Journal of Nursing Education

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Patterns of Job Search and Mobility Among Nurse Educators

Elizabeth R Lenz, RN, PhD; Carolyn F Waltz, RN, PhD, FAAN

Abstract

Abstract

This paper reports the results of a survey of job search and mobility among 790 faculty in baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs in the South. The study examined activities which nursing educators carried out in seeking their present positions, the sources from which they gained information, and the characteristics which they considered most important in the decision to accept or leave a position.

Slightly fewer than half of the educators actively sought their present position; the remainder were recruited by the institution or learned of the availability of the position by chance. The modal job search pattern was to contact the institution directly without knowing whether any opportunities were available, then to seek additional information via discussions with friends and colleagues, visits to the institution and review of documents. Salary, geographical location, administrative leadership style, and the school's reputation were the most important factors in choosing the present position.

The decision to leave the previous job was related primarily to a desire for geographical mobility or career advancement and tended not to be motivated by dissatisfaction. Those planning to leave their present position rated salary, location of the school and leadership style of the administrator as the most important determinants of their decision to leave. Implications of the findings for faculty recruitment and retention are discussed.

Abstract

Abstract

This paper reports the results of a survey of job search and mobility among 790 faculty in baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs in the South. The study examined activities which nursing educators carried out in seeking their present positions, the sources from which they gained information, and the characteristics which they considered most important in the decision to accept or leave a position.

Slightly fewer than half of the educators actively sought their present position; the remainder were recruited by the institution or learned of the availability of the position by chance. The modal job search pattern was to contact the institution directly without knowing whether any opportunities were available, then to seek additional information via discussions with friends and colleagues, visits to the institution and review of documents. Salary, geographical location, administrative leadership style, and the school's reputation were the most important factors in choosing the present position.

The decision to leave the previous job was related primarily to a desire for geographical mobility or career advancement and tended not to be motivated by dissatisfaction. Those planning to leave their present position rated salary, location of the school and leadership style of the administrator as the most important determinants of their decision to leave. Implications of the findings for faculty recruitment and retention are discussed.

Recently, considerable public and professional attention has been focused on nursing shortages and high turnover rates in hospitals. Although less critical a problem at present, schools of nursing also encounter difficulties in attracting and retaining sufficient numbers of well qualified faculty and administrative personnel. A variety of trends indicate that these difficulties may well increase in the future: anticipated cutbacks in federal and state funding for nursing education and higher education in general; increasingly stringent criteria for appointment, promotion and tenure; and increasing competition for personnel from clinical agencies offering attractive salaries and benefits. Additionally, previous studies have revealed nursing educators to be relatively dissatisfied with the job conditions which are most important to them (Grandjean, Aiken & Bonjean, 1976; Mariiner & Craigie, 1977). Given the high cost of faculty turnover and the importance of recruiting and retaining qualified educators whose preparation and expertise best fit the requirements of the institution, it is important to gain a better understanding of how faculty go about seeking educational positions and of the factors which they consider most important in deciding to accept a position and/ or which most contribute to their decisions to leave.

This paper reports the results of a descriptive study of job search and mobility by educators teaching in NLN accredited baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs in the South, i.e., the 14 states which participate in the Southern Regional Education Board. The purposes of the study were to: 1) determine the activities which nursing educators carried out in seeking their present positions; 2) determine the sources from which they gained information about the position; and 3) identify the job characteristics which were most important in the decision to accept or to leave the position.

Background for the Study

Job search is generally conceived to be an active process whereby individuals seek, acquire, and evaluate information about available opportunities prior to making a job choice. Studies which have examined the nature of the search process itself have revealed variation in the way individuals seek and acquire this information (Brown, 1967; Granovetter, 1974). In terms of predicting outcomes of the search process, such as the salary level and one's satisfaction with the job ultimately secured, these studies have suggested the number of activities carried out, the search method employed, and the information sources utilized to be important. Generally, the more extensive searches and those involving personal methods (in which the searcher uses friends or colleagues as medianes between himself and the job), the more positive the outcomes. Personal methods of search are utilized more frequently than impersonal methods (which include an impersonal mediary such as an agency, recruiter or advertisement) by professionals including nurse educators. Marriner and Craigie (1977) found that nursing educators in the western states most frequently cited personal contact with the institution and friends as sources of information about teaching positions and that these were often used in conjunction with impersonal information sources such as professional journals and recruiters.

A number of studies have examined factors which faculty consider when making employment decisions. The theoretical frameworks for these studies generally differentiate intrinsic from extrinsic rewards, the former reflecting potential psychological benefits deriving from the nature of the work itself and the latter reflecting economic benefits, environmental conditions, and policies. A relatively consistent finding in studies of university educators has been that intrinsic rewards are viewed as the most important attractors to faculty positions (Blau, 1973; Marsh & Stafford, 1967). Nursing educators have demonstrated generally similar patterns. Seyfried and Franck (1972) found that nursing educators at a midwest university considered opportunity to use their knowledge, the nature of teaching assignments, the availability of clinical facilities, and congeniality of colleagues to be the most important factors influencing their acceptance of the academic position. Plawecki and Plawecki (1976) in a study of nurse educators in Iowa found that in attracting faculty, intrinsic factors, particularly the nature of the work, were more important than extrinsic factors such as policies, salary, interpersonal relationships, and working conditions. Grandjean, et al. (1976) asked faculty in four university schools of nursing in the Gulf, Midwest, Central, and Western regions to rate each of 21 job characteristics in terms of their importance when considering a position. They found that opportunity to be a good teacher, opportunity to work with supportive colleagues, opportunity to keep one's clinical knowledge current, and a dean who allows faculty autonomy to be the most important characteristics. In these studies of nursing faculty extrinsic job aspects such as the community attractiveness and school reputation were relatively unimportant and salary and fringe benefits were only moderately important.

In contrast, Marriner and Craigie (1977) in their study of 822 nursing educators in baccalaureate and higher degree programs in the West found geographic location and salary to be the two job characteristics given most consideration when the educator accepted the present position. Other characteristics considered to be important were (in order of their rank) the competence and congeniality of colleagues, the reputation of the school and the presence of autonomy, academic freedom and responsibility. Thus, extrinsic factors were given relatively more consideration than the intrinsic factors revealed to be more important in previous studies.

Methodology

This study employed a survey design wherein responses were obtained to a written questionnaire distributed to all faculty in the 53 schools of nursing in the southern region whose deans /directors agreed to participate. Usable responses were received from 790 faculty, a number which represented a 46% response rate. Questionnaires were distributed and collected (in sealed envelopes) by each dean/director. Data analyses were conducted by computingdescriptive statistics using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.

A three-part questionnaire, adapted from that used by Marriner and Craigie (1977) was developed for data collection. Two sections of the questionnaire were utilized in the present analysis: 1) a 25-item segment which included socio-demographic variables, variables describing the nature of the educator's position and his/her scholarly productivity and the institution and 2) a 16-item segment concerned with job search and mobility. Using a semi-structured format similar to that used previously in research regarding information search behavior (Granovetter, 1974; Lenz, 1979), respondents were asked to provide information about activities and sources of information employed in their search for the present position and any job search activities currently being carried out. Respondents were also asked to select from a list of 59 job characteristics and to rank in the order of their importance the five characteristics which they considered most important in their selection of the present position. Respondents who indicated dissatisfaction with their previous position and/or intended to leave their present one within the year were also asked to select and rank the characteristics which contributed most to their dissatisfaction and/or decision to leave. Frequencies and weighted responses were calculated for each of the characteristics selected. Weighted responses were determined by multiplying five times the number of times an item was ranked first in importance, four times the number of times it was ranked second, etc., then adding the products. This questionnaire was primarily retrospective; hence, it is possible that respondents may not have accurately remembered all of the activities and circumstances which surrounded their search.

Respondent Characteristics

The educators in this study were relatively young in that 71% were under 45. A majority (55%) were married and had earned at least a master's degree (86%). Thirteen percent were doctorally prepared. A majority were employed full-time (88%) on a non-tenured basis (74%) in teaching positions (84%) at the rank of assistant professor or below (74%). For 35% of the respondents this was their first teaching position. Most taught only undergraduate students (76%), though employed in moderately -sized (48% in schools with 200-499 students) schools, schools in public institutions (72%) and schools which offered both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs (70%). Very few respondents reflected extensive involvement in scholarly productivity, a majority having published no more than one book or article. Most had been involved in neither research nor grant writing. These educators tended to be satisfied with their current positions (70%).

Job Search Process

Although job search is usually portrayed in the literature as an active process, fewer than half (46.7%) of the educators in this study had actively sought their present position; over one third (36%) were recruited by the institution and an additional 16.6% just happened to hear about the availability of the position. Initial contact about the position, made either by the educator or the institution, occurred for most while they were previously employed (54%) or enrolled in school (30.3%). Only 14.2% were unemployed at the time.

The means by which the educator first learned of the availability of the position are summarized in Table 1. Personal sources of information - friends and colleagues - were reported more frequently than impersonal sources; however, the most frequent pattern was that the searcher contacted the institution directly without knowing whether any job opportunities existed there. Once aware of the availability of a position, an overwhelming majority (94.6%) of respondents actively sought additional information about it. Among those who actively sought additional information the average number of follow-up activities carried out was 2.29 (SD. = 1.143).

The most frequent type of activity reported was a visit to the institution, carried out by 90.3% of respondents. This was an expected pattern, since most schools require an interview prior to employment. Discussions with friends and colleagues (a personal method of search reported by 68%) and review of documents provided by the institution (an impersonal method reported by 51.1%) also were used to learn more about the position before making a decision. Talking with the previous employer (12.6%) and review of professional journals (5.1%) were less frequently employed to seek additional information about the position. These findings suggest that while the initial information about the availability or existence of a position may be acquired passively, nursing educators actively seek additional information about the details of the position using a variety of information sources to do so. The most frequently reported pattern was to combine personal and impersonal means of search for the follow-up (46.5%); however, nearly as many respondents (44%) used only impersonal methods relying only on the visit and/or documents rather than a mediary known personally to them to provide details.

Table

TABLE 1SOURCES OF INFORMATION OF LEARNING ABOUT AVAILABLE POSITIONS

TABLE 1

SOURCES OF INFORMATION OF LEARNING ABOUT AVAILABLE POSITIONS

At the time they were seeking the position ultimately accepted, a majority of the educators simultaneously sought information about and considered other positions. Sixty-one percent of the respondents considered at least one other position (in either nursing education or nursing service) and 44.4% considered at least one other educational position. The average number of additional jobs considered was 2.1 (S.D. = 1.1) and the average number of educational positions considered was 1.9 (S.D. = 1.2). Regarding the search for information about other jobs, 36.4% of respondents did not seek such information. The average number of activities carried out by those who considered other positions was 2.6 (S.D. = 1.5). A combination of personal and impersonal methods was the most frequently reported pattern (31.8%); however, sole use of impersonal search methods, which are time efficient and do not require telling others that one is job hunting, were employed by one quarter of the respondents.

Activities reported in seeking information about other positions are shown in Table 1. As with the position ultimately accepted, personal means of search and direct contact with the institution were most frequently cited. However, reading journal and newspaper advertisements and recruitment letters and talking with recruiters at meetings - impersonal search methods - were employed more often to learn of positions not taken than in relation to the position selected. This finding suggests that information gathered from personal sources may influence decision-making more than that gathered impersonally and/or that job seekers who have a tentative preference for a particular position may use time-efficient impersonal means to gather information about possible alternatives to assure themselves that they have chosen well.

Previous research has revealed that some professionals who are employed and do not intend to leave their jobs within the near future have a tendency to engage in "anticipatory search" about possible job opportunities (Grandjean, et al., 1976). That is, they pursue advertisements and generally keep their eyes and ears open to learn about the job market. Over one fourth (26.1%) of the educators in the present study indicated that they were actively seeking information about other positions, with an average of 2.4 (S.D. = .93) activities reported by those engaged in anticipatory search. The most frequently reported activities were talking with friends and colleagues (reported by 80.2% of those actively seeking information), reading advertisements in journals and newspapers (80.7%), contacting other institutions directly (46.2%), and talking with recruiters at professional meetings (25.8%).

Factors Affecting Job Mobility and Selection

For a majority of the nursing educators dissatisfaction was not the prime motivator for job change, in that 73.2% were satisfied with their previous job. Educators who had been satisfied with their previous positions cited as major reasons for leaving either desire for geographical mobility, including mobility necessitated by a spouse's job change (38.5%), or factors related to career advancement: change in responsibility (15.9%), return to school (10.4%) or move to a more prestigious school (5.3%). A small percentage was forced to leave because the school in which they had worked closed. Among satisfied educators salary motivated few job changes (3.5%) The job characteristics which educators who were dissatisfied with their previous positions indicated to be most influential in their decisions to leave represents a somewhat different pattern, as shown in Table 2. As with the satisfied educators, change in geographical location was an important motivator for job change. Dissatisfaction with the leadership style of the dean/director was the major factor in encouraging mobility, a finding which underscores the importance of administration in retaining faculty. The extrinsic factors of salary and interpersonal relationships were more influential than intrinsic features such as autonomy, workload and academic freedom, suggesting the former to be important in retention.

Educators planning to leave their present position within the year rated salary as the characteristic most influential in their decision to leave, suggesting the increasing role which finances are playing in faculty turnover. Location of the school and leadership style of the top administrator were important factors influencing turnover as they had been in the previous move. Interpersonal aspects of the job were somewhat less important than in the decision to leave the past job. Intrinsic job characteristics were assigned a moderate level of importance in the decision to seek employment elsewhere.

Consistent with Marriner and Craigie (1977) finding but inconsistent with earlier research, salary and geographical location were the most important job characteristics for attracting faculty to their present positions (Table 2). Administrative leadership style emerged as an important attractor, as did the school's reputation. Intrinsic job characteristics were rated as less important considerations in job selection. The above findings suggest that extrinsic job characteristics - most importantly location of the school, salary and administrative leadership - are highly influential in decisions to select and to leave a faculty position.

Table

TABLE 2JOB CHARACTERISTICS MOST INFLUENTIAL IN JOB MOBILITY AND SELECTION

TABLE 2

JOB CHARACTERISTICS MOST INFLUENTIAL IN JOB MOBILITY AND SELECTION

Discussion

With respect to the job search process, the above findings reveal some potentially important differences between the search patterns of nursing educators and groups studied previously. While ultimately carrying out information search before selecting a job, a majority of educators did not begin active search until after they had passively received information that a job was available. The major implication of this finding is that schools of nursing seeking faculty are well advised to take an active stance regarding recruitment. That is, schools should actively recruit faculty, rather than to assume that potential applicants will contact them. The latter pattern (direct contact of the school by the job seeker) was demonstrated by a sizable percentage of the respondents, however, and may be anticipated to increase in frequency as the number of available faculty positions decreases. A theoretical model which assumes active search for information about the existence of a faculty position is probably more appropriate for describing a tight job market than one in which the number of jobs exceeds the number of applicants.

Schools of nursing differ in the amount of effort and money which they allocate to faculty recruitment. The present findings suggest that while a small budgetary allocation is worthwhile for activities such as sending recruiters to meetings, placing advertisements in professional journals and mailing recruitment letters; the most effective recruitment efforts are personal contacts which do not necessarily involve much expense. Particularly effective would seem to be personal contacts directed toward friends of incumbent faculty. The findings of this research indirectly support the existence of professional acquaintance networks among nursing educators and suggest their potential saliency for explaining job choices.

Although the active job search model accounted for less than half of the instances by which an individual acquired information about the existence of a job, it did accurately describe the behavior subsequently carried out to find out more about a position once the educator was aware of its availability. The relatively standard practices of visiting the school and reviewing documents provided by potential employers were the most frequently cited activities carried out at this stage of the job search process. This finding was surprising given previous indication that the most effective sources of such detailed information are personal rather than impersonal (Brown, 1967; Granovetter, 1974). The role of personal information sources cannot be overlooked, however, Friends and colleagues were consulted by many of the educators seeking detailed information about a position, again suggesting the importance of acquaintance networks. These findings suggest that schools of nursing interested in recruiting faculty should devote attention to arranging an informative and pleasant interview situation for applicants and to preparing informative and attractive materials describing the institution and the job. Further, cognizance must be given to the fact that current and past employees and students will be asked to provide information about the school, hence can be very influential in enhancing or undermining recruitment efforts.

Although job satisfaction is frequently assumed to be related to morale, productivity, and retention; job change among most of the educators studied was not attributable to their dissatisfaction with the previous job. Job mobility was more likely to be motivated by "positive" rather than "negative" factors. That is, because their job changes tended to be precipitated by a desire for upward career mobility or a different locale, these nursing educators tended to be attracted or "pulled" to a more desirable position, rather than being "pushed" from an undesirable one. These findings suggest that the retention of faculty will be enhanced by providing opportunities for career advancement within the institution. Examples might include a comprehensive faculty development program which provides career guidance and increasing responsibility; rotating department chairmanships which provide opportunity to assume administrative roles on a temporary basis; and policies which permit time off or sabbatical leaves and/or tuition assistance to further one's education.

Of the job characteristics examined, three emerged as being particularly important considerations in decisionmaking. Geographical locale was important in precipitating job change and determining the selection of a position. This was similar to the pattern found by Marriner and Craigie(1977). Given the high percentage of married nursing educators in both samples, it is apparent that their job mobility is closely tied to the spouse's mobility and that schools of nursing can anticipate a certain amount of annual faculty turnover on that basis alone. Geographical mobility among married nurses has been suggested to be dictated in large part by the spouse's job changes, although this sub-population is generally more geographically stable than their unmarried peers (Sloan, 1978).

The importance attached to the leadership of the top administrator was an unanticipated finding, given the multitude of job characteristics which potentially contribute to job dissatisfaction. A possible interpretation is that the dean /director is perceived to "set the tone" and to dictate current and future directions for the school. While the nature of administrative leadership style was not examined, another analysis of data collected from the same sample revealed that an open organizational climate within the school was correlated with high satisfaction with many job characteristics and with a general measure of job satisfaction (Lenz and Waltz, 1981). By inference, a dean/director whose leadership style is perceived to be conducive to cooperative teamwork toward well-defined goals would be an asset in attracting faculty. This interpretation is consistent with the previous finding that a dean who facilitated faculty autonomy was a powerful attractor and source of satisfaction (Grandjean, et al., 1976). Conversely, an administrator who is perceived to be autocratic, paternalistic, or dictatorial can serve as a deterrent to retaining faculty. Additional empirical investigation is needed regarding faculty perceptions of leadership style and the role of top administrators in influencing faculty satisfaction.

Salary, a factor which has been found to be relatively unimportant in most previous research about job choice among academicians was highly salient to the nursing educators included in this study. It was deemed the most important consideration in selecting a position and also was the prime motivator for deciding to leave the current job. The growing importance of salary to nursing educators is understandable in the light of current inflationary trends with which educational salaries have generally not kept pace. The current findings should not be interpreted as representing a devaluation of intrinsic job characteristics; however, they suggest that nursing educators are somewhat pragmatic about their job choices and take financial matters into account. As suggested by Blau (1973), the intrinsic nature of the work may attract an individual to academia; however, extrinsic rewards, such as salary may be of prime importance in choosing among two or more roughly equivalent educational positions. The present findings imply that schools of nursing must offer competitive salaries in order to recruit qualified faculty and that they must provide adequate salary increments for incumbent faculty in order to retain them. Given the rather bleak economic picture facing higher education, this may be difficult to achieve. Additional research regarding the effect of innovative fringe benefit packages as alternatives to sizable salary increments is needed.

References

  • Blau, P.M. The Organization of Academic Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973.
  • Brown, D. The Mobile Professors. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1977.
  • Grandjean, B.S., Aiken, L.H., and Bonjean, CM. Professional autonomy and the work satisfaction of nursing educators. Nursing Research, 1976, 25, 216-221.
  • Granovetter, M. Changing Jobs: A Study of Contacts and Careers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.
  • Lenz, E. R. Newcomers' search for information about health services. In E. Bowens (Ed.) Clinical Nursing Research: Its Strategies and Findings II. Indianapolis: Sigma Theta Tau, 1979.
  • Lenz, E. R. Newcomers' search for information about health istics, work environment and job search activities to job satisfaction of nursing educators in the South. (Paper presented at the annual research conference of the Southern Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing, Austin, Texas, October, 1981).
  • Marriner, A., and Craigie, D. Job satisfaction and mobility of nursing educators in baccalaureate and higher degree programs in the west. Nursing Research, 1977, 26, 349-360.
  • Marsh, J.F., and Stafford, F.P. The effects of values on pecuniary behavior: The case of academicians. American Sociological Review, 1967, 32, 740-754.
  • Plawecki, J.A., and Plawecki, H. M. Factors that influence attrition and retention of qualified nurse educators. Nursing Research, 1976, 25, 133-135.
  • Seyfried, S.H., and Franck, P. Factors influencing acceptance of appointment to college of nursing faculty. Journal of Nursing Education, 1972, 11(2), 25-32.
  • Sloan, F.A. Equalizing Access to Nursing Services: The Geographic Dimension. Washington, D. C: Division of Nursing, DHEW, 1978.

TABLE 1

SOURCES OF INFORMATION OF LEARNING ABOUT AVAILABLE POSITIONS

TABLE 2

JOB CHARACTERISTICS MOST INFLUENTIAL IN JOB MOBILITY AND SELECTION

10.3928/0148-4834-19830901-02

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