Norman B. Bryan Jr., Ph.D.
Director, Institutional Research and Assessment
Many a concern dedicated to this number and for good reason. Most of us wish to post a better figure, but not just for enhancing the stature of our institutions, rather mostly for its symbolism that we are having a greater impact on the lives of the students that have entrusted us to lead their educational efforts. Research titled “When employees are out of step with coworkers: How job satisfaction trajectory and dispersion influence individual- and unit-level voluntary turnover,” published in the December 2012 issue of the Academy of Management Journal, may have insights on the dynamics of student retention. In the main, this research reveals that in addition to one’s level of job satisfaction having an impact on turnover, the morale of one’s work unit (i.e., department), which could either mitigate or enhance one’s desire to leave the organization, also must be considered. Might we reconceptualize this research just a bit and ask, “what if students are out of step with faculty and staff, would such have an impact on retention rates?” Although the research does not specifically address this type of situation, it seems plausible that the answer would be “yes, very likely.”
Of the several findings of this research, I wish to bring a couple to your attention: 1) If a person’s work unit morale is sufficiently poor, regardless of one’s level of job satisfaction, one’s risk for leaving the organization is at the highest levels, and 2) if one’s work unit morale is sufficiently good, those having good experiences will incur, of course, the lowest risk for turnover, and moreover, the organization has its best chance of retaining even those having negative experiences.
None of the above probably is very surprising, but it is nice that we have empirical evidence to support our intuitive insights. However, the challenge, some might suggest, is to maintain sufficiently high levels of unit morale, which can be very difficult in dynamic, complex institutions where decisions, sometimes based on ambiguous information, facilitate negative attitudes and behaviors among its employees. Administrators might get it wrong from time to time, and if they do, who is going to fault employees for their attitudes and behaviors when such happens? Nonetheless, we are not without choices, and regardless of the rightness or wrongness of an organizational decision, how institutional employees react to adversity impacts to some degree their students’ desires to remain in or leave the institution. Kurt Lewin once suggested that behavior is a function of the individual and the environment; thus, we, faculty and staff, are a major part of our students’ college environment. We have influence, probably far more than we realize.
Let’s make it a good year for us; for such surely helps make it a good year for those that we have dedicated our lives in serving!
Happy New Year, All.
Liu, D., Mitchell, T.R., Lee, T.W., Holtom, B.C., & Hinkin, T.R. (2012). When employees are out of step with coworkers: How job satisfaction trajectory and dispersion influence individual- and unit-level voluntary turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 55(6), 1360-1380.