively influence employees’ attachment to the organisation and create more positive attitudes towards it (Döckel, 2003).
Kraimer et al. (2011) found that perceived career opportunities significantly predict job performance and turnover. When employees perceive many career opportunities in the organisation it may result in higher job performance and lower intention to leave. In addition, Kraimer et al. (2011) found that career mentoring support and participation in training relate positively to employees’ perceptions that the organisation supports employee development. Development support from the organisation helps to increase turnover if employees perceive fewer career opportunities that match their career goals and interests within the organisation (Kraimer et al., 2011). Thus, training and development programmes may send an important message to employees that the organisation is investing in them and that they are regarded as valuable organisational resources (Kraimer et al., 2011). On the other hand, Maurer and Lippstreu (2008) found that employees with low levels of learning orientation do not respond to development support with greater organisational commitment.
Thorne and Pellant (2007) found that talented people want recognition, to achieve something significant, excitement, variety, stimulation and a feeling of making a difference. Thorne and Pellant (2007, p. 66) describe talent as “a lever, a mechanism and an approach that helps keep the organisation “ready” for the future”. Döckel (2003) identified eight retention factors and the following six factors are included in this study: compensation, job characteristics, training and development opportunities, supervisor support, career opportunities and work–life balance (see figure 3.1). Benson and Brown (2011) found that the retention factors that were important to all groups were job motivation, career opportunities and supervisor support. These authors suggest that managers need to ensure that all supervisors are well trained and supportive of their workers and that all employees have career opportunities available to them.

Perceived job embeddedness

Mitchell et al. (2001b) suggest that job embeddedness relates to an employee’s perception of his or her match (fit) and connection (link) with the relevant job and organisation and the cost of leaving it (sacrifice). The unfolding model of voluntary turnover (Mitchell et al., 2001b) explains how and why people leave organisations. The major components of the unfolding model include shocks, scripts, image violations, job satisfaction and job search (Lee & Mitchell, 1994). Lee and Mitchell (1994) argue that some sort of event, which they call a “shock to the system”, causes the employee to pause and think about the meaning or implication of the event in relation to the job. Holtom and Inderrieden (2005) state that employees may prepare a script that details a plan  of action that can be based on prior experience, observation of the experiences of others, and information obtained from relevant reading through social expectations. If an employee’s values, goals and strategies for goal attainment do not fit with those of the employing organisation or those implied by the shock, an image violation occurs (Holtom & Inderrieden, 2005). Even though job search behaviours may not be intended to result in taking a new job, they are actions employers would prefer to limit. Private employers would prefer not to engage in bidding for current employees and public employers rarely have that option. In the public sector, employers should be concerned that unexpected job offers could serve as shocks (Lee & Mitchell, 1994).
Perceived job embeddedness represents a broad constellation of influences on employee retention (Mitchell et al., 2001b). The critical aspects of job embeddedness are (1) “the extent to which employees’ jobs and communities are similar to or fit with the other aspects in their life spaces; (2) the ease with which links can be broken, that is, what employees will be willing to give up if they leave the organisation; (3) the extent to which people have links to other people or activities” (Mitchell et al., 2001b, p. 1104). Mitchell et al. (2001b, p. 1104) describe job embeddedness as “a net or web in which an individual can become stuck. One who is highly embedded has many links that are close together (not highly differentiated)”. Moreover, “the content of the parts may vary considerably, suggesting that one can be enmeshed or embedded in many different ways”. It is this overall level of embeddedness, rather than specific elements of embeddedness, that is the central focus in this study (Mitchell et al., 2001b, p. 1104).

1.3 AIMS

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