Reviewing employee turnover: Focusing on proximal withdrawal States and an expanded criterion

Peter Hom, Terence R. Mitchell, Thomas W. Lee, Rodger W. Griffeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

335 Scopus citations


We reconceptualize employee turnover to promote researchers' understanding and prediction of why employees quit or stay in employing institutions. A literature review identifies shortcomings with prevailing turnover dimensions. In response, we expand the conceptual domain of the turnover criterion to include multiple types of turnover (notably, involuntary quits) and multiple types of staying. Guided by the premise that "everyone eventually leaves; no one stays with an organization forever," we also suggest considering where leavers end up-or post-exit destinations, such as another job, full-time parenting, or educational pursuits. We propose "proximal withdrawal states" that motivate members to participate or withdraw from organizations as an expanded criterion. These motivational states precede turnover and are derived from 2 overarching dimensions: desired employment status (whether employees want to stay or leave) and perceived volitional control (whether quit or stay decisions are completely up to them or at least partially under external regulation). Crossing these dimensions yields 4 prime states: enthusiastic leavers and stayers and reluctant leavers and stayers. We further subdivide these mind-sets into subtypes by differentiating employer from other forms of external control (e.g., family). Focusing on more common subtypes, we explain how they arise from particular motivational forces and profile how they differ by attitudes, behaviors, and turnover speed and destinations. We further discuss ways to measure this expanded criterion and proximal states (and subtypes) and investigate the latter's profiled differences. Finally, we discuss scientific and practical implications and future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)831-858
Number of pages28
JournalPsychological bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Involuntary staying
  • Job embeddedness
  • Mind-sets
  • Psychological quits
  • Turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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