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Exit transitions at work: How organizational members respond when coworkers leave

Melody Lynn Wollan, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Social influences are a central part of organizational life (Ferris & Mitchell, 1987; Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978). However, this powerful contextual factor has been largely ignored when examining employee exits from an organization or workgroup. A cross-sectional sample of 51 workgroups from independent organizations was created in which an employee had left during the previous four months. Surviving coworker responses to questionnaires indicated their degree of social identification with the exited employee was significantly related to the degree of change in the surviving coworkers' performance, attitudes, and behaviors. Stronger social identification with the exited employee was related to surviving coworkers engaging in more active information seeking behavior regarding the exited employee. Finally, social identification with the exited employee was found to be a better predictor than friendship relationships or hierarchical similarity in predicting changes in performance, attitudes, and behaviors.^ Hypotheses examining implications of several motives to exit were partially supported. Specifically, results indicated surviving coworkers of employees who left for “work-life issues” and for whom work-life issues was not personally a salient factor did not experience changes in their performance, attitudes, and behaviors. Those survivors who did report work-life balance problems did display significant changes in their behaviors, attitudes, and performance. Similarly, surviving coworkers of individuals who left for “organizational” or “employee management” reasons also did not change their performance, attitudes, and behaviors if they perceived a fair workplace. Lastly, surviving coworkers of “contingent” employees did not change their performance, attitudes, and behaviors.^ These results illustrate that turnover can create a ripple effect in the workplace. While some surviving employees responded adversely to the loss of a coworker, others responded favorably and others were not affected at all. This study demonstrated social identification should be considered as a significant component of the impact of turnover on surviving coworkers in future research. Future research should continue to pursue exit motive as an antecedent with relevant moderating factors to predict why changes in survivor's performance, attitudes, and behaviors vary. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Management|Psychology, Industrial

Recommended Citation

Wollan, Melody Lynn, "Exit transitions at work: How organizational members respond when coworkers leave" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3070137.