Attachment Issues: Leader-Subordinate Relationships After Voluntary Departures

Attachment Issues: Leader-Subordinate Relationships After Voluntary Departures

Who conducted the study?

The study was conducted by Debra L. Shapiro of The University of Maryland, Peter Hom of Arizona State University, Wei Shen of Arizona State University, and Rajshreee Agarwal of The University of Maryland.

What was the aim of the study?

Researchers in this particular field of study has identified that when a leader in the workplace leaves the organization, subordinates have a tendency to increase their likelihood of leaving the company they are working for, known as “organizational shock.”. In addition, the departure of a beloved leader or manager form a workplace has been shown to result in lessened trust in the organization and a lessened desire to support the company they are working for.

Although, the relationships between all members of the workplace and its effect on a workers attachment to a company and turnover rates have not been researched in much detail

As such, this study aimed to investigate the varying relationship levels among workers and their effects on one another’s attachment and departure rates from said organization, through the formulation of a 360-degree relational model, when in conjunction with a leader leaving the work environment.

What did they find?

The researchers proposed 12 propositions to their theory pertaining to what actually affects subordinates in regards to the turnover rate when a leader leaves the workplace. These propositions are what make up the bulk of their theory, which each describing a separate facet that affects the level of organizational attachment a worker has to their company. From these propositions, 4 conclusions were derived:

Conclusion #1: Leader Departures Likely Provoke Sensemaking Associated With Specific Concerns Whose Resolution Ultimately Guides Employees’ Organizational Attachment

When leaders depart from the workplace, their subordinates are more inclined to partake in sensemaking in regards to their specific concerns over their future (job security, future management, etc.…). These thoughts and opinions derived from this sensemaking ultimately affect an employee’s organizational attachment.

Conclusion #2:Subordinate’s Relationships (with many) Influence Their Sensemaking

Previous thought was that only a leader’s departure from the organization is the sole determinant of an employee’s organizational attachment and likelihood of leaving. This study theorizes that though a leaders voluntary ejection plays, a role, it is not the only source affecting an employee’s sensemaking. Instead, it is a combination of multiple relationships among the work place, with the employee’s relationships with their co-workers and the organization itself playing a major role in their sensemaking.

Conclusion #3: Subordinate’s Organizational Attachment Is Likely Influenced By Group-Level Not Only Dyadic-Level Dynamics

Furthermore, in addition to organizational attachment being influenced by the previously mentioned sources, the researchers theorize that there is influential power at the group level. Employee’s can be influenced by observing trends among other coworkers, such as if someone decide to quit their job, thus having their actions be altered based on the groups.

Conclusion #4: Developmental Networks Likely Need Organization-Wide Developmental Climates To Be Encouraged And Sustained

Finally, the researchers put forth that in order to sustain developmental relationships, they must be fostered and encouraged in the workplace by upper management through the use of an established developmental climate.

These conclusions, in conjunction with the 360-degree relational model, allow for a more informed and directed perspective on the multilevel relationship among leaders and subordinates and its resulting effect on worker turnover rate and overall organizational attachment.

In the end, the researchers believe that in order to sustain and reinforce organizational attachment during or right after an “organizational shock,” high-quality relationships must be fostered and encouraged though the use of organization-wide developmental climates ( an environment where management encourages an employee mentoring system).

Why are these findings important?

Leaders, upper management, and superiors play a central role in the day-to-day functions of the company, as well as in the lives of their employees. As such, when a disturbance occurs in the relationship between a leader and their subordinate, company wide affects can be felt, with the main ones being an employees remaining attachment to the company and their likelihood of leaving the organization itself. These findings give an insight into this topic in such a way that allows the general public to understand this topic and be able to apply it in their own workplaces in order to increase productivity and receive positive benefits (discussed below).

Furthermore, this research has built on the already existing literature in this field, and furthered it by providing a 360-degree model that easily summarizes their theory. Through the use of such model, future research can be conducted with the goal being on how to retain employees in the work place during times of organizational shock.

Where can these results be applied?

One of the major ways these findings can be applied to the workplace is to save the company money. When an employee leaves, regardless of it being due to a lack of organizational attachment or because a superior has voluntary left, they must pay 90 % to 200 % of the annual salary in order to recruit and train replacement employees. This training takes up precious time that could be spent creating revenue for the company or at least furthering the goals of the organization.

For example, recently a large number of administrators have left Yale University in order to pursue other opportunities and fulfill life goals. Although, due the recent high turnover rate, the university will need to expend multiple resources in order to adequately train the new incoming professors. Further more, students have voiced their concern over these rates saying, “(Yale should) implement some guarantee that people will stay in their positions for a minimum amount of time” (Treisman). Through the use of this model, admin will be able to try and understand why it is executives are leaving and hopefully combat it, saving time and money in the process.

Another benefit of this study is that management will be able to take the model created by the researchers and apply it to the workplace in order to better understand why it is employees are leaving following a leaders voluntary leaving. Likewise, employers will be able to create more encouraging work environments in order to prevent multiple employees form leaving following the voluntary ejectment of their leader after an organizational shock.


Shapiro, D. L., Hom, P., Shen, W., & Agarwal, R. (n.d.). How Do Leader Departures Affect Subordinates Organizational Attachment? A 360-Degree Relational Perspective. Academy of Management Review, 41(3), 479-502.

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