Going above and beyond in a role or task may often help to get you noticed at work, but if there’s an unspoken rule that such behaviour is expected from workers, that in itself can cause stress, pressure and, potentially, burnout, research has suggested.
A study by Professor Ekaterina Netchaeva, assistant professor in management and human resources at French business school HEC Paris, has considered how certain unspoken or unwritten expectations from managers around employee behaviour can often put more pressure on staff than the actual tasks themselves.
So-called ‘Organizational Citizenship Behavior’ (OCB) is where individual actions go beyond assigned tasks. These can be discretionary actions by employees outside of their formal job description, so perhaps taking on an extra responsibility or working late.
Such OCBs will often be undertaken because an employee wants to excel in their role, because they feel it will benefit the wider organisation, or because they want to be seen to be going the extra mile to be noticed and, perhaps, promoted or rewarded down the line.
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However, if there are unwritten or unspoken expectations from managers or within the working environment that OCB is expected, then that can put more pressure on workers than the actual tasks themselves.
Although, often, OCB can include positive behaviours – for example taking on charity projects, being more cooperative, or helping newcomers to settle in – pressuring employers to engage in these activities can cause them more emotional fatigue than the fatigue of actually engaging in these tasks. This can potentially cause burnout in the long run, the study, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, has cautioned.
Many times, these OCBs are implicitly encouraged by managers through general statements about how ‘good’ employees behave, and stories highlighting exemplary employee behaviour. Professor Netchaeva also found that good sleep can moderate the effect of this pressure on fatigue.
“According to our results, to avoid employee burnout, managers should temper their messages so that employees feel less pressure to engage in OCB activities,” said Professor Netchaeva.
“Additionally, they should avoid overburdening employees with after-hours work to ensure that the latter get a good night’s rest. With better sleep, employees can better overcome the felt pressure, which will have a lesser spillover effect on fatigue,” she added.
As the research concluded: “Consistently, we found that the perceived citizenship pressure but not engaging in OCBs at work increased the reported levels of fatigue at the end of the workday. We further found the relationship between citizenship pressure and fatigue to be moderated by the quality of sleep the night before.”