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Does flexible work arrangements decrease or increase turnover intention? A comparison between the social exchange theory and border theory

Mung Khie Tsen (Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)
Manli Gu (Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)
Chee Meng Tan (Business School Malaysia, University of Nottingham, Semenyih, Malaysia)
See Kwong Goh (Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 4 October 2021

Issue publication date: 23 September 2022




More companies embrace flexible work arrangements (FWA) as one of their employee retention strategies, yet its effectiveness is not consistent. Generally, past researchers use the social exchange theory to explain how FWA lowers turnover intention, while the rest adopts the border theory to justify why FWA can be ineffective. Here, the authors compare the competing theories for the first time to differentiate the theoretical reasoning of three forms of FWA (flex time, flex leave and homeworking). Two mediators (organisational commitment and work−family conflicts) are chosen to represent the mechanism of each theory.


The authors employ the latest wave of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) Work Orientation Module from 2015. Based on nationally representative data from 35 nations and 17,604 participants, the authors employed simple mediation and parallel double-mediation models via bootstrapping procedures to investigate the theoretical reasoning behind each FWA.


The results indicate that organisational commitment and work−family conflicts as significant mediators in all models, supporting both theories. The authors first tested each mediator in separated models. In models concerning the social exchange theory, all FWA lead to increased organisational commitment before lowering turnover intention, implying the beneficial outcomes of FWA. However, findings also support the border theory's perspective where flex time and homeworking increase turnover intention through heightened work−family conflicts. The parallel double-mediation further suggests that all three FWA forms have their unique theoretical framework, impacting turnover intention differently.


Both the social exchange theory and border theory are well-developed theories but grounded on different theoretical reasoning. This is the first paper that compares both theoretical perspectives in the context of FWA. It offers a new perspective in explaining the inconclusive effectiveness of FWA and provides future researchers a more integrated interpretation and prediction of FWA's impact on turnover intention.



Funding: This work was supported by Taylor's University through its PhD Fellowship Programme.


Tsen, M.K., Gu, M., Tan, C.M. and Goh, S.K. (2022), "Does flexible work arrangements decrease or increase turnover intention? A comparison between the social exchange theory and border theory", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 42 No. 11-12, pp. 962-983.



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