Effect of Workplace Spirituality on Teacher Turnover

Teacher turnover rates in public and private schools in the United States are very. This problem was first voiced in 1974 when the US government conducted research concerning teacher turnover in public schools during the late 1960s (Metz & Fleischman, 1974). However, the matter received increase attention only in the 1980s, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education expressed their concern about the emerging shortage of teachers due to high turnover rates (Ingersoll, 2001). Currently, the turnover rate among teachers is almost 16%, with almost 8% leavers (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). In other words, one in thirteen teachers leaves the profession every year, which can be considered a very high attrition rate. Therefore, the development of efficient strategies is required to address the problem of high turnover rates.

In order to create effective practices that affect teacher turnover, it is crucial to understand the factors that affect it. According to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), teachers leave their jobs due to dissatisfaction with their workplace. The dissatisfaction is caused by financial incentives, unhappiness with administrative support, stress and burnout, lack of functional workplace culture, and dissatisfaction with teaching as a career (Ingersoll, 2001). Thus, teacher retention is traditionally addressed with increasing compensation, enhancing teacher preparation and support, and improving school leadership (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). However, these interventions seem to have an insufficient effect on teacher turnover rates, as they remained stable for the past decade (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). The present paper promotes workplace spirituality as an efficient strategy for addressing teacher turnover in both public and private schools.

Literature Review

Teacher Turnover

Teacher turnover is an issue widely discussed in the current scientific and professional literature. Khan et al. (2017) state that teacher turnover refers to the amount of movement of teachers between organizations or separation of teachers with the current organization. Historically, teacher turnover was looked ay through different lenses. Early research on the matter focused on the effect of demographical differences on teacher turnover. According to Ingersoll (2001), studies in the 1980s and 1990s concluded that age and gender have a significant impact on teacher retention. In particular, older teachers were found less likely to have turnover intentions, and males were more likely to leave change jobs in comparison with women (Ingersoll, 2001). Later, psychological well-being and workplace culture were found to have a significant effect on retention (Ingersoll, 2001). Currently, teacher turnover is seen as a complex matter that is affected by a wide variety of factors.

Different studies used both qualitative and quantitative methods to identify the most important factors affecting teacher retention. A literature review provided by Khan et al. (2017) identified that teachers’ turnover intentions depend on age, marital status, gender, number of children, compensation, career opportunities, recognition, work conditions, peer and supervisor support, and job satisfaction have a significant effect on teacher turnover. Among the listed factors, Khan et al. (2017) put a particular emphasis on job stress, low pay, and increased workload as predictors of turnover intentions. In her doctoral dissertation, Tolliver (2018) claimed that the availability of time for collaboration, facilities and resources, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, and instructional practice and support have a significant effect on teacher retention. Mousa and Alas (2016) claimed that teacher retention depends on loyalty to an organization, and interventions should focus on improving workplace commitment. Aboobaker et al. (2019) revealed that psychological well-being was the central predictor of teacher attrition. In summary, a wide variety of factors affect teacher turnover intentions ranging from personal characteristics to organizational practices.

Despite a common belief, teachers have a similar level of turnover in all types of schools. Tolliver (2018) utilized rigorous quantitative methods to confirm that there were no differences in teacher retention rates between high-poverty and non-high-poverty schools. Khan et al. (2017) confirmed that there were similar retention rates among public and private schools. Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017) also did not mention any significant differences in teacher turnover, depending on the type of schools. Moreover, factors that affect teacher retention are similar in both private and public schools. In particular, Khan et al. (2017) stated that job stress, low pay, and increased workload in private schools, and all these factors were closely correlated. The regression model considering these three explanatory variables had a very high degree of predictive ability (R2 = 42.8%), which implies that Khan et al.’s (2017) hypothesis was viable. In short, teacher turnover is a well-understand subject discussed by numerous researchers.

Factors affecting turnover are similar to those affecting other industries. According to a systematic review conducted by Al Mamun and Hasan (2017), there are nine types of factors affecting avoidable turnover, including managerial factors, workplace environment, pay, fringe benefits, career promotion, job fit, clear job expectations, perceived alternative employment opportunities, and influence of co-workers. In order to address these factors, Al Mamun and Hasan (2017) recommend recruiting suitable employees, retaining valuable employees, effective leadership, training and development, increasing job satisfaction, identifying financial problems, improving workplace culture, and balancing life and work. Human resource managers need to remember that not all turnover is avoidable, as some factors are beyond their control, including health problems, moving to another location, or having a child (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). Therefore, managers should be prepared that some valuable employees may leave an organization even if all factors mentioned above are controlled.

Workplace Spirituality

Workplace spirituality is a relatively new idea that emerged in the past two decades. The present paper understands workplace spirituality as an organization’s recognition that employees have both mind and spirit and they are free to search for the purpose of their work using religious beliefs openly. In the late 1990s, Waddock (1999) suggested that a declining role of families made it vital for employers to think about new non-monetary incentives for the employees. In particular, Waddock (1999) argued that workplace commitment should be increased by bringing hearts, minds, bodies, and souls of employees to organizations. However, only in 2014, it was first proposed that workplace spirituality was a viable strategy for retention. Gupta et al. (2014) revealed that workplace spirituality could positively affect employee satisfaction. In short, there are few scientific publications concerning workplace spirituality before the mid-2010s.

Currently, workplace spirituality is viewed as a method to promote employee satisfaction that can reduce turnover rates. Mousa and Alas (2016) suggest that intentions to leave a job is often caused by high stress and burnout due to high expectations imposed by public schools. However, these intentions can be addressed by increasing workplace commitment, which can be done by promoting workplace spirituality (Mouse & Alas, 2016). The research confirmed that workplace spirituality decreased turnover and level of absenteeism in teachers in public schools (Mouse & Alas, 2016). Aboobaker et al. (2019) claimed that the relationship between workplace spirituality and turnover was mediated by psychological well-being. In other words, workplace spirituality decreased stress and burnout while enhancing resilience. Such improvements promoted the emotional stability of teachers, making the desire to leave the current place of work less frequent (Aboobakeret al., 2019). Chirico et al. (2020) conducted a pilot study that tested a prayer intervention as a strategy to decrease burnout among teachers. The results were promising as an experiment revealed a significant change in symptoms of burnout in comparison with the control group (Chirico et al., 2020). In brief, the current body of knowledge demonstrates the high potential of workplace spirituality and religious interventions as a strategy of decreasing turnover.

In his doctoral dissertation, Achuff (2018) aimed at identifying factors that contribute to retention among teachers. The phenomenological study revealed that motivating factors that promoted retention were spiritual impact, calling, love of teaching, student interaction, and school support (Achuff, 2018). The teachers mentioned that workplace spirituality helped them understand that teaching was their calling (Achuff, 2018). Teachers also found joy in sharing their religious worldview with students was rewarding and joyful (Achuff, 2018). These findings were confirmed by another phenomenological study conducted by Göçen and Özğan (2017). The study revealed that teachers view religiousness and spirituality crucial for self-identity, organizational identity, and growth. In summary, teachers in different schools view workplace spirituality positively; therefore, no resistance is likely to be met by organizations.

Analysis and Critique

Analysis of Findings

The review of the literature revealed that workplace spirituality has a high potential for addressing the problem of teacher turnover. Religiousness has a positive effect on psychological well-being and organizational commitment (Mouse & Alas, 2016; Chirico et al., 2020). This implies that the promotion of workplace spirituality affects both personal and organizational reasons for turnover mentioned by Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017). The possible positive effects of workplace spirituality are numerous; therefore, it can become a basis for efficient strategies for teacher retention.

Currently, teacher turnover is a widely-discussed issue, while workplace spirituality is an emerging topic. The review of literature revealed that researchers seem to focus on the same factors that contribute to teacher turnover, which are workplace culture, compensation, psychological factors, and demographical factors. The majority of studies on teacher turnover are consistent with general knowledge concerning employee turnover in other professions (Khan et al., 2017; Tolliver, 2018). This implies that general knowledge about employee turnover is applicable to teachers. Google Scholar almost 1.2 million results about “employee turnover,” which implies that the subject is of increased attention both currently and historically. However, search results for “workplace spirituality” returned 112 thousand results, and the majority of the publications were younger than 20 years old. This implies that workplace spirituality is an under-researched subject that requires additional research.

Current research on workplace spirituality should be viewed as emerging and inconclusive. The majority of literature overviewed in the present paper support the idea that workplace spirituality has the potential to decrease turnover (Mouse & Alas, 2016; Göçen & Özğan, 2017; Achuff, 2018; Aboobaker et al., 2019; Chirico et al., 2020). However, the majority of these studies were conducted in religious private schools. This implies that the collected data is biased due to inadequate sampling. Only one of the reviewed publications addressed workplace spirituality in public schools, which is insufficient to make generalizations (Mouse & Alas, 2016). Moreover, the sample of the study consisted mostly of Muslims. Therefore, the question concerning the effect of workplace spirituality on Christian public school teachers is open for discussion.

While workplace spirituality is considered to have a positive effect on teacher retention, there are no scientifically tested interventions with a detailed action plan. In other words, the reviewed literature provides suggestions that entrepreneurs and human resource managers should promote workplace spirituality to decrease turnover and improve organizational commitment (Mouse & Alas, 2016; Achuff, 2018; Aboobaker et al., 2019). While these general suggestions are valuable, school authorities can benefit from carefully planned interventions to promote workplace spirituality. Such a response was described by Chirico et al. (2020) in their pilot study. While this research generated statistically significant results, they need to be confirmed using a larger sample.

Recommendations for Future Research

The literature review identified a large gap in the current body of knowledge concerning the effect of workplace spirituality on turnover among teachers. There are two central directions in which research can be most beneficial. First, additional research is needed to confirm that workplace spirituality has a positive effect on teacher retention in public schools in the US and Europe. Currently, workplace spirituality research in public schools was based in non-Christian countries. Workplace spirituality research based on the Christian population was done only in private schools. Therefore, future research should focus on closing this gap to increase the generalizability of the results of previous studies.

Second, researchers should consider developing specific interventions that can help human resource managers and school authorities improve teacher retention by promoting workplace spirituality. Chirico et al. (2020) described a promising intervention based on prayers to increase resilience and emotional stability. However, this intervention was confirmed only by a pilot study, and additional confirmation of the effectiveness of this strategy is needed. At the same time, researchers can use Chirico et al.’s study as an example of what is required, as the pilot study adhered to all the standards of high-quality quantitative research. Mimicking the design will improve the generalizability of findings and create sufficient evidence to support the use of the intervention in practice. However, future research should be limited strictly to prayer interventions.

Practical Implications

The findings of the present paper have significant implications for practice. First, the present paper provided a comprehensive overview of the existing knowledge about factors that affect teacher turnover. The results revealed that age, marital status, gender, number of children, compensation, career opportunities, recognition, work conditions, peer and supervisor support, job satisfaction, and physical and psychological well-being have a significant impact on teacher turnover intentions. This implies that if school authorities want to decrease the personnel turnover, they need to make an assessment to determine which teachers are at most risk of leaving their jobs. The assessment should measure all the risk factors mentioned above to acquire a holistic understanding of the situation. The design of the assessment does not need to vary depending on the type of schools, as the factors that affect teacher turnover intentions are similar among all types of private and public schools.

Second, school authorities need to develop comprehensive strategies that can address the specific needs of teachers in every school. Even though factors affecting teacher turnover intentions are similar in all types of schools, teachers in every school have a unique set of needs that should be addressed to decrease turnover. Therefore, even though school authorities should design interventions based on available evidence, strategies should be adjusted considering the specific situation in every school. The literature review suggests that human resource managers can use evidence about how employee turnover can be addressed in general, as teacher turnover is affected by factors applicable to the majority of employees in different industries.

Third, the present paper revealed that workplace spirituality could be a viable strategy for addressing teacher turnover. This implies that school authorities should let teachers be open about their religious views. Workplace spirituality can be used to create a connection between work and the purpose of life. Such connections can improve the organizational commitment of teachers, which, in turn, is expected to decrease turnover. Additionally, workplace spirituality can enhance the resilience of teachers and increase resistance to stress and burnout. However, school authorities need to understand that the current level of evidence concerning the effect of workplace spirituality on teacher turnover is inconclusive. Therefore, the promotion of workplace spirituality in private and public schools should be done with caution, as its effects are under-researched.

While choosing a strategy for teacher retention, it is vital to consider that it should target only modifiable factors. This implies that demographical factors should not be altered to decrease teacher turnover. Research demonstrates that males are more likely to have turnover intentions, and the older teachers are less likely to leave their jobs. However, hiring teachers with specific demographical characteristics is unethical and can be seen as discrimination. Instead of addressing these factors, school authorities need to turn their attention to other factors, such as workplace satisfaction, compensation, work overload, workplace culture, psychological well-being of employees, and effective communication.


Teacher turnover is a significant problem both in the US and abroad that needs to be addressed to decrease the shortage of teachers in both public and private schools. The turnover rate remained stable since the early 2010s, which implies that current retention practices are not effective. Traditional strategies addressing teacher turnover are based on controlling the factors that affect it, including compensation, career opportunities, recognition, work conditions, peer and supervisor support, job satisfaction, and burnout. These factors may affect all teachers with similar probability regardless of the type of schools.

Promotion of workplace spirituality is an emerging strategy for addressing employee turnover introduced two decades ago. The issue received increased attention during the past six years, as the number of publications concerning the topic had been growing rapidly. Evidence demonstrates that workplace spirituality decreases burnout, which makes the teachers more emotionally stable. Moreover, it increases organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Phenomenological research about workplace spirituality and religiousness among teachers revealed that teachers view it positively. Therefore, school authorities should consider the promotion of workplace spirituality as a viable strategy for improving teacher retention in both private and public schools. However, the strategy should be used with caution, as the current level of evidence confirming the effectiveness of the strategy is insufficient.


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