I Can Show Myself Out Thank You Very Much

Inter-role Conflict and Employee Retention

By In Weekly Email 5 minute read time

The Problem & The Question

When an employee quits, you might as well just open up your wallet.  Conservative estimates suggest that it costs an organization over 1.5X the outgoing individual’s salary to find and train a replacement. 

The costs spiral because there’s a lack of productivity and, even, a loss of business if key employees leave.  Despite these ridiculously high costs, we are, amazingly, still in the dark when it comes to explaining why employees quit in the first place. 

Up to the beginning of the millennium, much of the quitting research focused on nurses.  But nurses work in unique environments and trying to apply lessons from there to the rest of us doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

Two experts sought to set us straight and to help us all understand why employees may choose to quit.  If you like heavy stats and structural equation modeling right before bedtime, click here to see the article.  For all others, read on. 

Theory & Practice 

The study, theoretical model, and the statistics are rather complicated, but we can simplify for you because that’s what we do at The Open Kimono.  Here’s some of the arguments that they make.

The authors of the study argue that inter-role conflict begins the process of driving our best out the door.  Essentially, heavy job obligations mean that we have less fun and more stress outside of work.  When we bring work home or are always thinking about work, it interferes with our ability to be a good partner, a better friend, and to enjoy some self-love in the form of downtime.  The research duo stakes a claim that as inter-role conflict increases, we become less satisfied with our jobs and we begin to withdraw from work by like skipping work or coming in late. 

The Samples and Measures—

Remember that much of the early research findings focused on nurses.  The authors wanted to change that so they looked at a different sample of managers, salespersons, and auto mechanics from a national automotive retail store chain.    

On the survey, they used measures to capture things like inter-role conflict and broke that down to personal, community, and family conflict.  This was kinda neat because most assume that inter-role conflict means that something at work causes stress within the family.  Meaning that only mothers and fathers can experience such conflict.  Not so fast, they say.  The authors extend that to focus on those single, non-family, employees.  If work detracts from your personal relaxation time like writing haikus, then that should matter too. 

The authors also gathered survey data on job satisfaction and intention to quit along with such measures related to job avoidance like absence from work or slacking on the job. 

We Now Open the Kimono!

Most of their findings were commonsensical.  They found empirical evidence that inter-role conflict causes dissatisfaction and gets us thinking about withdrawing from the organization.  Next, they found that as dissatisfaction increases, we’re more likely to mail it in and show up late for work or give 50%.  This is problematic.  Because supervisors get involved by writing people up, which pours kerosene on the fire and leads to ever more thoughts of escape.  You see the vicious circle…My job is demanding….It interferes with my private life…..Now, I hate my job….I show up late for work….I get written up….And now I start to look for other jobs.  Repeat. 

This last piece is really the nugget of the study.  Apparently, job avoidance is not a substitute for quitting.  Rather, it’s the beginning of the end.  In other words, it’s the first phase towards walking out the door with the middle finger in the air. The lesson here? Leaders should view excessive absences or being late as warning signs of an impeding resignation—not a substitute for quitting.  If the employee is a good one, maybe we should intervene. 

And forget about mothers and fathers.  Single employees can feel inter-role conflict when work obligations spoil their recreational plans like playing the jazz flute.  So, perhaps, organizations should move away from just a family-friendly orientation to something more expansive as this study shows that singles can experience conflict as well and experience burnout from the job. 

Lastly, the scholars measure unemployment and when we consider that factor, the world changes.  Specifically, as unemployment increases and we’re in a recession mode, thinking about withdrawal matters a lot less; employees considering bolting for the door think they have fewer chances for a better job and leaving looks a lot less attractive.  So, timing matters here.

Remember, the Kimono will never quit on you. 

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