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Why superior employees won't stay

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Staff writer ▼ | May 17, 2009
leaving workHighly engaged workers will continue to work tirelessly for organizations despite diminishing resources, right? Well, don't count on that.


According to Thomas Britt, an industrial-organizational psychology professor at the Clemson University, there is a difference between an engaged worker, meaning one who invests himself or herself in superior job performance, and organizational commitment, a worker's psychological attachment to his or her organization or employer. Britt's research found that an engaged employee isn't necessarily committed to the organization.

"When the economy is experiencing a general downturn, it may be unlikely that engaged employees low in organizational commitment can find another position. But if they do have the opportunity to change jobs they will. Managers who fail to position employees to be effective in their roles and provide organizational support may lose their most talented and energetic people. The ones who stay behind may well be the ones who just don't care," he said.

Engaged workers are highly attuned to aspects of their work environment that either will facilitate or thwart job performance, said Britt. If the workers are not getting the resources they feel they need to perform at their best, their engagement may be diminished. "Engaged workers are more likely to place importance on being able to perform well because their performance matters to them ahead of corporate loyalty," Britt said.

Britt said barriers to engaged workers' peak performance may include lack of budget and equipment support, access to important information, work overload, unclear objectives and goals and assigning employees tasks that don't fit their training. His research finds that employees are more engaged when their leaders provide clear guidelines for job performance, which gives the employees a greater feeling of clarity and control over what they were supposed to do.

Britt's research shows engaged employees are likely to become frustrated and dissatisfied and may blame their supervisors if they do not have the systems and support necessary to be effective. Given the higher proactivity and energy levels of engaged employees, this frustration could lead to turnover as they begin to look for more supportive work environments.

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