Collective Turnover

February 6, 2023
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • Professional Development
  • research
Illustration of employee turnover.

By Kimberley Buster-Williams,  Vice President of Enrollment Management at Northeastern Illinois University

If you have ever experienced contagion or collective turnover, you understand how challenging this can be as it relates to continuity of work. Weeks before I arrived at my current institution, several key employees, including our Registrar and Director of Undergraduate Admissions, resigned. Their resignations were quickly followed by others over the next several months. On my first day, I was faced with knowledge gaps in several units. I hired interim staff until formal searches could be conducted. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. 

As shared in the literature, turnover contagion, or collective turnover, is when employees leave a company en masse, often in a short period of time. Turnover contagion happens when the primary trigger is that employees notice other people, usually peers, quitting their jobs. 

Where does this all leave higher education? Where does this leave Enrollment Management units? While higher education has historically been slow to adapt to corporate management processes more and more leaders are considering the value of succession planning especially as it relates to individual and collective turnover.

Quitting is contagious

As shared in the article, Is quitting contagious? 5 ways to fight turnover contagion, causes of turnover contagion include but are not limited to the fact that:

According to the People analytics firm Visier, smaller teams are most at risk of turnover contagion. For example, employees who work on teams of 3 to 5 are 12.1% more likely to resign after a team member quits, compared to 14.5% for teams of 6 to 10, said the study.

Research Study on Succession Planning- There’s still time to participate! 

Despite the need for strategies to manage individual and collective turnover, there is a gap in the literature on succession planning in enrollment management when one looks outside of qualitative perception studies. 

This mixed methods study examines engagement attributes (i.e., job embeddedness) and work engagement characteristics of middle enrollment managers that can be leveraged in succession planning. The study will be used to evaluate Schaufeli et al.'s concept of work engagement in the context of gender, level of education, generation (i.e., Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, etc.), and years of work experience.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-17S)

Participants will be asked to complete the free Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-17S), and a subset of participants will participate in a semi-structured interview (virtual). All information collected will be confidential. Study participants will receive a $10 Starbucks gift card. 

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact Kimberley Williams at or complete the survey by February 14, 2023.


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