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Is it Time to Voluntarily Turn Over Theories of Voluntary Turnover?


  • I would like to thank the late Mary Van Sell (my graduate school office mate and friend) and Dr. James L. Price (one of our many graduate school mentors) for sharing their insights and listening patiently to my thoughts and ramblings on voluntary turnover from the late 1970s until their untimely passing. The late Dr. Herbert A. Simon also exhibited extreme patience in (a) letting me audit his 1983 doctoral seminar on decision making and (b) suffering through subsequent conversations with me about voluntary employee turnover. However, all flaws and problems with this manuscript remain the sole responsibility of the author.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Craig J. Russell.


Address: Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, 307 W. Brooks Drive, Norman, OK 73019


The current research literature on voluntary employee turnover exhibits at least four shortcomings: low predictive validity, excessive exuberance with predictors, low rigor, and little relevance. Existing theories of voluntary employee turnover research are under specified, as none contains the full range of variables originally hypothesized by March and Simon as contributing to individual employees' decisions to quit their jobs. March and Simon (1958) contributed to the current state of affairs by making at least one assumption that subsequent results do not support. Subsequent efforts to expand theory and to detect and integrate new explanatory constructs have led to a much deeper understanding of the same small portion of turnover variance explained in employee decisions to quit. Deficiencies in current approaches and what a nondeficient model of voluntary employee turnover might look like are described. Directions for future voluntary turnover research are identified, as are past trends that need to be discontinued.