Child pages
  • Fall 2016 Withdrawal Behaviors
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Introduction to Withdrawal Behaviors

In previous Wiki cases we have developed for this class, the focus has been on examining independent factors of employee motivation. Moving forward, the concentration is now on the dependent variable, the outcome. Many organizations exert substantial time and effort to keep employees engaged, committed and productive. Despite an employer's best efforts, many employees will suffer from some form of disengagement during their career. The behavior in question can be described as a withdrawal behavior. Withdrawal behaviors are actions that one takes physically or psychologically to separate themselves from the organization.  The most studied and common forms of withdrawal behaviors are when one physically removes themselves: absenteeism, lateness, and turnover. (PSU, 2016). Burnout is another widely known withdrawal behavior that is related to the emotional exhaustion and stress that builds and continues over an extended period of time.  Some examples of withdrawal behaviors (both psychological and physical) are outlined in the diagram below.

School of Management Studies(NIT calicut), (2013)


Absenteeism seems self-explanatory; however, many organizations have different interpretations in defining the concept, as well as varying rules, making this term a little ambiguous. For I/O psychologists, absenteeism occurs when an employee misses an extended amount of time from work (at least a day or longer) and it is an unexcused absence (for example, not vacation or approved medical leave), (PSU, 2016).  There are many reasons why an employee may miss work.  Some are a result of job dissatisfaction, while others are a result of outside factors. Employees may genuinely want to be at work, but do to unforeseen circumstance outside of their control, (illness, transportation problems, or family related issues) absenteeism may occur. Unfortunately, for employers, employee absenteeism can be quite costly and impact moral.  Some of the impacts unplanned absenteeism have on their co-workers are reported in the diagram below:

Maroney (2014)


Image result for lateness

Similar to absenteeism, lateness is vague and dependent on the employer’s policies. Due to the open interpretation and the changing structure in work weeks, lateness is not as heavily researched as absenteeism or turnover. This is because it is not easy to measure in practice as the the two previously mentioned withdrawal behaviors. (PSU, 2016). As mentioned, many organizations have different standards of what constitutes being tardy. As the white-collared workforce has taken over, work schedules and stop and starting times are now blurred, leaving only a small number of professions using a traditional time clock. While there are not numerous studies, Adler and Golan (1981) found a connection between one's job attitudes and lateness. Their research shows that one’s lateness could be a symptom of job dissatisfaction and untimely withdrawal behavior.


Turnover occurs when an employee leaves a company, whether it be to obtain another job or due to retirement. Other causes of turnover can be numerous since people vary and have different needs. Some examples of varying cases can be job dissatisfaction, personal emergencies, or health reasons.Turnover has both positive and negative effects on a company depending on the organization. Some negative effects of turnover can be the  financial cost and time invested in hiring and training an individual. When the employee then decides to leave it requires further resources to  recruit, select and place new personnel.  Furthermore, any knowledge and experience acquired by an employee who leaves is lost in the process. Additionally, if the role to be filled is at a senior level, it may take extra time before a qualified candidate comes along. Our lesson commentary suggests thinking about  “replacing a CEO or a University President, the job searches that are conducted usually take a year and sometimes longer as the skill set that is required for such high-level jobs is unique for each institution and the candidates with the right skills are rare” (PSU,2016). It can also be said that such senior level positions may require the company to accommodate a candidate’s desire to negotiate salary requirements. If the company is in dire need to fill the position quickly, settling for more than expected financially is sometimes unavoidable.

At times, turnover can benefit  lower-level job positions. Depending on the company, it can be cost-effective to replace and train employees for entry-level roles. Sometimes turnover is necessary in order to reaffirm orderly conduct when employees’ actions cannot be corrected or resolved. For example, consider if an employee is stealing from a company or if what if co-workers reported continuing sexual harassment after implementing verbal, written, and final warnings against an employee. In cases such as these, it is in the company’s best interest to replace the employees. Another benefit organizations can see from turnover is the possibility of acquiring new ideas, new skills and creativity into the company from hiring new employees. This can enhance a company’s work culture and re-engage or invigorate employees who may have grown tired of the same repetitive structure or lack of skilled coworkers.


Absenteeism, lateness, and turnover are the physical actions of withdrawal behaviors, while burnout is the emotional and internal side.  Burnout occurs over an extended period of time when an employee exerts more effort and energy than they can perform.  As a stressor,  it causes exhaustion both physically and mentally. Burnout is not caused by job dissatisfaction, as even high achieving, motivated individuals can succumb to it over time. It has been found that “job burnout is mainly associated with the job situation” (Huang et al., 2003. p. 520).  Burnout has three categories: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency.  Emotional exhaustion includes feelings of depression, anger, and anxiety to name a few.  When workloads become overwhelming for extended periods of time, such emotions can manifest.  Depression can cause mild sadness, hopelessness, and feeling trapped.  Feelings of anxiety can cause tension, and worry, while feelings of anger can cause irritability and outburst when the limit has been breached.  Cynicism is when an employee shows signs of detachment, such as loss of enjoyment or no longer socializing at work.  This can extend to isolation.  

Job burnout can also include feelings of ineffectiveness, as prolonged burnout can affect work productivity and quality.  Feelings of ineffectiveness tend to lead to  inefficiencies.  As employees suffering from burnout, can experience sensations of irritability from feeling ineffective at work, unimportant, or useless. These feelings cause inner frustration from not working as effectively prior to burnout.  Physical symptoms of burnout can cause loss of energy, feeling constantly tired and can affect an employee’s concentration. In fact, without proper rest, burnout can also cause health stressors.


Healthchannel - cherishyourhealth. (April 8, 2013)

Case Study

Company ABC decided that it was time to invest in new technology. This would allow managers to keep track of their employee’s working hours. Since working hours can vary for some employees, the decision was made to install security enabled revolving doors and electronic badges. Amanda, the site manager, realized that she was able to generate daily electronic reports for each of her employees.  These reports indicated when employees entered or exited the building and they could be generated on demand as needed.  Amanda believed this would be a great way of tracking tardiness and early departures, as it has been hard for her to do this previously; as she could not be everywhere at once and her employees were scattered across four different buildings.  

For the first week of running reports, Amanda noticed that there were a few employees that were entering the building after their expected start time and a few that were leaving prior to the end of their shift.  The employee that really stood out though was Stan, as he was late everyday and left early every day according to the report.  Amanda did not notice that he had any PTO or other leave scheduled and she was not sure why this was happening.  She decided that since the doors were new she would give it another week to see if the pattern continued.  

On the second week, there were different names showing up on the report as arriving late and and leaving early, but again Stan was consistent with the pattern he showed the previous week.  Amanda talked with the security team to ensure that what she was seeing in the report was correct. She wanted to verify that there was nothing wrong with the doors or the badges.  Security confirmed that the technology was functioning as designed. Amanda decided she needed to address the overall results she was seeing with the group. In addition, she decided to  have a one-on-one talk with Stan as his issue was chronic.

Amanda prepared the time reports and scheduled a meeting with Stan. Amanda entered the meeting with the preconceived idea that Stan’s withdrawal behavior was due to a feeling of job dissatisfaction or burnout. Stan had always been a great employee, so she was concerned that he might be considering leaving the company. During the conversation it became clear that Stan’s lateness was not a reaction to unwillingness to work, but a cause of burnout from outside factors. Stan’s wife just had a baby and she recently returned to work. Both Stan and his wife were struggling to keep up with their work schedules due to lack of sleep and the struggle to find a routine.



Withdrawal behaviors such as lateness, absenteeism, and turnover are attitudes and behaviors that employees have.  This is the result of being physically and psychologically detached from the organization that they work for. Although lateness is more environmentally dependent when compared to absenteeism or turnover, research still emphasizes that lateness is a good predictor of more severe types of withdrawal (Adler & Golan, 1981).  These withdrawal behaviors are often good indicators of the employee’s state-of-mind. The following video will provide a brief example of withdrawal behaviors and the impact that they can have on employee performance.


Office Space - 15 minutes of actual work (Feb 2, 2011)


In the case study, security enabled doors have given Amanda the opportunity to generate daily electronic reports for each of her employees.  In the past, it was difficult for her to track the attendance of her team members based on their dispersed locations. The new reports have brought visibility to a few sporadic instances, but she has also noticed a reoccurring theme with Stan. It isn’t uncommon for Stan to arrive late and leave early on a daily basis. If his actions were limited to arriving late on a few occasions they could be linked to environmental factors such as traffic. However, the fact that he arrives late and leaves early every day indicates that his behavior is most likely related to lack of motivation and low job satisfaction. Stan is displaying withdrawal behaviors.

Amanda has made the decision to address the results of the card reader reports with her team. In addition, she will also conduct a one-on-one with Stan to review his chronic issue. As a leader, Amanda will have to determine if an underlying problem exists that is impacting her entire team. The withdrawal behaviors that she is seeing can also be the result of burnout. Burnout isn’t associated with job dissatisfaction or an imbalance between personal and professional obligations (PSU, 2016).  Burnout is linked to stress in the workplace that will slowly over time reduce job satisfaction (Rubio, Luksyte, Perry, & Volpone, 2009).

With her team’s dispersed placement, it may be challenging for Amanda to keep track of daily accomplishments. One might ask, instead of focusing on attendance, should Amanda focus more on her team’s commitment and their overall output?  While perfect attendance may be challenging, Amanda needs to know, is her team working through lunch, in the evenings or during the weekends to stay current with their professional duties? Stan may be displaying advanced withdrawal behaviors and the other team members may be starting down the same path.  According to Edgar & Eisenberger (2008), “whatever the driving force behind the withdrawal, in work groups where employees observe other members withdrawing from their work, the temptation to engage in withdrawal behaviors would be enhanced” (p.56).  By focusing on the apparent signs of withdrawal behaviors among her team, Amanda is not only ensuring that the withdrawal behavior will not spread, but is also attending to behaviors that could have a large impact on the organization.  As, it has been shown that “the costs of withdrawal and other counterproductive behaviors for organizations have been estimated to be as high as $200 billion per year” (Edgar & Eisenberger, 2008, P. 56).     


In conclusion, withdrawal behaviors can be good indicators of employees’ physical and/or mental detachment within their job role. It is important to look out for behaviors that show disengagement, such as the withdrawal behaviors outlined above: absenteeism, lateness, turnover and burnout (PSU, 2016). Withdrawal behaviors can lead to employees showing: less effort in work productivity, stress, emotional exhaustion and even leaving the position. Proactive measures should be taken by management to figure out the cause and determine if it can be resolved. If the cause for concern is related to job dissatisfaction, it is very possible that assessing job and skills enrichment can be helpful to re-engaging employees. When assising that causes of withdrawal behaviors, it is important for management to understand, as outlined above, that burnout is not directly caused by job dissatisfaction and could be related to the job situation itself, including the “result of stress and strain in the workplace” (PSU, 2016). Therefore, it is important for managers and organizations to balance workloads and implement strong support groups to reduce stress and strain on employees. Organizations, in order to counter the negative impact of job dissatisfaction, stress and strain, and withdrawal behaviors, need to ensure they have knowledgeable and supportive management, challenging and interesting job roles, fair and equal rewards, as well as overall reinforcement and recognition of good job behaviors.  This will promote job satisfaction and work to reduce employee turnover. Organizations must recognize it is vital to be observant and knowledgeable of employees and what they value.


Adler, S., & Golan, J. (1981). Lateness as a withdrawal behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 66, 544-554.

Adams, S., (May 21, 2011). Dilbert cartton. Retrieved from:

Eder, P. & Eisenberger, R., (February, 2008). Perceived organizational support: Reducing the negative influence of coworker withdrawal behavior. Journal of Management 34: 55-68

Healthchannel - cherishyourhealth. (April 8, 2013). Burnout - Causes, symptoms and treatment Retrieved from:

Huang, I., Chuang, C. J., & Lin, H. (2003). The role of burnout in the relationship between perceptions of organizational politics and turnover intentions. Public Personnel Management, 32, 519–531.

Maroney, J., (December 21, 2014). SHRM/Kronos study says absenteeism hits coworkers hard. Retrieved from:

Office Space - 15 Minutes of Work. (Feb 2, 2011.). Retrieved from 

Pennsylvania State University, Worldwide Campus. (2016). Psych 484. Lesson 13: Lateness, absenteeism, turnover, and burnout: Am I likely to miss work? Retrieved from: 

Rubino, C., Luksyte, A., Perry, S.J., & Volpone, S.D. (2009).How do stressors lead to burnout? The mediating role of motivation. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14, 289-304.

School of Management Studies(NIT calicut). (Jan 14, 2013) Organizational commitment presntn arjun. Retrieved from:

  • No labels