An analysis of the behavioral consequences of helping others at work
This study attempts to determine how helping others at work daily can lead to behavioral changes and over time how helping others at work is a depleting experience that will eventually lead to a reduction in how much one helps others and instead engages in political behaviors aimed at helping oneself.
The study starts with defining Organization Citizenship Behaviors (OCB's), which are discretionary acts that promote organization function by supporting the social and psychological environment in which task performance occurs. Research has shown that these OCB's not only benefit coworkers and broader organizational goals, but the individuals who engage in them also receive personal benefits such as more favorable performance reviews, better positive work attitudes, and increasedhelp from coworkers.
However, despite all the well documented benefits of engaging in OCB's, researchers have recently started to note a dark side to such behaviors, including negative consequences to the actor. Particularly research has shown that it can have negative consequences for personal well-being, relationships at home, and overall career outcomes. OCB research at first was more directed toward interpersonal relationships but over time the research has shifted focus to intraindividual studies as there are substantial and systematic‚ uctuations in employees' episodic, ormomentary, levels of OCB (Scott, Matta, & Koopman, 2016, p. 2).
Mostrecent studies consider how OCB's vary on a day to day basis. The averageamount of variance of OCB directed towards others at work (48.2%) was higher thanthe variance of OCB directed towards the organization as a whole (36.0%). Thedifference in variation can be accounted for because individuals usually havemore opportunities to help their coworkers every day at work then helping theorganization as a whole. Studies also consider how employee resource levelsaffect employees engaging in OCB's.
For example, employees who felt recoveredand refreshed in the morning were more likely to engage in OCB's for the day. Thisis directly related to the sleep quality of the employees. On the flipsideemployees who felt depleted or tired were less likely to help their fellowemployees at work that day. Research has also showed that OCB's have both a bright anddark side. Engaging in altruistic behaviors served as a means of positivelyenhancing one's mood by increasing positive emotions. On the other sidenegative side effects associated with OCB's include consuming personalresources and reduced wellbeing in terms of job satisfaction and commitment.Helping others at work produced feelings of depletion, suggesting that helpingacts represent an activity that consumes resources at an ever increasing rate( Lanaj et al. 2016).
Now this study defines a self-regulatoryframework for daily helping behaviors and how they translate directly intobehavioral outcomes. Ego Depletion Theory states that individuals have alimited pool of resources that are consumed when engaging in acts that require self-control.These resources are used to control thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Whenindividuals deplete all their resources it becomes more difficult to resistengaging in behaviors that do not serve their interests or goals. Beingdepleted and tired can even lead to counterproductive and deleterious workbehaviors.
This study therefore raises 7 key hypothesesrelated to OCB and work related behavior. They are:
- Daily helping acts atwork will be related to an increase in depletion
- The daily positiverelation of helping acts with depletion will be stronger when chronicprevention focus is higher
- Daily Depletion willbe related to a decrease in subsequent helping acts
- Daily Depletion willbe related to an increase in subsequent political acts
- A) The daily negativerelation of depletion with subsequent helping acts will be weaker whenpolitical skill is higher (vs.lower). B) The daily positive relation of depletion with subsequentpolitical acts will be weaker when political skill is higher (vs.lower).
- The indirect negativeeffect of helping acts on subsequent helping acts via depletion will bestronger when(a)prevention focus is higher(vs.lower)and(b)political skills islower(vs.higher).
- The indirect positiveeffect of helping acts on subsequent political acts via depletion will bestronger when(a)prevention focus is higher(vs.lower) and (b)political skill is lower(vs.higher).
Researchers for this study recruited participants fromnonacademic staff at a large university in Northeastern United States. Theadvertisement was sent out via email and asked them to participate in a dailystudy about their workspace experiences with a promise of $75 on completion ofthe study. The email was sent out to 189 employee who were also encouraged toforward the email to fellow coworkers and friends. Participants were requiredto work full time and have regular access to their email via computer orsmartphone at the workplace. Those who consented to the study and were eligiblewere then directed to a survey about measures of the between person moderators(i.e prevention focus, political skill). A total of 107 individuals wereselected for the study from the sample size. In the second phase, individuals were given two surveys a dayfor 10 consecutive workdays.
The first assessed helping acts (the focalpredictor) and baseline levels of depletion and political acts. The secondsurvey assessed depletion (the mediator) and helping and political acts. Thereason for separating the focal measures across the two surveys was to addressissues associated with common method variance. Out of the 107 candidatesaccepted, only 91 employees completed all the requirements for both the surveysfor at least 3 days which lead to the collection of a total of 684 data points.
The participants job titles ranged included, administrative assistants, caseworkers and systems analysts. The average age of the participants was 45.4years with 82.4% of the sample being females. Employees averaged 41-hour workweeks and reported regular interaction with their coworkers.
Between Person Measures:
Two different between person measures were analyzed in thisstudy. Regulatory Focus- An example ofregulatory focus is I am anxious I will fall short of my responsibilities atwork. This was measured using 9 items on the survey (a=.83)Political Skill- An example ofpolitical skill is I have good intuition about how to present myself toothers This was measured using 18 items on the survey (a= .89)
Daily Within Person Measures:
Three different within person measures were recorded which askedparticipants to reflect on their daily working hours. A)Helping Acts “ werefound to vary considerably during the day. These were measured with 4 items onthe survey including items such as volunteered to help others, cooperativelyworked with others, etc. (a= .84) B)Depletion- wasmeasured using 3 items to assess depletion over the day. Items included I feltused up, I felt burnt out, etc. (a= .93) C)Political Acts- thiswas measured using 4 items and attempted to measures individual perceptions ofpolitics at various levels of the work environment. Items included engaged inself-serving behavior, gained approval of those who can help me, etc.(a=.83)
Control variables and Analysis:
This study included several control variables. To account forsleep quality which has been shown to be related to depletion, the first surveyof each day asked about the participants sleep the previous night. To account for the variability and changewithin people during the day, there were two surveys given per day. Since the data had a multilevel structure, researchers used amulti path analysis to test the hypothesis. The amount of within personvariance in political acts ranged from 32% to 43% which supported the idea thatpolitical acts operate as a dynamic intraindividual phenomenon. For hypothesistesting, the researchers modeled the within-individual predictors using randomslopes and group-mean centering, and grand-mean centered the between-individualmoderators. The purpose behind group mean centering the within-person variablesis to remove variance attributable to the person-level of analysis, meaningthat relations estimated amongst within-person constructs should not being‚ uenced by between-person factors such as individual differences, responsestyles, or social desirability.
First the relation of helping acts to depletion as well as theinteractive effect of helping acts and prevention focus. Hypothesis 1 was notsupported (y=.06) but the researchers did observe significant cross-levelinteraction between helping acts and prevention focus(y=.15). The data wasconsistent with hypothesis 2 however, helping acts were positively associatedwith increased depletion at higher prevention focus (y=.16). While there wasnot a direct effect of helping acts on depletion, the relation was significantfor higher prevention focus employees. Hypothesis 3 was supported as well withdepletion relating to a decrease in subsequent helping acts (y= -.14).
Hypothesis 4 was also supported with helping acts leading to an increase ofsubsequent political acts (y=.06). The researchers also examined if politicalskill interacted with depletion to predict subsequent helping acts (hypothesis5 A and B) but neither hypothesis was supported (y= -.04 and -.12). To testmoderated mediation, the researchers calculated conditional indirect effectsfor the mediated relationship of helping acts with subsequent helping acts as wellas subsequent political acts (Hypothesis 6 and 7). Hypothesis 6b and 7b werenot tested as political skill was not a significant moderator. Hypothesis 6aand 7a were supported however as the the indirect effect of helping acts withsubsequent helping via depletion was €’.022 and sign cant at higher levels ofprevention focus whereas the indirect effect was.005 and not sign cant at lowerlevels. The indirect effect of helping acts with subsequent political acts viadepletion was .009 and sign cant at higher levels of prevention focus, where asit was?€’.002 and not sign cant at lower levels.
The results of the study mostly converge with other recentfindings about OCB's, showing that helping is a depleting experience,especially for employees who have a higher level of prevention focus. Thisdepletion further leads to people being more likely to help themselves at workby engaging in political acts rather than engage in more helping acts in thefuture. Employees with higher prevention focus find that the drain in resourcesfrom helping acts leads them to engage in more self-serving acts. The resultsshow that these self-serving acts occur daily and show that political acts varyfrom day to day. The findings also showed another dark-side to engaging inOCB's daily. Helping others not only has potential negative implications foremployees in terms of reduced well-being but also potentially leading tonegative consequences in the workplace as individuals engage in self-servingand destructive acts. The results did not show any evidence that politicalskill was not a moderator for the relation between depletion and helping andpolitical acts.
The findings of this study have severalpractical applications in the workplace. Employees can weigh the costs versusthe benefits of their employees helping others at work. On days employees arenot feeling recovered and are feeling depleted it may be wiser to not ask asmuch of them and allow those individuals to focus on their own work. Furthermore,to reduce the risk of employees engaging in political behaviors that could potentiallyhave detrimental consequences in the workspace, employers should be mindful ofthe daily enactment of political behavior. Organizations should remove aspectsof the work environment that could encourage acting politically. Research hasshown that providing clear, consistent feedback can mitigate these politicalperceptions and improve morale in the workplace.
Limitations and Conclusion:
Aswith any study, there were some limitations that could account for variabilityin the data. First reporting daily work activity is a self-regulated responseand with employee's daily lives being unpredictable there were those who couldnot complete the survey or a particular day could have affected certainresponses. Also, the surveys did not attempt to specify the target or the typeof help they were receiving which may also be variable depending on what thetask is or how much effort it requires on the part of the one helping.
Overallthis study represents an empirical investigation of how helping acts relate tosubsequent work-related behaviors on a day-to-day basis. When employees engagein helping behaviors it leads to depletion that leads to a reduction inengaging in subsequent helping behaviors. Instead it increases the chance of engagingin self-serving and political acts. These relations are exacerbated byemployees with a higher level of prevention focus. As a whole, the resultsindicate that helping others at work comes with a potential cost to one'swell-being as well as subsequent acts towards others at work.