Employees: how to keep the best ones

March 01, 2011
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March 1, 2011 – How can an organization hold onto the employees they don’t want to lose? Make sure they have work that gives them joy and meaning, a study from the BI Norwegian School of Management shows.

Employees who have a high degree of the “mastery approach” consistently perform well at work. They are also willing to take on work not included in their formal job description. They are happy to offer help to colleagues when it’s needed, and help new employees to settle in.

 Anders Dysvik
Employees with a strong mastery approach are happiest in work situations that give them the opportunity to learn and grow, using themselves as a point of reference.
The organization would very much like to keep this type of employee.

However, earlier research shows that employees with a strong mastery approach have a greater tendency to quit their jobs. This is likely due to a lack of opportunity for learning and self-development in the job. Also, this type of employee is very attractive to head-hunters and enterprises looking for new, competent employees.

Assistant Professor Anders Dysvik and Professor Bård Kuvaas from the BI Norwegian School of Management conducted a comprehensive study of 343 employees from different enterprises within different industrial sectors in order to investigate more closely what makes employees consider quitting (turnover intention).

This topic is high on the HR agenda in many enterprises.

“Replacing employees is expensive, both recruitment and training cost money. Also, high turnover among employees will affect the quality and stability of the goods and services offered by the enterprise,” Dysvik points out.

Dysvik and Kuvaas have looked at different correlations between two sources of motivation and employees’ intentions of quitting.

 Bård Kuvaas
Mastery approach: Employees with a strong mastery approach thrive when given the opportunity to learn and grow. They are inclined to want to quit if they no longer feel they are growing.

Intrinsic motivation: Employees with a lot of intrinsic motivation are happy when they have work they feel is meaningful and interesting. They are inclined to quit if they no longer feel their work is meaningful.

Earlier studies show that motivation explains turnover in addition to established factors such as job satisfaction and work commitment. There are few studies that look at several sources of motivation together.

The study shows that the intrinsic motivation is significantly more closely related to turnover intention than the mastery approach when these two sources of motivation are examined in context.

Dysvik and Kuvaas also found that the correlation between the mastery approach and turnover intention depends on the degree of intrinsic motivation among employees. The researchers only found a positive correlation between the mastery approach and the desire to do something else among employees with low intrinsic motivation.

“The results indicate that employees’ experience of meaningfulness, interest and joy related to the work in question, is more significant to the level of turnover intention than the need to learn and grow in one’s job,” say the researchers.

In other words, leaders and organizations who want to keep their most valuable employees should make sure employees feel intrinsic motivation at work.

“Intrinsic motivation can arise or be passed on among employees when there is a sense of independence and participation, when employees feel they master their work, and also have good colleagues around them and feel their employer has confidence in them,” Dysvik concludes.

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