Networking involves building, maintaining, and using professional relationships. When people talk about networking, they are usually quick to point out the benefits of being connected to others. The more people you connect with, the more information you can gain about strategies for dealing with difficult people, trends in the industry, and potential job opportunities. As employees gain more information and connect with more people, does that increase or decrease the likelihood that they will voluntarily leave their current job? New research (Porter, Woo, & Campion, 2016) suggests that the answer depends on whom you are networking with.
Although you can network with anyone, it is useful to think of networking in terms of two categories: internal networking and external networking. Internal networking involves building relationships among coworkers inside your organization. The authors found that the more employees engaged in internal networking, the less likely they were to have voluntarily left their employer within the last two years. Why are these employees choosing to stay? The researchers found that building relationships with coworkers fosters a psychological attachment to the organization and increases perceptions of organizational “fit.” In addition, having strong internal relationships makes it feel more costly to leave the organization. In turn, employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere, which carries benefits for the organization.
External networking involves building relationships among professionals outside of your organization. The researchers found that the more employees engaged in external networking, the more likely they were to have voluntarily left their employer within the last two years. The researchers suggest that individuals often acquire job offers through referrals; thus, the more employees engage in external networking, the more likely they are to be offered job opportunities. Once the job offer is on the table, employees are more likely to voluntarily leave their current job.
External networking is often an effective job search strategy, and if employees are determined to leave their organization, then external networking may be more of a symptom of turnover than a cause of turnover. However, the researchers suggest that one way that organizations can counteract the appeal of leaving is to develop a system for offering competitive counteroffers.
On the bright side, employees who engage in more internal networking are less likely to leave the organization. In order to capitalize on this, the researchers suggest that organizations should create more opportunities for internal networking. These may include mentoring programs, company events, using cross-functional teams, or implementing job rotations. Fostering networking between employees appears to be one strategy to help organizations retain top talent.
Porter, C.M., Woo, S.E. & Campion, M.A. (2016). Internal and external networking differentially predict turnover through job embeddedness and job offers. Personnel Psychology, 69(3), 635-672.