Top Management Turnover and Its Effect on Employee Absenteeism: Understanding the Process of Change

AuthorKenneth Lykke Sørensen,Ann-Kristina Løkke
Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 723 –746
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20931911
Top Management Turnover
and Its Effect on Employee
Absenteeism: Understanding
the Process of Change
Ann-Kristina Løkke1
and Kenneth Lykke Sørensen1,2
This study investigates the effect of top management turnover in public organizations
on employee absenteeism, examining school principal turnover in public primary
schools. While previous research has focused on the impact of principal turnover
on school performance, we analyze how principal turnover influences employee
absence. A longitudinal study of 481 employees is conducted. Findings indicate that
managerial turnover at schools does indeed influence absence. Absence is particularly
high after a new top manager has taken office, and especially for employees where the
gap between resignation of one manager and another taking office is short. Findings
also show that the absence effect of a new top manager diminishes over time.
employee absence, turnover, public schools, Denmark, linear probability regression
Top managers in public organizations are commonly believed to make a difference in
the work culture and performance of their organizations. Evidence confirm that top
managers in public organizations play an important role in terms of shaping strategies,
defining organizational values, and altering general human resource management
1Aarhus University, Aarhus V., Denmark
2The National Board of Social Services, Odense C., Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Ann-Kristina Løkke, Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University, Fuglesangs Allé 4,
Aarhus V. DK-8210, Denmark.
931911ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20931911Review of Public Personnel AdministrationLøkke and Sørensen
724 Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(4)
practices (cf. Boyne et al., 2011). However, one question arises: what happens when
the top manager leaves the organization—how does this affect organizational perfor-
mance and employee attitudes and outcomes? This is an important research question,
which is why attention to executive turnover and succession events in public organiza-
tions have experienced a growing interest in public administration (Boyne et al., 2011).
An area of public administration where leadership stability and turnover is particu-
larly important is in the area of public schools where principals can play an important
role in driving the performance of their schools (Bartanen et al., 2019; Béteille et al.,
2012; Miller, 2013; Rangel, 2018). One of the challenges facing public primary
schools is the rather high level of principal turnover (Bartanen et al., 2019; Béteille
et al., 2012; Miller, 2013). Principal turnover might be attributed to either “push” or
“pull” factors (see, e.g., DeHoog & Whitaker, 1990). The push factors prompt princi-
pals to leave their position due to, for instance, poor work relationships, policy issues,
or poor cooperation with school councils and parents (for a review, see Rangel, 2018);
actual dismissals, however, only account for a small proportion of principal exits
(Béteille et al., 2012). The pull factors include principals leaving as a result of their
career plans (Teodoro, 2011), for instance, a wish for working in better performing
schools (Béteille et al., 2012) or leaving the principalship altogether (Rangel, 2018).
Although recent literature has established a link between public school principal
turnover and school performance, for example, student achievement and teacher turn-
over (Bartanen et al., 2019; Béteille et al., 2012; Miller, 2013; Rangel, 2018), there is
relatively little theoretical and empirical research on the actual processes of such a
change in management and how it affects performance of public organizations (Boyne
& Dahya, 2002). However, from a human resource management perspective it is
important to understand all stages of a managerial turnover and its outcomes in order
to prioritize actions so that organizations come through the turnover in the best way
possible. Thus, the process of change from the resignation of a principal until a new
principal takes office and how these individual stages affect performance is scientifi-
cally unexplored.
Furthermore, in studies of how principal turnover can influence employee behav-
ior, research has exclusively focused on employee turnover at the expense of employee
absenteeism (e.g., Bartanen et al., 2019; Béteille et al., 2012). Focus on absenteeism in
public sector organizations is, however, warranted, as this sector has a remarkably
high level of absenteeism seen across several countries (e.g., Lund et al., 2007;
Mastekaasa, 2020; Pfeifer, 2013), even when controlling for gender and occupation
(Hansen et al., 2018). A high level of absenteeism has a number of negative conse-
quences. For individuals, absence depreciates skills and work practices and increases
the risk of permanent exclusion from work (Galizzi & Boden, 2003; Lund & Labriola,
2009). For organizations, absence gives rise to direct costs related to overtime and
planned staffing (Wright & Pandey, 2011); also colleagues may be overloaded or even
absent as a consequence of their colleagues’ absenteeism (e.g., De Paola, 2010; Godøy
& Dale-Olsen, 2018). Absence also decreases organizations’ productivity, earnings
(Galizzi & Boden, 2003), and job performance (Viswesvaran, 2002). Altogether,
absenteeism implies substantial costs, and therefore, attempts to decrease absenteeism

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