The concept of job embeddedness was originally created in 2001 by organizational-behavior researchers Brooks Holtom, PhD; Terrence Mitchell, PhD; and Thomas Lee, PhD, and includes six factors that determine whether an employee is best suited to stick at their job or quit by distilling how the job fits into their life and the potential opportunity costs that could come from leaving it. The framework can also offer clarity on benefits (tangible and emotional) that an employee is poised to enjoy in either scenario.
“You’re not often waking up each morning thinking, ‘How do I really feel about my job? Should I stay or should I quit?’ until a shock or change inspires that thinking.” —Brooks Holtom, PhD
But according to Dr. Holtom, now a professor of management and senior associate dean at Georgetown, this entire framework doesn't typically come into play until some sort of life change spins it into action.
“You’re not often waking up each morning thinking, ‘How do I really feel about my job? Should I stay or should I quit?’ until a life shock inspires that thinking,” says Dr. Holtom, who explains that the shock may be either negative (like say, losing a loved one, a partner losing their job, or having a large disagreement at work) or positive (like getting married, growing a family, or getting promoted). Since the onset of the pandemic, however, we all experienced a universal shock that has caused “in my estimation, nearly everyone to reconsider work, life, and the intersection of those two,” says Dr. Holtom.
To that end, now might be a particularly apt time to consider just how embedded you are at your current job, and whether it makes sense to stay or go. Below, Dr. Holtom walks through the six factors of job embeddedness, and how to use each to gauge your work satisfaction (or lack thereof).
The 6 factors of job embeddedness that can help you determine whether to stay in a role
1. Fit at work
Start by scanning your overall ‘fit,’ which has to do with how well you mesh with the specific aspects of your job description and the goals of the company, says Dr. Holtom. You might consider whether your job utilizes your skills and talents well, whether you share the same values as the company, and whether you’re comfortable with the level of authority and responsibility you carry.
2. Fit in community
The original assumption behind this dimension of community fit (when the job embeddedness scale was first created) was that it was important to live near your employer, says Dr. Holtom, as that was often the case pre-pandemic. So, if you work in a fully remote capacity, this element is of less concern.
If, however, you do need to spend any amount of time in a physical office, it’s worth weighing your comfort level in the surrounding community in terms of its culture, values, and local amenities (like sports, theater, or any leisure activities you might do).
3. Links at work
This factor reflects the people who surround you at work, including your co-workers and manager—all of whom can play a pivotal role in your workplace mood and vibe. Consider the degree to which you’re connected to co-workers with whom you feel some sort of kinship or sense of solidarity, says Dr. Holtom, and the degree to which you have a mentor or supervisor who’s lifting you up in your career.
In a more general sense, this factor also relies on how long you’ve been in the position you’re in, as people tend to feel more connected to the other folks on their team with time. Not to mention, getting to know those people could take even longer if you’re working remotely, pushing back the timeframe for when you’ll feel truly satisfied in this dimension.
4. Links in community
Feeling connected to other folks in your neighborhood—whether it’s neighbors, family members or friends who live nearby, people you see at the gym or local restaurants, or otherwise—can embed you more fully in your job, too, assuming the job is part of what’s keeping you in a certain area. The same goes for having a significant other or spouse who has a job that requires them to be in the neighborhood, as well as owning a home with that person.
5. Sacrifices at work
This measure refers to whatever you might lose (or set yourself up to lose) by leaving a job, which can mean anything from bonuses, rewards, and opportunities for promotions, to unique workplace benefits that you couldn’t carry with you to your next gig. “Any perks that would be tough for you to find elsewhere are part of what can embed you more in a job and make that job more appealing to keep,” says Dr. Holtom.
One of those perks that’s becoming more and more difficult to give up is flexibility surrounding work location, hours, and schedule, he adds. Having that kind of freedom in a job could easily boost your satisfaction with it—though Dr. Holtom does caveat that point with concerns about workplace flexibility potentially hindering career growth, given that recent research has found remote workers are less often promoted than their in-office counterparts.
To that end, when considering a remote role, Dr. Holtom suggests asking yourself: "What is the potential long-term impact to my career of staying in or taking a job that’s remote? And to what degree do I think this employer will continue to foster my training and development and provide feedback?’ That’s the piece you’re most likely to give up with any fully remote role, he says.
6. Sacrifices in community
Wherever your job might require (or allow) you to live plays a part in what you might also risk losing if you were to quit. So, even if your job is fully or partially remote, the hours of a typical workday and the time zone in which the company operates can affect when you’re home and when you’re free to enjoy the perks of your community.
So, because part of job satisfaction hinges on the place from which you’re doing a job and its own set of perks (like, say, a highly rated school district or a vibrant arts scene), the three questions Dr. Holton suggests you ask yourself are: If I could live anywhere, where would that be? Who and what would I want to live by? And what employer would enable me to live in that place while still delivering a quality product or service?
The more your current company aligns to those terms—particularly in a post-lockdown era that’s made accessing them more feasible—the higher your job will rank on the satisfaction scale.
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