The 290 million rural migrant workers in China make up more than one third of its urban labor force. They however often exhibit withdrawal behaviors that tend to reduce their participation in their work roles, such as work avoidance, reduced work effort, lateness, absenteeism, and turnover, etc., which undermines the productivity of Chinese enterprises. In fact, given the importance of rural migrant workers, their experience of withdrawal behaviors jeopardizes the normal functioning of cities, modernization and urbanization in China, as well as obstructs work resumption in the context of the global COVID-19 epidemic. Therefore, under the umbrella of COR theory, we propose to comprehensively predict the factors behind work withdrawal behaviors among rural migrant workers by integrating the multiple embeddedness and identity strain perspectives and the data from three successive studies which we carry out. In Study 1, we establish an indicator system for work withdrawal behaviors in rural migrant workers by including both explicit and implicit indicators. Furthermore, we examine the association between implicit work withdrawal behaviors and three explicit work withdrawal behaviors—turnover within a same career, career-changing turnover, and returns to hometown among rural migrant workers. In study 2, we investigate the negative effects of rural migrant workers' multiple embeddedness in their host city (as a “pushing” force) on work withdrawal behaviors, and how this is moderated by rural migrant workers' hometown community embeddedness (as a “pulling” force). In study 3, we further examine whether rural migrant workers' dual identity strain stemming from their dual identities as “countryman” and “urbanist” has indirect effects on their work withdrawal behaviors mediated by their multiple embeddedness in their host city. Our research has a number of theoretical implications as follows:
First, our research makes up for gaps in the micro-level research on rural migrant workers. The literature on rural migrant workers is dominated by macro-level research, and it is the rare research that focuses on micro-level concerns such as the physical and psychological well-being of rural migrant workers. Further, what micro-level research exists is often descriptive and qualitative, which provides limited implications regarding the psychological process inherent in rural migrant workers' decision to engage in work withdrawal behaviors. From this perspective, our research seeks to theoretically predict rural migrant workers' work withdrawal behaviors based on the framework of conservation of resources.
Second, our research investigates the relationship between explicit and implicit work withdrawal behaviors among rural migrant workers, as well as the different processes by which the two types of withdrawal behaviors may develop. Previous literature rarely examines both explicit and implicit work withdrawal behaviors within the same study. Furthermore, based on the specialty of rural migrant workers, we include three types of turnover as explicit work withdrawal behaviors—turnover within a same career, career-changing turnover, and returning to hometown. In fact, it is not usual to simultaneously observe such three types of turnover in other urban working samples.
Third, our research, via its correspondence to the call for “contextual research”, contributes to work withdrawal theories by providing special antecedents and psychological mechanisms, which is not easily observed in common working samples other than rural migrant workers. In particular, based on rural migrant workers' Hukou” situations and migration nature, we propose their dual identity strain stemming from their “urbanist” and “countryman” identities, as distal antecedents of potential work withdrawal behaviors, and propose their multiple embeddedness in their host city and hometown as proximal antecedents of work withdrawal behaviors.
Furthermore, we also establish a relationship between dual identity strain and work withdrawal behaviors which is mediated by multiple embeddedness and we show that our established proximal and distal antecedents differently predict different types of work withdrawal behaviors among our sample of Chinese rural migrant workers. Thus, our model contributes to the theoretical framework of identity strain, multiple embeddedness and conservation of resources.
Finally, our research also has practical implications for Chinese enterprises in the manufacturing industry and other industries which widely recruit rural migrant workers.