VCU professor researches manager influence tactics that affect employees’ voluntary turnover

A new study led by a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business professor supports the conventional wisdom that employees leave their managers rather than their companies.

Christopher S. Reina, Ph.D.
Christopher S. Reina, Ph.D.

Quitting the Boss? The Role of Manager Influence Tactics and Employee Emotional Engagement in Voluntary Turnover,” led by Christopher S. Reina, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Management, was first published online May 17 in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. The research shows that managers who inspire rather than use pressure tactics on their employees are better able to retain talent in part because they create an emotional connection between their employees and their work.

The authors collected data at three different time periods to demonstrate that managers who used inspirational appeals such as emphasizing employees’ values and ideals increased employee emotional engagement at work while those managers who used pressure tactics such as threats and demands decreased employee emotional engagement. The study further found that the level of employee emotional engagement then predicted whether employees voluntarily chose to leave the organization. In other words, employees’ level of emotional engagement determines whether they stay or go, and this level of emotional engagement is very much determined by the influence tactics and behaviors exhibited by their direct manager.

The study comprised a sample of high-level employees whose supervising managers have considerable discretion over using influence tactics. The nature of their work required daily exchanges and interactions with their superiors.

“As organizations struggle to minimize dysfunctional turnover, managers must examine their own behaviors as a contributor to talent loss and recognize that their behaviors toward employees are central to employee turnover,” the study concludes. “Our findings indicate that employee decisions to leave vary substantially depending on two influence tactics they are subjected to by their managers.

“Specifically, managers who inspire rather than pressure their employees are better able to retain talent in part because they create an emotional connection between their employees and their work. In the context of conventional wisdom suggesting that employees leave their managers rather than their companies, this study provides an important contribution to both management theory and practice that can help shape the specific behaviors managers use to influence their employees to stay.”

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.