Managing Voluntary Turnover Through Challenging Assignments

2011 – In this article in Group & Organization management. Paul Preenen, Irene de Pater, Annelies van Vianen, and Laura Keijzer argue that the amount of challenging tasks employees receive, as well as how much employees feel they learn on the job, will reduce their voluntary turnover.

Sometimes employees will quit their jobs despite having the opportunity to remain. This is known as voluntary turnover and can have costly consequences for employers. Companies must often invest in the education and skills of their employees and it is thus crucial that these companies are able to maintain the personnel that they invested in. This article concerns a study about the relationship between formal or informal learning, and voluntary turnover.

When employees become more skilled they become more attractive for other employers to hire. As their position in the labor market improves they may become more likely to voluntarily change jobs. This presents a difficult problem for companies as educating their workers will improve their efficiency and usefulness, but may also cause them to leave. The authors believe that although this may be true for employees receiving formal education, it may not be the case for those who learn from challenging work instead.

Formal Education – Employees who learn from formal education take courses or follow educations to improve their skills. Formal education often takes place outside of the organization where the courses are standardized and not so clearly associated with the work they perform. Formal education also often leads to certificates or similar proofs of education, which are often used as screening criteria for organizations. Not surprisingly, this formal and impersonal way of learning is known to lead to increased voluntary turnover.

Informal learning – Past research has shown that employees who perform challenging assignments will be able to informally learn from the novel and difficult tasks that they perform. This informal way of learning takes place within the organization and is less visible to outside employers than formal education. Additionally, past research has shown that employees who find their work challenging are more motivated and satisfied with their jobs. The authors hypothesized that this informal and more personal way of learning, would reduce voluntary turnover.

Participants their job searching behaviors, voluntary turnover and turnover intentions were measured at two separate times, with two years in between. These were then compared to the amount of challenging assignments they received and how much individuals feel that they were learning on the job. 

Individuals who learned through challenging experiences on the job were more likely to stay with their organization and were less likely to seek alternative employment. Based on these results the authors argue that organizations should consider using challenging assignment to educate their employees rather than formal education programs as informal learning is cheaper, and employees are more likely to stay after improving their knowledge and skills.


Preenen, P.T.Y., De Pater, I.E., Van Vianen, A.E.M., & Keijzer, L. (2011). Managing voluntary turnover through challenging assignments. Group & Organization Management 36(3), 308-344.

The article is attached.