1540s, "abrasion, a scraping," from Latin attritionem (nominative attritio ), literally "a rubbing against," noun of action from past participle stem of atterere "to wear, rub away," figuratively "to destroy, waste," from ad- "to" (see ad- ) + terere "to rub" (see throw (v.)). The earliest sense in English is from Scholastic theology (late 14c.), "sorrow for sin merely out of fear of punishment," a minor irritation, and thus less than contrition . The sense of "wearing down of military strength" is a World War I coinage (1914). Figurative use by 1930.
This type of reduction in staff is one way a company can decrease labor costs : the company simply waits for its employees to leave and freezes hiring . Such a method contrasts with more more severe labor-reduction techniques, such as mass layoffs . Waiting for attrition naturally is usually better for company morale. However, it can also have a negative impact on the employees that remain if the duties from the eliminated positions are transferred to them with no pay increase. It can also limit promotions within the company if these jobs are eliminated, which can result in further attrition and turnover.