Business study suggests “connectors” may help reduce employee turnover

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Everyone knows people who are fun to be around. They’re outgoing, positive and seem to make everyone around them better. Researchers call them “connectors,” and a new study suggests they can help improve the work experience and ultimately reduce turnover when strategically hired and placed in certain group settings.

And that effect is magnified in groups where members may feel isolated because of gender, race, ethnicity or other distinguishing characteristics.

In their paper “Deploying ‘connectors’: A control to manage employee turnover intentions?”, University of Illinois researcher Kevin Jackson and his co-authors examined the role of connectors and the impact they can have when deployed as a form of personnel control.

They found that groups that included a connector reported a more positive experience, group members had a stronger desire to remain part of that team, relative to those that did not include a connector.

“Workforce diversity is increasing and work groups are becoming more common in today’s business environment, so managers everywhere are looking for the best ways to improve efficiency and reduce unwanted turnover,” said Kevin Jackson, associate dean of undergraduate affairs at Gies College of Business.

“This study provides some pretty convincing evidence that connectors can improve employee performance and reduce their desire to leave for another organization.”

For the study, participants filled out a survey that was used to determine if they possessed the characteristics of a connector. Once those connectors were identified, the participants were divided into groups consisting of three to five members. Connectors were placed in some groups, while others had no connector.

The groups were then asked to complete an open-ended task, brainstorming cartoon captions. After the task was complete, participants filled out a follow-up survey gauging their overall impression of the group experience and whether they desired to remain in that group.

“What we found is that groups containing a connector reported a more positive group experience and showed less of a desire to leave the group. This result, though, was driven by group members who were demographically unique,” said Jackson. “Those group members who were at risk of feeling isolated because of their race or gender benefited the most from these connectors. They truly felt like they were part of a cohesive team.”

Jackson believes these results have important implications for organizations of all types, from sports teams to corporate environments. “Organizations are vying for top talent, and organizations that are able to retain that top talent have a competitive advantage,” he said.

“Deploying existing connectors or hiring new ones, and strategically placing them into the right group settings can be an extremely valuable form of personnel control. These connectors can set the tone for effective collaboration and ultimately help organizations retain their best employees,” he continued.