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Professor: Community Connections Keep Workers in Jobs

Brooks Holtom

Brooks Holtom, associate professor of management, says community-based factors, such as owning a home and having school-age children, can be good predictors of whether workers will stay in their jobs.

April 25, 2011 – The more connected workers are to their community, the more likely they are to stay in their jobs, says Brooks Holtom, associate professor of management at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

Holtom’s research has led to the development of a phenomenon now known as “job embeddedness.”

The professor began his research in graduate school at the University of Washington but found that existing research only focused on why dissatisfied workers leave a job.

Incomplete Picture

“Reading all of those theories, I felt like the picture was incomplete,” Holtom says. “They were exclusively focused on work and the job itself. But a lot of times, the question is not just, ‘Am I willing to leave this job?’ but ‘Am I willing to leave this community?’”

Holtom and his research partners began looking at community-based factors for answers, asking questions about whether workers owned their homes, had school-age children and whether they were happy with their network of friends. 

All these factors turned out to play a huge part in whether workers stayed in their jobs.

He also discovered that major life events such as getting pregnant, getting passed up for a promotion or having a death in the family could lead otherwise satisfied employees to rethink everything.

Best Performers

He ultimately determined that some of the things that help retain workers include how comfortable they are within their jobs and their organizations, whether they have good relationships with co-workers and superiors, and whether the work is rewarding and interesting enough that leaving the job would be a sacrifice.

Human resource managers and top-level administrators have found that the results confirmed their common sense with systematic thoroughness.

“We have found that job embeddedness not only predicts who will stay and who will leave,” he says, “but it also predicts the best performers.”

In 2009, Holtom applied the theory to larger groups of employees, where he analyzed “collective embeddedness” as opposed to looking only at individuals.

Practical Application

Independent researchers have since validated Holtom’s results in India, China and Japan. Holtom’s goal is to improve his theories and their applications as well as improve its usability for the industry practitioners who apply it to their businesses.

“I am interested in doing things that make a difference in the business world,” he says. “Theory without application is useless to me.”

Related Information

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