Promotion, Turnover and Satisfaction in the Army Civilian Workforce

An Analysis of Features of Occupation Ladders and Employee Perspectives of the Work Environment

by Christina E. Steiner

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Every organization is inherently interested in optimizing its talent pool; as an employer, the government is no exception. Retaining the workforce's highest-performing employees maximizes the return on an employer's financial investment in these individuals. Promotion can be a retention tool, while occupations that lack promotion opportunity may cause high performers to leave in search of new employment.

This dissertation explores the relationships between promotion, turnover, employee satisfaction, and the positioning and movement of people in an occupation. Specifically, it utilizes Army civilian personnel data to: (1) describe the features of occupation ladders; (2) characterize expected promotion opportunity using the features of occupation ladders; (3) determine if the features of occupation ladders are related to promotion and turnover; and (4) explore additional determinants of turnover by analyzing employee perspectives.

Using quantitative methods, the analysis provides insights on how promotion and turnover are associated with features of the occupation ladder and work environment. Specifically, the analyses reveal that a one standard deviation increase in expected promotion opportunity is significantly correlated with a 1.72 (GS11), .81 (GS12), .36 (GS13), and .19 (GS14) percentage point increase in actual promotion rates; a moderate effect size given that the average promotion rate in GS-11 is 8.9 percent and GS-14 is 2.2 percent.

The analyses also reveal that employees who do not have promotion opportunity within the same occupation and location are more likely to leave their occupation. However, there is limited evidence that employees who do not have promotion opportunity within the same occupation and location are more likely to leave the organization. Finally, the analyses provide initial evidence that low perceived support from supervisors is linked to both occupation and organizational turnover.

While there is evidence in the literature that promotion opportunity is related to turnover, and that support from supervisors is related to turnover, more data are needed to corroborate these initial findings before large-scale policy changes are considered. Instead, the Army may consider low-cost interventions to limit potentially undesirable turnover. For example, the Army may consider creating a mechanism for employees to voice concern about promotion opportunity via an employee's Individual Development Plan (IDP) or an initial training for new supervisors outlining best practices for supporting direct reports.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Civilian Service Management and Policy

  • Chapter Three

    Analytical Context

  • Chapter Four

    Literature Review

  • Chapter Five

    Data, Analytic Sample, and Data Adjustments

  • Chapter Six

    Characterizing the Occupation Ladder

  • Chapter Seven

    Creating and Validating a Composite Measure for Expected Promotion Opportunity

  • Chapter Eight

    Turnover Analyses

  • Chapter Nine

    Turnover Sensitivity Analyses

  • Chapter Ten

    Exploratory Analysis of Employee Satisfaction

  • Chapter Eleven


  • Appendix A

    NSPS System Pay Plan Adjustments

  • Appendix B

    Analytic Sample Rationale, Continued

  • Appendix C

    Structure and Transition Variables Correlation Matrices and Exploratory Factor Analysis

  • Appendix D

    Examining Expected Promotion Opportunity Composites

  • Appendix E

    Stability in the Expected Promotion Opportunity Composite

  • Appendix F

    The Performance Variable in the Analytic Sample

  • Appendix G

    Distribution of the Dependent Variable, Promotion Rates; Basic Correlations and Simple Linear Regression Results

  • Appendix H

    Distribution of the Grade Ratio

  • Appendix I

    Defining Turnover, Continued

  • Appendix J

    Sensitivity Analyses

  • Appendix K

    FEVS Indices and Sub-indices

  • Appendix L

    FEVS Analysis Dependent Variable: Turnover I Ratio and Turnover II Ratio by Paygrade Bucket

  • Appendix M

    High and Low Satisfaction by Index

  • Appendix N

    FEVS Missing Values Robustness Check

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in December 2018 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of of Lawrence M. Hanser (Chair), Shanthi Nataraj, Gery Ryan, and Curt Gilroy (outside reader).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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