Embeddedness: The 6 Key Elements to Employee Retention
By: Vanderbloemen October 26, 2021
Unless your organization is a shocking exception, you are probably experiencing some level of turnover right now. The Great COVID Job Churn, or what others are calling The Great Resignation, seems to be affecting every organization at every level. You can find comfort in knowing that you are not alone in walking through COVID-related turnover, and in the fact that there is something that can be done about it. According to a theory developed over twenty years ago, regardless of the specific circumstances, job turnover is universally a result of an employee’s perceived embeddedness.
Embeddedness, a theory proposed by Terence Mitchell and Thomas Lee in 2001, posits that there are six dimensions by which an employee will measure the benefits of sticking around within an organization or seeking work elsewhere. Half of the elements relate to internal well-being, and half are external. Here are the 6 elements:
1. Internal Fit: a subjective measure of how the employee feels compatible within the organization
This considers skillset, personality, cultural fit, skills, and ideas
2. Internal Links: the connection between the individual and the organization
Does the employee have co-worker connections, friendships, and mentorship?
3. Internal Sacrifice: how personally costly it would be for them to leave the organization
Internal sacrifice includes salary, benefits, geographical location, and even opportunities for future career advancement
4. External Fit: a subjective measure of how the individual feels compatible with their community
What role does the individual fill in their family and community, and how does this affect their work?
5. External Links: the connection between the individual and their community
Does the employee have a reliable support system outside of work?
6. External Sacrifice: how personally costly it would be for an individual to leave their community
Would looking for a new job require a geographical change, or a change in social standing within the community?
A recent article from Fortune magazine walks through these six elements within the context of the great resignation. Ultimately, the primary takeaway is this: If you want your employees to stick around, you need to make staying absolutely worth their while. People often do not think too critically when considering their place within the workplace until something drastic changes in their life. Employees are choosing to seek work elsewhere because the pandemic caused them to be more critical of their workplaces and are finding their own embeddedness within the organization wanting.
It is also worth noting that according to Embeddedness Theory, a person’s overall well-being affects their ability to excel at their work. This may seem obvious, but many employers do not take into consideration the fact that promoting healthy personal lives is a smart business decision. If your church, school, or organization is getting in the way of an employee's physical, spiritual, or emotional health, then you are preventing them from doing their best work as well as promoting poor embeddedness within your organization. A person’s external embeddedness directly affects their internal embeddedness, and it is your job to promote a culture that equips both.
Though everyone is experiencing turnover right now, it is not too late to boost your retention rates by evaluating your employees’ embeddedness within your organization. It might be time to sit down and carefully think through where your employees fall within each of the six categories of embeddedness, or to even ask them directly. If you start to notice a certain theme, such as many of your employees not feeling internally linked, or not having benefits good enough to be a major sacrifice if they left, then it is time to consider what you can do to change those things.
Looking for more resources to understand your organization's overall culture and how it may be affecting employee embeddedness? Check out Willaim Vanderbloemen’s book Culture Wins, as well as our free Culture Tool.