Employees often go the extra mile by staying late or helping a coworker with an assignment. These actions — known as citizenship behaviors — are especially beneficial to the companies where these employees work. In fact, research shows that employee citizenship behavior enhances both team and company performance. For years, scholars have recognized these behaviors as a core way that supervisors evaluate overall job performance.
However, some workers go far beyond common citizenship behaviors and cross important work-life boundaries — by using their own money for company expenses, working during vacations, or canceling plans to spend time with their families, for instance. These extreme citizenship behaviors can be detrimental to employee well-being, team culture, and the fabric of our communities.
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One reason extreme citizenship behaviors are so damaging is that they create social norms that can be challenging to abandon — for example, pulling one all-nighter for a project can lead to two all-nighters for the next assignment. Indeed, social norms can be even more powerful than formal rules and regulations. As individuals witness others’ attempts to win the boss’s favor, they may feel obligated to follow suit by mimicking a coworker’s extreme citizenship behavior even though it conflicts with their own life arrangements. Ultimately, these overextensions can lead to fatigue, unethical behavior, turnover, and work-family conflict.
To understand extreme citizenship better, we recently polled more than 400 knowledge workers in the U.S. and the U.K. As many of us start the new year with resolutions and aspirational goals like getting promoted, you should consider these insights from our study to help promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself and your team.
Extreme Citizenship Behaviors Are Real
Our first finding is that extreme citizenship behaviors are indeed happening, despite recent hubbub over quiet quitting. Employees we surveyed told stories of reporting for work the day after their mother passed away and rushing back to work after their child’s birth. Others said they worked right after surgery, while sick with COVID-19, until 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, or during their grandmother’s funeral.
Indeed, 93% of the employees surveyed indicated that they had engaged in some form of extreme citizenship behavior.