If You’re Thinking of Quitting, Just Do It!

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Topic: TurnoverWellness
Publication: Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Article: Job mobility as predictor of health and burnout.
Author: L. Liljegrin & K. Ekberg
Featured by: Benjamin Granger

Do all employees who think about quitting or transferring, actually leave? Probably not! So, what happens to employees that want to quit but don’t?

To address these issues, Liljegrin and Ekberg (2009) conducted a study aimed at investigating whether intentions to leave (external mobility) or transfer (internal mobility) affect employees’ general mental health (e.g., frequently feeling anxious) and work-related burnout (e.g., constantly feeling worn out at the end of a work day) over time.

The sample included 662 Swedish employees in three regions of a single organization.  Each participant was surveyed at two different time points, two years apart.

The findings suggest that the worst outcomes were present for employees who intended to leave the organization (time 1) but did not (time 2). This combination of high turnover intentions and low external job mobility led to poorer mental health and high degrees of work-related burnout. On the other hand, employees who intended to quit (time 1) and did in fact leave the organization (time 2), had lower levels of burnout two years later.

But what about internal mobility? Over several analyses, internal mobility tended to have little influence on the mental health outcomes measured. Thus, it seems that moving internally within the same organization has little influence on general mental health and work-related burnout. These findings are interesting because they suggest that when employees’ intentions (either to leave the organization or stay) are in disaccord with their actual behavior over time, there can be negative psychological side effects. And although organizations are typically interested in reducing employee turnover, it may actually be beneficial for those employees who intend or think about quitting to actually do so. If this is the case, then perhaps organizations should not try to reduce turnover per se, but focus on reducing employees’ intentions to turnover instead.

Liljegrin, M., & Ekberg, K. (2009). Job mobility as predictor of health and burnout. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82, 317-329.