Organizational Culture

Reducing Negative Influence of Coworker Withdrawal Behavior

Work withdrawal behaviors are costly to organizations. These behaviors include working slowly, coming into work late, absenteeism, engaging in non-work related conversations, neglecting job tasks, and taking longer breaks than deserved. Each year, an estimated $200 billion is lost to withdrawal and other counterproductive work behaviors. When employees work in teams or work groups, withdrawal behaviors can be contagious. When the group engages in high levels of withdrawal behaviors, the withdrawal behaviors of one individual can go unnoticed. Because of the costs associated with withdrawal behavior and the increase in organizational use of teams and work groups, it is important for employees to understand the potential for negative influence of the group on individual members and ways to prevent it.

Group Influence

Often, an employee will feel safer engaging in withdrawal behaviors when the work group’s level of such behaviors is high and not reprimanded. The employee is, in essence, given the opportunity to engage in withdrawal behavior without being detected or punished. An employee may also face the group’s criticism for not conforming to the norm of engaging in withdrawal behaviors. Although the individual is susceptible to the influence of the group and may reap benefits for conforming to the group, some individuals are able to resist engaging in the normed withdrawal behaviors. This is likely due to the individual’s perceived organizational support and feeling of obligation to return the favorable treatment received from the organization.

Returning the Favor

Perceived organizational support is when an employee believes he or she is receiving favorable treatment from the organization. Often times when an employee is high in perceived organizational support, he or she will feel obligated to return this favorable treatment to the organization. This relationship is referred to as a positive exchange relationship. Engaging in this relationship serves 3 functions for the employee:
  1. Employee maintains a positive self-image.
  2. Employee avoids violating the established norm of reciprocity with the organization.
  3. Employee continues to benefit from the positive treatment of the organization.
When an employee has a positive exchange relationship with the organization, these functions will outweigh the benefits of conforming to the norms of the work group engaging in high levels of withdrawal behaviors.

Enhance Perceived Organizational Support

To reduce the negative influence of work groups high in withdrawal behaviors one should not only reprimand negative behaviors to prevent their contagion but work to enhance employees’ perceived organizational support by:
  • Recognizing positive organizational actions (e.g., giving a gift certificate or formal recognition to an employee who stayed late to help a coworker complete a project).
  • Treating all employees fairly.
  • Showing care for employees’ well-being.
  • Providing favorable rewards to employees.
  • Improving job conditions.
Perceived organizational support has the benefit of enlisting the functions of a positive exchange relationship. These actions will not only reduce individual withdrawal behavior but will increase an employee’s resistance to engaging in these behaviors when encouraged by coworkers. The employee’s felt obligation to the organization will override this negative influence.

Interpretation by:

Lexy Adkins

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Eder, P., & Eisenberger, R. (2008). Perceived Organizational Support: Reducing the Negative Influence of Coworker Withdrawal Behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 55-68.