The relationship between job performance and turnover has long been thought to be curvilinear (U-shaped). In other words, the highest and lowest performers are most likely to quit their jobs. Numerous studies have replicated these findings, but these studies were almost entirely conducted in the United States. In a recent article (Sturman et al., 2012), researchers investigated the effect that culture may have on the relationship between performance and turnover.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
The authors analyzed data from employees in 24 countries. They compared the countries in terms of in-group collectivism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. In a culture that is highly collectivistic, people have a strong desire to be part of a group, and group goals are more important than individual ones. Power distance refers to the extent that people in that culture are accepting of unequal power distribution, and uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which a culture’s members are comfortable with uncertainty and risk.
Researchers found that the curvilinear relationship between job performance and turnover didn’t really hold up in some cultures. The U-shaped relationship was weaker (in other words, it’s a much flatter U) for collectivist cultures and for cultures high in power distance and high in uncertainty avoidance. Voluntary turnover was less likely in those cultures than in cultures high in individualism and low in power distance and uncertainty avoidance. The relationship between performance and turnover was stronger (more U-shaped) in cultures that were high in performance orientation.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Given the need for organizations to reduce turnover, these findings are important because they indicate that the nature of the relationship between performance and turnover is not the same for all cultures. Therefore, the same HR practices used to reduce turnover may or may not be effective, depending on the country in which they’re used. HR practices (e.g., efforts to encourage turnover of low performers, retention of high performers) should be chosen based on the target culture.
Sturman, M. C., Shao, L., & Katz, J. H. (2012). The effect of culture on the curvilinear relationship between performance and turnover. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 46-62.