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Organizations seek to foster productive and satisfied employees; however, many times employees themselves disengaged from their work for a variety of reasons. The most common form of work disengagement is exhibited in withdrawal behaviors, which manifest in the workplace in the form of work absenteeism, employee turnover, lateness/tardiness, and burnout.  Each of these forms presents a unique challenge to both understand and interact with, to provide equilibrium for both the employee and the employer.  Unlike many of the topics contained within the Work Attitudes and Motivation Wiki, the topic of withdrawal behaviors is not about examining changes to one’s working environment or motivation (the independent variable), but the end result of the changes (the dependent variable) (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011). 

Withdrawal Behaviors

Withdrawal behaviors are the actions a person takes when they become physically and/or psychologically disengaged from the organization. Some commonly noted withdrawal behaviors are physical such as: absenteeism, lateness/tardiness, and turnover. There are also psychological withdrawal behaviors. These include: passive compliance, minimal effort on the job, and lack of creativity. Psychological withdrawals often take the form of laziness or lack of intense thinking on the job (Pinder, 2008). 

Physical Withdrawal Behaviors

  • Lateness: Excessive tardiness can be a physical sign that an employee has disengaged from the company.  Research, though limited, does suggest that lateness is a good predictor of the more severe types of withdrawal. This is particularly true if the person is consistently late because it shows a lack of motivation to get to work on time (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).
  • Absenteeism: Absenteeism is exhibited when an employee fails to report to work, typically for an extended period of time or for an excessive number of days that has not been excused.  Examples of excused absences may include medical appointments and pre-approved vacations (Cohen & Golan, 2007, The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).
  • Turnover: Turnover occurs when an employee leaves an organization, and frequently results from both lateness and absenteeism (Rosse, 1988). Unlike absenteeism, which has been looked at in primarily a negative light from the organizational perspective, turnover is seen as having both beneficial and harmful effects on an organization (The Pennsylvania State University, 2011). Turnover can result in new employees who may be more motivated and eager to help the company succeed versus long-term employees who may have lost interest and motivation in the company.

Psychological Withdrawal Behaviors

  • Presenteeism: Presenteeism occurs when an employee shows up for work but works in a limited capacity. This can occur due to physical impairment, such as being sick with a cold, or due to mental or psychological strain. Withdrawal behavior is concerned primarily with presenteeism due to psychological reasons. An employee might sit at their desk and stare off into space or spend increased time leisurely surfing the internet instead of accomplishing work tasks. Decreased productivity due to presenteeism is more difficult to identify and measure than absenteeism (Trotter, et al., 2009).
  • Burnout: Burnout can develop when emotional or other stressors become unbearable. Burnout occurs when an employee has exhausted all their personal mental and physical resources for the job. Burnout is defined as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy (Maslach, Shaufeli, & Leiter, 2001).
Evaluating each of these physical and psychological withdrawal behaviors is beneficial for both the organization and its employees. Companies benefit from the predictive modeling capabilities that arise from monitoring these behaviors. Companies can implement policies, procedures, job structures, and work cultures aimed at reducing disengagement and withdrawal behaviors. Employees benefit from the personal awareness gained through recognizing that seemingly innocent behaviors or actions can become detrimental to organizations and personal career growth.


Lateness or tardiness occurs when an employee fails to report to work at the appointed time. It is important to distinguish between types of lateness in order to identify withdrawal behaviors. Blau (1994) identified three specific types of lateness behavior categorized by pattern, frequency, and duration, including increasing chronic lateness, stable periodic lateness, and unavoidable lateness.

Types of Lateness

It is sometimes hard to tell if an employee has a legitimate reason for being late. When employees are late due to legitimate reasons, they are likely to provide similar reasons for their lateness as an employee who is leaning towards withdrawing from the company.  Examples of excuses could be heavy traffic, an accident, or transportation issues. Types of lateness include the following:

  • Unavoidable Lateness: Transportation concerns are a primary cause of unavoidable lateness; however, personal illness and accidents also can create unavoidable lateness (Blau, 1994).
  • Stable Periodic Lateness: This type of lateness is due to higher leisure-income trade off as well as work and family conflict. Employees exhibiting this type of lateness are not unhappy with their job, they simply have other things they consider more important than arriving on time all of the time (Blau, 1994). For example, an employee with high job satisfaction and young children might experience work-family conflict. He or she may prioritize his or her children's needs over arriving to work on time.
  • Increasing Chronic Lateness: Lower job satisfaction, lower job involvement, and lower organizational commitment can all lead to increased chronic lateness (Blau, 1994). Chronic lateness by staff can become costly to an organization.

The following table explains each type of lateness as described by Blau (1994):

Lateness Behavior








Stable Periodic




Increasing Chronic




NOTE{*}: Unavoidable lateness is labeled immeasurable due to the random pattern of lateness - it is difficult to measure and compare frequency and duration of a random event (Blau, 1994).

A significant negative relationship has been found between job satisfaction and lateness (Adler & Golan, 1981). An employee experiencing low job satisfaction is more likely to arrive at work late, further viewing work as tedious or repetitive by an employee will cause disengagement to occur and the employee will be increasingly late to work. The employee then comes to think of their job as a source of income alone, versus a valued career.

Employees who are never late have higher job satisfaction, stronger organizational commitment, and higher job involvement (Blau, 1994). An employee who finds their work stimulating or challenging is less likely to engage in lateness as a withdrawal behavior (Adler & Golan, 1981).

Causes of Lateness

Causes of lateness are different than other physical withdrawal behaviors such as absenteeism or turnover. Other withdrawal behaviors appear to be within the person, while tardiness is due to more of an environmental factor. For example, absenteeism occurs when an individual is ill, while lateness may be due to a tree that fell across the road. People cannot always control the environmental situations that are around them and therefore if a person is late it may not have been due to their lack of competency. Lateness can be caused by unforeseen outside factors that a person may have no control over.  

We have learned from class commentaries that lateness is an accurate indicator of countless styles of withdrawal (Adler & Galan, 1981). If lateness becomes more of a regular issue, this is a predictor that that person may becoming unmotivated to come to work each morning. If a person is late multiple times it may be due to their own faults rather than by factors outside of their control.

Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, has stated that the adrenaline rush of the last-minute rush from over-scheduling may also cause people to be chronically late. An employee may not realize that they are acting this way until they take the time to sit down and ponder what is causing chronic lateness (DeLonzor, 2005).

Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and commentator for Fox News, has made statements saying that hidden, often secret, emotions behind chronic tardiness don’t excuse it. However, he states that these hidden emotions do help explain chronic tardiness. Therefore, if we can recognize the problem it will help to solve the problem. 

Results of Lateness

Significant instances of tardiness by staff costs employers both in terms of lost productivity and lost revenue. In the United States an excess of $3 billion per year is lost in productivity because of employees being late, while if that one employee is late ten minutes each day, of the year, they are costing the company the equivalent of one week of vacation time (DeLonzor,2005). Additional costs incurred with the time that supervisors must spend on reprimands and dealing with tardiness, and the negative impact a tardy employee has on other employees. (Cascio, 1987). One employee's lateness can have a trickle-down effect on co-workers who believe they too can get away with lateness because it goes unnoticed with no corrective action taking place (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).

Resolution for Lateness

It is beneficial for leadership to determine the true type of lateness behavior and the corresponding causes.  The experts agree that, if you are always late, you should first try to discover the underlying emotion causing it so your awareness can lead to change. Also, put yourself in the position of the person you’re meeting---and imagine that person’s frustration and wasted time.  Managers at all levels should monitor lateness in accordance with company policy and learn to recognize any changes in the pattern, frequency, or duration of lateness (Blau, 1994). This way, supervisors can distinguish between unavoidable lateness and increasing chronic lateness. In the event of stable periodic lateness or increasing chronic lateness the employer and employee can work together in finding a mutually agreeable solution. One suggestion in the Small Business Review (2009) is that management immediately addresses the issue via a “heart-to-heart conversation" (Stem, 2009). In this conversation, the manager and employee can discuss why lateness is a problem and the reasons behind the employee’s lateness, then work together to find a resolution (2009). Also, the resolution for chronic lateness also falls on the individuals themselves. A person who is chronically late should first try to discover the underlying emotion that may be causing chronic lateness. This can open opportunities for the person to understand why they are always late and the awareness can hopefully lead to a change in emotions and behaviors causing the chronic lateness. 



There are many reasons an employee may be absent from work; the most common, accepted, and excused reasons are sickness and vacation leave. These two forms of leave from work are planned absences and are, to a degree, required by law to be available to employees. However, absenteeism is when an individual misses an extended amount of time from work, usually a day or more, that is unexcused. Absenteeism, unplanned and unexcused, generates great focus due to its perceived negative impact upon organizations, such as the loss of production (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011 ).

Measures of Absence

When I/O psychologists are hired to investigate, analyze, and explain why employees are missing work when they do not need to be, they must use measures of absence. Measures of absence help to distinguish between absences that are beyond a person's control (illness or family emergencies) and absences that are voluntary and within a person's control.

Within organizational research there are over 41 different measures of absence, yet due to their conceptual and operational clarity, frequency and time-lost are considered the most commonly used measures of absence (Leonard & Dolan, 1990). The reasoning behind the measure of frequency is that absences that are of a shorter duration indicate voluntary absences due to controllable factors. The measure of time-lost absence is thought to capture involuntary absences. Longer absences are explained as resulting from uncontrollable factors (Darr & Johns, 2008). However, this is not always the case. This is a general idea that longer absences are usually due to uncontrollable factors, however, it is not a rule and sometimes longer absences can be due controllable factors.

Causes of Absenteeism

Just as it is commonly assumed that a happy worker is a productive worker, it is also assumed that an unhappy worker is most likely to be an absent worker. However, that is not necessarily true as research has yielded that "several meta-analyses have found that job satisfaction only accounts for 5% of absenteeism" (Pinder, 2008). Another study of job satisfaction and absenteeism, which included both blue and white collar in manufacturing and service industries, found that "in the great majority of cases (211 out of a total of 240 correlations) there was no significant relationship of any kind between absence and satisfaction (Nicholson, Brown & Chadwick-Jones, 1976).  

To explain absenteeism, Darr & Johns (2008) conducted meta-analyses which suggest that work strain appears to be the larger cause of absence from work. More specifically, these researchers found that physical and psychological illness, resulting from work strain, was a significant reason for absence from work either directly or indirectly.

In determining whether work strain directly causes absence, Darr and Johns (2008) examined data according to three models as shown below:



Figure adapted from Darr & Johns 2008

Darr & Johns' (2008) study concludes, "The total indirect effect exceeded the direct effect of work strain on absence,” which supports the mediating role of illness as the cause of individuals' absenteeism.  This does not mean that employees do not miss work as a direct effect of work strain, but there is more support for work strain causing illness, which then causes absence from work, in which case researchers, Darr and Johns (2008) suggest viewing work strain and stress induced absenteeism as a mental health break which allows employees to work throughout the rest of the year.

Results of Absenteeism

Unplanned absences are more costly than planned absences since the organization did not have time to find additional labor to cover for the employee that was unable to come to work. This is why many employers have rules in place as far as how short of notice an employee is required to give before calling off of work. In 2007, one study by Mercer found that employee absence was 36% of the organization's payroll. The Lesson 13 commentary provided a good example: In 2007, the average American makes $34,165 annually. If this individual takes the average of 5 unplanned absences per year, it will cost the organization approximately $3,074 per year. If you multiply this by the number of workers in an organization, it results in a very large figure (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).  The chart below illustrates the  cost of absenteeism and the potential savings of lowering it.

 (Mercer & Kronos, 2013)

Resolution of Absenteeism

Due to reasons beyond the employees' control, there are other ways in which organizations can reduce absenteeism due to lack of motivation. Improving a number of issues can reduce the amount of absenteeism an organization has. First, improve employee morale. Make the organization a place in which employees enjoy coming to work. Incorporate "fun" into the workplace. Second, improve interpersonal relationships. As an HR manager, take time to initiate conversation with employees to see what is or is not motivating them to come to work. Be a listening ear to employees, and allow time for employees to stop in and talk about anything regarding their work that may be creating negative motivation. Third, increase the authoritative abilities of managers. Having an authoritative manager may demotivate some employees. On the other hand, some employees may be less likely to miss work if they know actions will be taken in response to regular, unexcused absences. Finally, simply improving working conditions can reduce absenteeism. Make sure employees are working in a safe and healthy environment. Even though there is no way to reduce absenteeism completely, organizations should do their best to make sure it's not occurring because of demotivation ("Primus Solutions", 2010).


All employees eventually leave a company, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and a company views these turnovers in a positive or negative manner depending on the impact to the company at that time. An employee may voluntarily leave the company because he/she is leaving the workforce entirely or because he/she accepted a position with a different company. An employer may force the employee to leave the company for a variety of reasons including layoffs or poor job performance. Employee turnover can create positive aspects for the company such as creating savings when a senior employee making top pay leaves and the company hires a less-experienced employee for less money. However, not all situations in employee turnover result in a positive impact for the company.  If a company has to spend a lot of money and time in training and for the development of a new employee to maintain its critical operations, then an employee leaving can create a negative impact. 

The Causes for Employee Turnover

There are many causes for turnover, but most reasons fall into the categories of either voluntary or involuntary. Most people choose to leave at least one job within their lifetime for reasons of improving their everyday living such as opportunities for better pay, higher career satisfaction, mobility caused by marriage, etc. Almost everybody in the workforce also hopes to leave one’s job in order to retire as well. There can also be negative reasons for voluntary turnover caused by medical issues for an employee or a family member that needs increased care. Of course, the other aspect for employee turnover involves the involuntary choice in leaving a job.  A company may release an employee for financial reasons or even worse, the employee did not perform to the expected standards of the company. 

Most companies want to avoid high employee turnover in order to save money in recruiting and training as well as to maintain full capacity for potential sales and profit. Therefore, it is important for a company to investigate and understand the reasons an employee leaves voluntarily. There are some factors that a company cannot control or reduce turnover from, such as retirement and medical issues. However, there are some reasons that companies need to understand with regard to high voluntary turnover, so that the company can modify practices in reducing employee turnover. One example comes from job dissatisfaction.

William Mobley (1977) created a model that included seven potential steps an employee goes through in job dissatisfaction that may eventually lead to eventual job turnover. Not all employees suffering from job dissatisfaction go through each step listed in the chart below, and employees may experience withdrawal from their work in other ways less extreme, such as developing negative behaviors including increased tardiness and absenteeism.   


The Positive Effects of Employee Turnover

One of the positive effects in employee turnover is the fact that it can save the company money. The high volume of available workers in comparison to the demand of jobs allows companies to pay low wages without rewarding employees with raises. High turnover, however, is not an effective company tactic for highly skilled jobs requiring long-term experience and highly skilled employees.

Companies will also view turnover positively when it provides the opportunity to remove ineffective or troublesome employees. Sometimes employees simply do not perform as well as others or cause severe conflict among all the employees. When companies are able to remove these types of employees voluntarily or involuntarily, it provides an opportunity for the company to hire a new employee that can work effectively and remove poor working relationships among co-workers causing conflict and disturbing the work flow. Replacing older employees that retire can promote positive change for a company’s workforce because it enables them to hire younger employees with newer skill sets and fresh perspectives that may enhance company processes and effectiveness. 

The Negative Effects of Employee Turnover

Losing an employee that is productive and vital in maintaining structure and smooth work flow can be very detrimental for a company. It can be quite costly due to recruiting costs, lost productivity, and training costs and time. Highly skilled employees hired by other companies may also take valuable information obtained from years of experience from the previous employer to the new one.  Motivation of other employees may also suffer because of the transition of losing a good manager or supervisor and learning to work with a new one. Having a poor manager that the employees distrust or cause lack of motivation can lead to higher turnover rates among the workers supervised by the poor manager, causing even more lost production, time, and money. Companies also realize the negative impact in losing their highly skilled employees because finding replacements is not always easy and can be very competitive among various companies in gaining the qualified applicant. 

The Impact of a Downward Economy on Employee Turnover

Research was conducted on the general employee downsizing process or turnover that businesses and other organizations must take during a downward economy. It has been found that during a recession job destruction is on the rise and then decreases during the recovery period of a recession. The findings also show that job destruction is not symmetrical during a recession and a recovery.  In some years, the job destruction is worse, but then may be reduced by past “normal” numbers during a recovery year (Ilmakunnas & Maliranta, 2003).

Employee Turnover During Recession


(minus) Labor market becomes more rigid = “excessive” turnover of jobs and workers drops
(minus) Reduced turnover then negatively impacts the chances of displaced workers from finding new employment, leading to high long-term unemployment rate
(minus) Layoffs do not have same rebounding affects as when individuals quit on their own (Ilmakunnas & Maliranta, 2003).
Employee Turnover During Recovery


(plus) Opportunity for switching jobs is greatly increased
(plus) This causes a chain of job availability across the board and continues job-to-job quits
(minus) Within the business cycle the rate of employees switching jobs continues to remain greater than the number of available open positions (Ilmakunnas & Maliranta, 2003)
(minus) As a result: worker turnover rates grow compared to job turnover rates
Employee Turnover Rates During a Recession Across All Sectors

  • Sectors with high reallocation rates have high worker turnover rates
  • Before a recession most sectors experience an increase in job creation
  • During a recession all sectors experience a decrease in job creation and an increase in job destruction
  • In a recession, while organizations may see a decrease in employee turnover, they may also see a decrease in engaged employees, because although they are unhappy,  these individuals will not leave in a poor economy (Frank, Finnegan, & Taylor, 2004).

Research was conducted on how employee turnover will change as the economy begins to improve. One scholar stated, "It appears every man, woman and child is ready to quit their current job at the first opportunity." On this same notion, others anticipate that within U.S. based companies the rate of employee turnover will double as the economy improves (Frank et. al., 2004).


Herbert Freudenberger is attributed with coining the phrase "Job Burnout." It may be more precise to use the phrase “job depression” to describe burnout. Burnout is a suffering of the spirit, which results in damaging or destroying motivation. On any particular day, an employee’s enthusiasm for his/her work may increase or decrease but it does not remain the same. People do not usually have an unending amount of enthusiasm for their work. Even the hottest fires will run out of fuel and it does not matter how much we fan the flames because when the wood is gone, the fire will extinguish. Jobs are no different and when motivation wanes, people will burnout (Potter, 2005).

Who is Susceptible

The people who are most likely to suffer from burnout are caretakers. They easily become cynical about the work they do because their work can be seemingly unending. Caregivers responsible for their loved one will actually start to become hostile toward their charges or take their frustration out on others who are close to them. Other occupations that have a high frequency of suffering from burnout include physicians, politicians and managers. However, burnout can affect anyone doing anything if the conditions are right (Potter, 2005).

Symptoms of Burnout

Symptoms of burnout usually manifest as depression, dissatisfaction, anxiety, anger, and frustration. Some people will also experience exhaustion and increased health problems such as headaches, which require a person to leave work early. Many people even develop a fear of going to work. Sometimes in severe cases, burnout can affect people’s lives outside of work as well, resulting in relationship problems and substance abuse. In general, people will develop a "why bother" attitude (Potter, 2005).  Burnout is a process which does not occur overnight; it is a process that is cumulative. Burnout begins with very subtle warning signs, but  if left unattended to will progress into a lasting and profound dread of going to work.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout happens a little differently than some of the other withdrawal behaviors. Burnout relates more to the stress that develops over time. However, burnout does not occur only to those who are stressed or frustrated. Someone can still love their work, and develop burnout. As mentioned earlier caregivers are particularly susceptible to this condition. Caregivers usually do not get the rewards and overt recognition for their work, and if they are not watchful and take care of their own needs then they will eventually suffer burnout. In this case, they are both employee and employer and one facet must take care of the needs of the other. Just as we have come to understand motivation and what fuels the fire within us, we can use this understanding to understand the causes of burnout. Motivation is the result of rewards, autonomy, and feeling that our work is appreciated by those whom we work with most closely. Being a part of a group or team that develops group cohesiveness over time spent working closely on important projects can also motivate people.  Motivation can also occur by the goals and responsibilities that the company or supervisor sets for an employee as well as the goals established by the employee (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).


This diagram shows the cycle that Burnout can produce using nursing as an example, but is applicable to numerous situations. Someone is unhappy at work which can lead to burning out.  This burned out employee quits.  There are then a shortage of employees.  Staffing issues develop which lead to job dissatisfaction which leads back to burning out, and the cycle continuing. 


Just as all the things listed above contribute to motivation, a lack of them lead to burnout. Furthermore, a vicious cycle can sometimes cause the employee to feel desperate enough to quit one job and seek another. This process, however, does not solve the problem if the employee does not recognize the problem from the first job and can lead to increased burnout.

 Lifestyle causes of burnout

  • Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships

 Personality traits can contribute to burnout

  • Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  • The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
  • High-achieving, Type A personality (Segal, Segal, Smith, 2012).

Recovering from Burnout: Acknowledge your Losses

Recovering from burnout is like recovering from other physical illnesses. When recovering from a cold, one should get plenty of rest, fluids and take it easy for a while. Employees should use the same approach when recovering from a case of burnout. While recovering, it is important to replenish these losses in order to feel revitalized, in the same way replenishment occurs after a physical illness. Co-workers and friends can help through support in restoring some of these losses. Others will require a change of pace, a vacation, or just some time to recharge batteries in whatever way serves best at the time. Listed below are some of the results from burnout illnesses:

  • Loss of the idealism or dream with which you entered your career
  • Loss of the role or identity that originally came with your job
  • Loss of physical and emotional energy
  • Loss of friends, fun, and sense of community
  • Loss of esteem, self-worth, and sense of control and mastery
  • Loss of joy, meaning and purpose that make work – and life – worthwhile

The earlier the stage of burnout you're in, the easier it will be to correct the situation. The most obvious way to eliminate burnout is to quit your job. While there is no quick fix, recovery from burnout is possible by being open minded, allowing changes and time. Keeping an open mind and considering all your options is vital. Employees should never sacrifice health because of the demands of any one job (Luban, 1994).

Coping with job burnout 

 The most effective way to combat job burnout is to quit doing what you’re doing and do something else, whether that means changing jobs or changing careers. But if that isn’t an option for you, there are still things you can do to improve your situation, or at least your state of mind.

  • Actively address problems. Take a proactive approach – rather than a passive one – to issues in your workplace, include stress at work. You’ll feel less helpless if you assert yourself and express your needs. If you don’t have the authority or resources to solve the problem, talk to a superior.
  • Clarify your job description. Ask your boss for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. Point out things you’re expected to do that are not part of your job description and gain a little leverage by showing that you’ve been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.
  • Ask for new duties. If you’ve been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
  • Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and take perspective (Segal, Segal, Smith, 2012).

The Impact of Downsizing on Employee Burnout

Numerous researchers have determined that employee burnout is different from the other reasons why individuals miss work because it deals with being overworked and then not caring about their job tasks or performance levels (The Pennsylvania State University, Lesson 13, 2011).

It is important for organizations to understand what causes employee burnout, especially during a recession when downsizing is common.

Employee Burnout as a Consequence of Having to Downsize

  • Decrease in employee motivation and general commitment to company
  • Employees remaining from downsizing decrease their level of work efforts
  • Work environment no longer has the trust and high feeling of security that it had before downsizing
  • “Survivor sickness”- remaining individuals feel an increase in fatigue and bitterness, while also lacking inspiration and creativity
  • Survivor sickness can impact organizational leaders and therefore result in a decline in productivity and revenue (Lewin & Johnston, 2000)
  • Organizations that downsize to increase productivity are then faced with burnout from surviving employees, ultimately leading to more loss in productivity
  • Management pays too much attention to exiting employees, rather than working to energize and encourage the remaining employees who are trying to avoid burnout
    (Lewin & Johnston, 2000)

Why Survivor Programs are Vital to Avoiding Employee Burnout

  • Survivors must not only continue their work tasks, but also take on the workload of those let go
  • Survivors may have to complete new tasks that require special skills and take extra time and efforts
  • As employees are let go, survivors may notice shifts in their job responsibilities and must adapt to continuous work changes
    (Lewin & Johnston, 2000)

It is unfortunate that many organizations do not see the importance of survivor-type programs and instead demand the same outputs despite the loss of employees. Research shows that it is imperative for managers to provide the time and resources necessary for their surviving employees to take on new, more complex tasks that are now their responsibilities (Lewin & Johnston, 2000).

3 Ways to Reduce Survivor Burnout Due to Downsizing and a Recession

  • Provide assistance to surviving employees on how to cope with change
  • Provide counseling and encouragement to the surviving employees on how to not only accept responsibility, but also take smart risks while working in a newly restructured organization
  • Managers act as a support and mentor for the surviving employees

As an organizational whole, management must also continue to offer development workshops on how to perform effectively within a restructured organization. Regular counseling on both short and long-term professional goals is key to surviving employees feeling as though the organization is committed to them and their needs. If these employees can gain the lost trust with their organization, then their work attitude and behavior will improve, reducing potential employee burnout (Lewin & Johnston, 2000).

Research on Lateness, Absenteeism, Turnover and Burnout

Withdrawal behaviors are clearly detrimental to organizations. Thus, research into the causation and resolution of withdrawal behaviors are crucial to predictive modeling of behavior and for organizations to take steps to modify behavior of their employee population. Several studies have examined the potential antecedents to various withdrawal behaviors.

1984: Investigation of How Loss Commitment and Absenteeism Affected Turnover

This study was conducted because most previous studies looked at permanent withdrawal. They focused on temporary withdrawal (more specifically, absenteeism) during the first year of employment for these individuals. The participants in this study were 52 nurses and 36 accountants who had just taken a new position. They collected longitudinal data on these employees. Questionnaires were given to the group once a month during their first year. They looked at their commitment to the organization and how much they were absent and compared it to whether or not they stayed with the organization after their first year of employment (Farrell and Peterson, 1984).

Farrell and Peterson (1984) found that the commitment and absenteeism for those that continued employment after the first year were fairly stable. However, those who terminated employment during the first year showed increases in absenteeism while commitment decreased. The limitations are that the results in this study cannot be over generalized. Additional studies with more employees in different professions over a longer period of time would help to find additional patterns of behavior in new employees. Although there are limitations, this study was groundbreaking in showing that commitment and absenteeism during the first year of employment is a good predictor of whether or not an employee will stay with an organization.

1988: Progressive Relationship Among Withdrawl Behavior Study

Rosse (1988) worked on determining if there was a progressive relationship among withdrawal behaviors: lateness, absenteeism, and turnover. The study followed newly hired full-time hospital employees over a seven month period. Before considering the results of the study it is important to understand how Rosse (1988) defined lateness and absenteeism. Lateness was measured as being more than ten minutes late for a shift, while an absence was measured as any unanticipated absence. Data was collected per week (Rosse,1988).

The results of this study found a progressive relationship from lateness to absence, and from absence to turnover; however, only multiple absences led to turnover (not single absences) (Rosse, 1988). Additionally, a weaker progressive relationship was found directly between lateness and turnover. Due to the difference between single and multiple absences, Rosse (1988) evaluated whether a single absence or single tardy would lead to subsequently increasing absences or lateness, respectively. Rosse (1988) found that lateness did lead to increasing subsequent episodes of lateness and an absence also did lead to increasing subsequent absences. The major weakness of this study is that while it identified a progression from lateness to absenteeism to turnover, it did not identify or suggest reasons for the progression. Rosse (1988) suggested possibilities for the progressive relationships such as that it is possible that newly hired employees engaged in turnover because they determined they weren’t a good fit for the organization or that perhaps a reverse relationship exists where employees decide they are going to quit their job and then engage in lateness and absenteeism more frequently. More research was needed to evaluate organizational conditions and employee satisfaction (Rosse, 1988). Research done since 1988 has begun to evaluate the impact of organizational conditions, job satisfaction, and other factors on withdrawal behaviors such as lateness, absenteeism, and turnover.

2005: Examination of The Influence of Five Dimensions

A 2005 study examined the influence of five dimensions of organizational culture. These dimensions were identified as job challenge, communication, trust, innovation, and social cohesiveness. The purpose of the study was to determine the effects of employees' withdrawal intentions and behavior in light of these constructs. Three forms of employees' withdrawal intentions from the job or organization, as well as one form of employees' withdrawal behavior (i.e. self-reported absenteeism) were examined. The findings of this study indicated that an "organizational culture that provides challenging jobs diminishes employees' absenteeism, and withdrawal intentions from the occupation, job, and the organization" (Carmeli, 2005).

At the conclusion of the study, the results revealed that other dimensions of organizational culture were not significantly correlated with the dependent variables, with the exception of the relationship between a culture of innovation and employees' withdrawal intentions from the job. This study contributes to a better understanding of the influence of organizational contexts (e.g. culture) on the development of multiple withdrawal intentions and behaviors (Carmeli, 2005).

2007: Examination of The Impact of Prior Absenteeism and Other Variables

A longitudinal study completed by Cohen and Golan (2007) examined the impact of prior absenteeism, demographic variables, and work attitudes (job satisfaction, perceptions of health, and work commitments forms) on absenteeism and turnover intentions. The study was conducted through a questionnaire that used established scales of the research instruments. The sample was composed of 119 female employees working in five long-term nursing facilities in northern Israel (Cohen & Golan, 2007).

The results showed a strong effect of prior absenteeism on later absenteeism. It also showed that among work attitudes, job satisfaction is a strong predictor of absenteeism, while commitment forms, particularly organizational commitment, are related to turnover intentions. Cohen and Golan (2007) did note that their research could be limited in that using a survey questionnaire for collecting most of the data might cause common method error; however, the findings of this study shed some more light on important work outcomes in general and in the health care industry in particular. Increasing job satisfaction and organizational commitment are potentially good strategies for reducing absenteeism and turnover intentions. A higher rate of absenteeism provides an early indication of a withdrawal process among employees, and the organization should treat such information as more than just data on absence rates (Cohen & Golan, 2007).

2007: Examination of The Role of Work Stressors

Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of 183 independent samples in order to examine the role of work stressors. Specifically, they identified two categories of work stressors, hindrance stressors and challenge stressors, and tested their impact on job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behavior. Hindrance stressors included aspects such as role ambiguity, organizational politics, and concerns of job security- aspects that limit task accomplishment or are obstacles to employees’ personal development. Challenge stressors included aspects such as time pressure, job scope, responsibility, and high levels of work load- aspects that create positive challenges and facilitate task accomplishment (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007).

Results show a negative relationship exists between hindrance stressors and job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Conversely, a positive relationship exists between hindrance stressors and turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behaviors.  So, as hindrance stressors increase, so will turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behaviors, while job satisfaction and organizational commitment will decrease (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007).

Challenge stressors have the opposite effect. A positive relationship exists between challenge stressors and job satisfaction and organizational commitment, while a negative relationship exists between challenge stressors and turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behaviors.  As challenge stressors increase job satisfaction and organizational commitment will increase, while turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behaviors will decrease. This results in positive benefits for an organization (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007) .

While less is known about the costs and benefits of increasing challenge stressors and decreasing hindrance stressors, this meta-analysis indicates that managers probably should attempt to consider the two different categories of stressors when developing stress management practices. Managers can work to provide clear job roles with higher levels of autonomy and responsibility, while working to decrease hindrance stressors such as organizational politics and red tape (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007).

2012: Meta-Analysis of relationships between absenteeism, lateness, and turnover

 The cost of employee withdrawal behaviors can cost companies billions of dollars each year in lost productivity (Rosch, 2001). Two perspectives of to explain the link between withdrawal behaviors (Koslowsky, 2009): voluntary lateness, absenteeism, and burnout as a manifestation of overall withdrawal from the organization because of lack of job satisfaction and organizational commitment; and withdrawal behaviors as the result of a specific prior event (Berry, Lelchook, & Clark, 2012). The ability to quantify these behaviors will allow for greater understanding of these withdrawal behaviors.

The importance for curtailing these withdrawal behaviors has an obvious impact in the organizations bottom line. In their meta-analysis, Berry, Lelchook, and Clark (2012) provide evidence for the progression of withdrawal behaviors having an impact on organizations that may be concerned with employee withdrawal. Relatively mild behaviors can be a predictor of future severe withdrawal behaviors to include frequent absenteeism or voluntary behavior. Because of the potential for the mild withdrawal behaviors to become more serious, organizations should pay attention to these warning signs and invest in interventions to control lateness which may have an effect on absenteeism; and with interventions on absenteeism having an effect on turnover (Berry, Lelchook, & Clark, 2012).

Workplace Applications

Due to the high costs associated with lateness, absenteeism, turnover, and burnout organizations should continue to seek ways to minimize withdrawal behaviors. Effective techniques for reducing withdrawal behaviors can be implemented through company policy and by developing clear and effective job structures within a supportive work environment.

Job Structure and Work Environment

  • Managers need to clearly define job responsibilities because role conflict and role ambiguity can both foster negative employee attitudes and emotions (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007). These negative attitudes and emotions can lead to withdrawal behaviors.
  • Managers at all levels need to monitor and recognize changes in lateness behavior in order to prevent progression to more serious withdrawal behaviors such as absenteeism and turnover (Blau, 1994). Supervisors can meet with employees to discuss why the employee is engaging in withdrawal behaviors, such as lateness, and work with the employee to develop a solution (Stern, 2009).
  • Managers need to work to reduce hindrance stressors, such as organizational politics, hassles, and resource inadequacies. These stressors can lead to decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment which can eventually lead to increases in withdrawal behaviors such as turnover (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007).
  • Managers can improve employees’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement by communicating frequently with employees about their perceptions and needs, involving them in decision making, and by fostering a challenging and supportive work environment. These efforts will also help prevent burnout.
  • In the event of downsizing, managers can help their employees adjust by providing a clear vision of the corporate goals, vision, and plan as well as providing assistance and encouragement and offering development workshops (Lewin & Johnston, 2000). These efforts will help maintain organizational commitment and levels of job satisfaction, which will help prevent withdrawal behaviors.

Company Policies

Organizations and their human resources departments have programs implemented to address absenteeism, lateness, and chronic tardiness. Many organizations offer paid time off (PTO), sick time, personal leave, and holidays. In cases of prolonged illness or family situations, organizations also utilize the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), paid medical leave, excused leave of absences, etc. In the event that an employee is excessively tardy or absent, many organizations use write-ups, warning letters, and other forms of discipline. Many organizations post policies regarding lateness and absenteeism. In order to effectively combat tardiness and absenteeism, a company policy should be clear, easy to understand, and enforced.




An employee who is absent or tardy twice during a single pay period will be given a verbal warning and the supervisor will write a report about the verbal warning that will be forwarded to executive title and placed in a company record.

An employee who is absent or tardy within a 15-day period after the verbal warning will receive a written warning and the supervisor will forward a copy of the written warning to executive title and placed in a company record.

An employee who is absent or tardy within a 15-day period after the written warning will be suspended without pay for 3 to 5 days. The supervisor will consult with executive title to determine the length of the suspension, and whether the employee should be returned to "introductory" status or terminated after the suspension.

The supervisor of any employee who is absent or tardy within a 30 day period after suspension will give executive title a notice of the absence or tardiness. Executive title will be responsible for decisions on all terminations.

Many employers post these policies in a company handbook. Employers often ask employees to sign contracts or an agreement to abide by the company policies outlined in the handbook. By having employees sign these contracts if gives the employees more legal support as well as ensures that the employee has read and understands the rules and policies of the company. 

In addition to establishing company policies on tardiness and absenteeism, some organizations may also send supervisors to training programs to help them prevent, identify, and combat these negative behaviors. For example, there is a training program by Lorman Educational Services provided for managers for managing absenteeism and tardiness. The training program focuses on managing attendance, understanding employee laws, effective policy and procedures, avoiding abuse, and other issues surrounding managing attendance (Lorman Education Services, 2009).

Useful Theories in Reducing Withdrawal Behaviors

There are a few theories related to withdrawal behaviors experienced in a work setting. When withdrawal behaviors are looked at within a theoretical framework, many logical explanations, as well as practical solutions may be drawn. It would be helpful for companies to utilize and apply the aspects of some Indutrial/Organizational theories to aid in success and satisfaction of their employees. Three related theories are Job Design Theory, Reinforcement Theory and Self-Efficacy theory.

Job Design Theory touches base with the element of high turnover rates within a company that are associated with employee withdrawal behaviors.  According to Job Design Theory, people are motivated to perform their jobs if  they feel that their job is a good fit (PSU, 2013). Thus, if a job is not a good fit with an employee, then chances are that the employee will find a new, better fitting job. This theory emphasizes the importance of job content ,or providing workers with meaningful, challenging, and interesting work (PSU, 2013). Companies may benefit from increasing the skills variety in the jobs their employees work, where workers are able to use a variety of skills, preventing dissatisfaction, burnout and other withdrawal behaviors.  Increasing skills variety can also decrease the demands placed upon employees and turns perceived demands into shared aspects of the job, giving each employee rotation and relief. 

Reinforcement Theory can be used to predict such withdrawal behaviors as lateness and absenteeism. This theory predicts that employee’s behavior in the workplace is reinforced, positively or negatively, by that employee’s desired rewards. Schachter (2009) suggest that reward systems should be financial and nonfinancial. Rewards must meet employees' needs, reinforce metrics, and align the company's goals with the work people are doing. If a company wishes to decrease absenteeism and lateness behaviors exhibited by its employees, then according to Reinforcement Theory, the company should reinforce the desired behaviors. That is, set rewards for being present and on-time or punishments for not doing so.  Doing so will motivate employees to behave accordingly.

Self-Efficacy Theory could be of use to employees who recieve poor feedback and who doubt their ability to perform a job. Self Efficacy Theory refers to beliefs about the likelihood of successfully completing a task or goal (PSU, 2013). Self-efficacy relies on confidence in performance abilities, and if a company lacks positive feedback or performance evaluations for its employees, they will exhibit withdrawal behvaior related to their preceived job efficacy. Research has shown that verbal persuasion can lead to increased self-efficacy and increased performance (Eden and Zuk, 1995). Companies would beneifit by utilizing these findings to increase employee confidence in abilities and encourage them to solve the problems concerning withdrawal behaviors.  



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