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Part of the job: The role of physical work conditions in the nurse turnover process

Vardaman, James M.; Cornell, Paul T.; Allen, David G.; Gondo, Maria B.; Muslin, Ivan S.; Mobley, Robin N.; Brock, Meagan E.; Sigmon, Tracy L.

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e3182915e2b

Background: Retention of nursing staff remains an important issue for health care managers. Turnover research has focused primarily on motivational and social factors as keys to retention, whereas the role of the physical work conditions has received considerably less attention. However, work design theory suggests that physical work conditions may be an important factor in fostering retention among nursing staff.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to integrate work design theory with turnover process models to explore the influence of perceptions of physical work conditions on the development of turnover intentions among nursing staff.

Methods: Drawing on two samples of registered nurses working in cancer units in metropolitan hospitals in the southeastern United States, this study explores the impact of perceptions of physical work conditions on turnover intentions using ordinary least squares regression. Hypotheses are tested in Study 1 and replicated in Study 2. A measure of perceptions of physical work conditions is also developed and validated using exploratory (Study 1) and confirmatory (Study 2) factor analyses.

Findings: Perceptions of physical work conditions explain variance in turnover intentions above than that explained by motivational and social factors. Specifically, employee perceptions of noisy work conditions are found to significantly increase turnover intentions, whereas perceptions that work conditions facilitate tasks were found to significantly reduce turnover intentions. Perceptions of temperature and health hazard did not show significant effects.

Practice Implications: Results suggest that health care managers and scholars should re-examine the role of physical work conditions in the turnover process. Investments in upgrades that facilitate tasks may foster retention better than investments that simply improve employee comfort. Negative perceptions of work conditions may have no impact if they are considered a normal “part of the job,” although negative perceptions of conditions that are viewed as under the organization’s control may be important in creating a desire to leave.

James M. Vardaman, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Management, College of Business, Mississippi State University. E-mail:

Paul T. Cornell, PhD, is President, HealthCare Practice Transformation, Dallas, Texas. E-mail:

David G. Allen, PhD, is Professor of Management, Fogelman College of Business & Economics, University of Memphis. E-mail:

Maria B. Gondo, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Policy and Planning, Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico. E-mail:

Ivan S. Muslin, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Management, Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia. E-mail:

Robin N. Mobley, MSN, RN, is Chief Nursing Officer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee. E-mail:

Meagan E. Brock, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Management, West Texas A&M University, Amarillo. E-mail:

Tracy L. Sigmon, RA, is Architect, Sigmon Consulting, Memphis, Tennessee. E-mail:

No funding was received from the National Institutes of Health or any other funding source.

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins