More Employee Turnover is Caused by a Single Event than Job Dissatisfaction

September 12, 2005

Cynthia S. Shaw
(202) 687-4080

More Employee Turnover is Caused by a Single Event than Job Dissatisfaction

Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business Study Reveals Employees Quit in Response to Specific, "Shocking" Events

WASHINGTON, D.C. - September 12, 2005 - A recent study led by McDonough School of Business Assistant Professor Brooks C. Holtom finds that more employees quit jobs in response to a one-time event, or "shock" than because of accumulated job dissatisfaction, as is often thought.

These "shocks" are identifiable events - some of which are predictable and others which are not. In his study "Shocks as Causes of Turnover: What They are and How Organizations can Manage Them," Holtom and his colleagues identify three categories of shocks: personal vs. organizational; expected vs. unexpected; and positive, neutral and negative.

Organizational shocks might include being passed over for promotion the company being acquired or having a major disagreement with the boss. Other events may be positive or negative depending on who experiences them and when. For instance, having a spouse be transferred or a supervisor fired might be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Regardless of where the shock originates, if it results in the exit of a valued employee, it is likely to be costly to the company.

"This study should change the way employers look at the causes of turnover. No one wants to lose good employees. Consequently, employers need to better understand the types of events that cause them to think about leaving. Simply trying to increase job satisfaction is not enough to keep your best employees," said Holtom.

The researchers personally interviewed more than 200 departing employees and collected more than 1,000 survey responses from diverse populations including nurses, accountants, international and local bankers, as well as government employees. Holtom and colleagues recommend that organizations seek to understand the shocks their people experience by following a similar approach: conduct exit interviews and administer broad-based surveys. This information can be used in developing recruiting and selection procedures to reduce the likelihood of hiring people with a high probability of leaving the organization.

A final caveat is to note that turnover is not always a negative reflection on the company. "Not all turnover is detrimental. If turnover occurs among the least effective employees, it is generally beneficial for the company," Holtom said.

An article on the research "Shocks as Causes of Turnover: What They are and How Organizations can Manage Them," will be published in the fall issue of the Human Resources Management.

"Shocks as Causes of Turnover: What They are and How Organizations can Manage Them," was coauthored by Terence R. Mitchell of the University of Washington, Thomas W. Lee of the University of Washington and Edward J. Inderrieden of Marquette University.

Professor Holtom specializes in organizational behavior and human resource management. His current research focuses on how organizations acquire, develop and retain human and social capital. He teaches courses in organizational behavior, human resource management and negotiation. He works with executives on issues involving decision making, negotiation, leadership, motivation and strategic human resource management.

About Human Resources Management
Human Resource Management (HRM) is the premier journal for thoughtful human resource leaders. We seek thought-provoking and rigorous articles that lead to new ways of approaching the human resource management field and HR leadership. More information on HRM can be found at

About Georgetown University
Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll. Georgetown today is a major student-centered, international, research university offering respected undergraduate, graduate and professional programs on its three campuses. For more information about Georgetown University, visit

About Georgetown's McDonough School of Business
Offering unparalleled access to the world's business, policy and thought leaders, Georgetown University's Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business is seated at one of the nation's most prestigious universities in one of the world's most dynamic and important cities. The school is committed to developing leaders capable of making complex business decisions in a global environment and who are dedicated to serving their companies, society and humanity. The McDonough School's undergraduate, MBA, executive education and International Executive MBA programs provide solid grounding in all the core management disciplines, with an emphasis on the global, ethical and political environment of business. For more information about the McDonough School, visit