At a career services conference of my peers last month, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Brooks Holtom, a senior associate dean at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, present some of his research around human capital retention. Dr. Holtom’s presentation, entitled Job Fit: The Employer Perspective, got me thinking about how we as employees or job seekers can benefit from understanding why and how employers retain top talent.

Why does top talent matter? Research clearly shows that the “80-20” rule, not the bell curve, applies to human capital. From bankers to athletes to journalists to actors, the superstars outperform the rest by multiples. Not only do the superstars matter to the bottom line, they also bring out the best in those around them and attract other superstars. Retaining them is critical.

And how do employers retain top talent? Holtom says: embeddedness. His research suggests that “embeddedness” is a sound predictor of retention. Embeddedness describes an employee’s connectedness to his or her organization and community. The more embedded an employee, the higher her performance, the higher her job satisfaction and the more likely she is to stay. The table below categorizes Holtom’s areas of embeddedness and provides some examples.


Organization Community
Fit Values, culture, demands Values, amenities
Links (Connectivity) Teams, mentors, projects Community service, religious, school
Sacrifice (if you leave) Perks, incentives, environment Home ownership, friends


So what can we learn from this study as employees? As job seekers?

What can you do, in addition to or in the absence of your employer’s help, to improve your own embeddedness, and therefore your own performance and satisfaction? Do you make an effort to build new relationships in your organization? How about once a week having coffee or lunch with someone you don’t know very well. Do you create space for work-life balance and involvement in your community? This could include any and all activities that facilitate relationships and connectivity outside of work. Do you have a mentor? While some companies create formal mentoring programs, the best mentor/mentee relationships are often organic.

What might you look for in an organization when you look for that next job? Do you identify with the corporate culture? How do you feel about the location of the job, and is that a place you would want to build a life? Are there superstars at the organization that you can learn from? Does the company offer “perks” that make your life better or easier (flexible work, a health club, child care), and how might you consider the value of those perks when considering the entire compensation package? As a job seeker, you should actively look for both professional and personal environments in which you can be happy, stable, always learning, and ultimately, successful. Your career trajectory will naturally steepen and the money will not only follow, it will become blissfully less important.