The primary objective of this thesis is to contribute to a theory that explains the high turnover among information systems (IS) staff. This objective is motivated by two practical concerns: (1) excessive levels of turnover may lead to mounting costs for employers, and (2) companies may lose competitive advantage when IS staff depart with valuable skills. Although high turnover of IS staff has occurred over the past three decades, little research exists to explain the phenomenon. Moreover, results from prior research have produced some contradictory findings. It is important, therefore, to develop a theory to account for the turnover of IS staff. The theory should assist personnel managers in designing effective retention strategies. It should also enhance occupational counsellors' understanding of staff working in IS occupations.
This research first developed a model for the turnover of IS staff. The model is predicated on the fact that technology in the IS industry changes rapidly. IS staff need to have high growth need strength to learn new skills to keep up with changes in the IS environment. They move from job to job to acquire new skills to avoid becoming obsolete. The model posits that growth need strength and job satisfaction interact to affect different levels of turnover intention. A framework has been developed to classify various types of IS staff turnover based on different combinations of growth need strength and job satisfaction. In addition, the model posits that job satisfaction of IS staff is affected by the motivating potential score of their job and the role ambiguity and conflict they experience.
The model was tested empirically using data collected from a questionnaire survey and a number of field interviews. The data from the questionnaire survey were analysed based on a structural equation model using LISREL. The results of the analyses showed that growth need strength and job satisfaction interact in their effect on turnover intention. The results supported two classifications developed for IS staff turnover - namely, "prime leavers" and "unsure leavers." The results also showed that motivating potential score and role ambiguity have significant effects on job satisfaction.
The qualitative ratings collected during the interviews for constructs in the turnover model were analysed using non-parametric statistics. The results of analyses indicated that the sample size for the interview data (n=22) was too small to detect the relationships hypothesized in the turnover model. The qualitative responses from the interviewees, however, provided support for the tenor of the turnover model, i.e., IS staff intend leaving their jobs because they want to learn new skills and keep up with changes in technology.
Correlation tests were used to assess whether mono-operation bias and mono-method bias existed between data collected using the questionnaire survey and interviews. Among the six constructs in the turnover model, only turnover intention has a significant correlation between measurements using the questionnaire survey and interviews. These results indicated that participants might have interpreted most constructs in the questionnaire survey and interviews differently. It is possible, therefore, that the results obtained in this research are method bound.
Other findings from this research emerged on a post hoc basis. One important result obtained from both the exploratory analyses of the questionnaire data and the qualitative ratings showed that role conflict interacts with growth need strength to influence turnover intention. This relationship is justified based on qualitative responses from the interviewees.
The research has three implications for practice. First, based on the understanding gained from this research, employers may gradually outsource IS functions to minimise turnover costs. The employment structure of IS staff may shift toward companies that provide opportunities for IS staff to learn new skills to fulfil their growth needs. Second, to reduce turnover costs, companies could implement recruitment procedures that consider the fit between the development opportunities offered by the job and the growth need strength of IS staff. Third, employers could use the nature of the job as an incentive to reward and satisfy IS personnel whom they want to retain.
In summary, the research has contributed to the formulation of a theory of the turnover of IS staff. A distinguishing feature of this research is that it has shown empirically that high turnover among IS staff is related to their high growth need strength, which is an important motivational characteristic of staff working in the IS industry. Thus, this research reaffirmed that IS staff form a distinct occupational group. This research has also identified several areas for future research. For example, studies could be conducted to determine the antecedents of growth need strength. Studies could also be conducted to analyse another aspect of IS staff turnover - namely, the reasons why IS staff leave for non-IS occupations.