Are your employee’s citizenship behaviors helpful in times of work overload?

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Scientific interpretation

We all know someone at work who seems to be present as much for others as for herself. This person is always ready to help, is very patient and friendly. Does she do so because she truly wants to help others or because she feels compelled to it? When an employee is experiencing work overload the difference is important, since according to her motivations, the person will react differently, affecting her level of commitment and performance. But how exactly?

This is what Kumar et al. (2019) investigate in an article in which they aim to understand how work overload and allocentrism (the tendency to put the collective before the individual) impacts organizational citizenship behaviors.


Shamala KUMAR, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Sri Lanka.


Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Élise LABRECQUE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.


Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB)

These are behaviors that are not formally expected in the context of employment, in which a person commits without expecting a formal reward.

Researchers differentiate OCBs into two categories, depending on who benefits from the behaviors:

OCBIs are behaviors directed towards an individual;

OCBOs are behaviors directed towards an organization.



This is the tendency to put the group before the individual. People with a higher allocentrism bias may feel greater pressure to engage in OCBs at work.


Work overload

Extensive work schedule combined with overwhelming responsibilities.



Complete reference

Kumar, S., Hansiya Abdul Rauf, F., et Rathnasekara, H. (2019). Working to help or helping to work? Work-overload and allocentrism as predictors of organizational citizenship behaviors. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-22.


Country: Sri Lanka
Number of participants: 300
Mean age: 36 years
Number of women: 107

Recruitment of participants:
A stratified random sampling method, using strata based on sex, position and university, was used to select participants. Participants were individually contacted, and appointments were made with one of the researchers.

Method used:
The study was conducted at three State Universities in Sri Lanka with teaching and administrative staff. Self-reported questionnaires were administered to participants.


What are the findings of the study?

From the study, it is possible to highlight two main conclusions:

  1. Work overload is related to OCBO, but not to OCBI

    Since OCBOs are perceived as intrinsic to work, it seems that in times of work overload, more opportunities are created for people to perform OCBOs, because they confuse OCBO with behaviors actually expected at work, seeking to stand out by conforming to what they perceive as organizational expectations. In doing so, they will have more difficulty managing pressure and stress in certain situations.

  2. The greater the tendency to allocentrism, the weaker the relationship between work overload and OCBI

    Employees will usually have difficulty in voluntarily assisting others when they are already overloaded with their own responsibilities. This can be explained by the fact that people are less likely to associate OCBIs with job expectations.
    However, it seems that those more inclined to allocentrism are less likely to let workload impinge on helping others. This can be explained by the fact that people see their co-workers and their work as a whole, motivating them to engage in OCBI mainly for allocentric (helping others) and self-serving (egoistic) reasons.

Avenues of action for employers

The results of the study link OCBOs with a sense of having to perform more. The same goes for OCBIs, when they are paired with allocentrism, since they push the person to perform more as well. This can have an effect on employee wellbeing, in particular by causing job strain.

Detect and defuse organizational citizenship behaviors

  • Be attentive to employees who demonstrate allocentric characteristics in order to defuse them during times of work overload.
  • Ask questions about job strain and health and ensure that these kinds of indicators are included in discussions of organizational performance targets.

Adopt guidelines

  • Set up guidelines that can help employees and their managers understand the distinction between their jobs and what’s extra, to help them monitor such extra work.

Feedback from our expert

OCBs can be the difference between a thriving organization and one that struggles. Organizations tend to rely on employees’ goodwill and sense of organizational citizenship in getting things done. In recent years, there has been a growing understanding, however, that OCBs have a dark side. The fact that they are not necessarily voluntary, and they may lead to excessive stress and burn-out are chief among the causes of concern over OCBs. Considering evidence of rising levels of work stress globally, re-examining what exactly OCB means in a particular work environment is important. One must ask how might OCB be affecting those who demonstrate such behaviors and to what extent are they truly volitional?

The broader point we make, however, is about employees’ sense of agency at work when the lines between formal expectations and other activities in which we engage is blurred. Unfortunately, we cannot always determine where work stops. For some people, because of the nature of their personality and work style, these lines are particularly hard to identify. Considering that work itself is becoming progressively more fluid, where technological advances have made the reach of organizations seemingly limitless and considering that our work no longer confines us to a particular space or time, these problems are likely to escalate.


Kumar, S., Fouquet, E., Labrecque, M.-E. (2019). Are your employee’s citizenship behaviors helpful in times of work overload?. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at


Kumar, S., Hansiya Abdul Rauf, F., et Rathnasekara, H. (2019). Working to help or helping to work? Work-overload and allocentrism as predictors of organizational citizenship behaviors. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-22.

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton