Sales Application Engineer Turnover Intentions: An Exploration of Education, Age and Job Tenure Through the Met-Expectations Perspective
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Both individually and in combination, globalization and the increasing use of information technology are creating unrelenting competitive pressures on organizations once protected by distance (Porter, 1999; Porter & Millar, 1985; Narus & Anderson, 1985; Boyle, 1996). These once-protected firms, historically operating in competitive landscapes limited to local firms, now compete with organizations located across state lines and oceans. In order to compete and survive, firms must adjust to the new competitive dynamics wrought by these changes (Teece, 2000). As knowledge has been identified as one of the most important sources of competitive advantage (Drucker, 1999) and profitability (Grant, 1991), this research explored the turnover intentions of a specific knowledge worker employed in the American pump manufacturing and distribution business segments, the application engineer. Through the theoretical lens of met-expectations, the study sought to understand how career and job expectations informed turnover intentions, whether expectations changed with age and what factors, if any, might mitigate turnover intentions. Through a phenomenological research method designed to understand a participant’s lived experience, application engineer job and career expectations as well as turnover intentions were explored through one-one-one interviews. Findings supported the met-expectations theory as a determinant of engineer turnover intentions. When expectations were unmet, expectations primarily centered on the substantial use of engineering knowledge in daily work tasks, ninety-five percent of participants intended to leave the career field for one that met those expectations. Of the total sample of 39, this placed nearly half of all participants at substantial risk of leaving the career and the employer. When expectations were met, expectations that the career is a technical sales position rather than an engineering position, seventy-two percent intended to remain in the career until retirement. When allowed to suggest changes in job duties and work environment (remote work), this group’s turnover intentions were nearly eliminated. The study identified four distinct groups (cohorts), each with unique turnover mechanisms and intents. These groups broadly segmented between degreed engineers and those without an engineering degree. The propensity for degreed engineers to turnover was driven by whether they entered the engineering career field with a specific desire to design products or manufacturing systems. While most degreed engineer participants attended engineering school and entered the engineering field with a specific desire to design, not all degreed engineers held this expectation. For those that did, the intent to leave the career was nearly absolute and irreversible. For application engineers without engineering degrees, turnover intentions were low, weak, reversible and tended to be driven by organizational factors rather than job factors. This study identified possible retention strategies as well as explored the centrality of a stable application engineer workforce in the pursuit of competitive advantage. It, then, discussed the implication of the research, elaborated on the study’s limitation and recommended areas for further investigation.