A study out of the School of Management and Business at King’s College London has proven something that, anecdatally, also makes a lot of sense — that conscientious, above-and-beyond-type employees, who are successful at their jobs because of this drive, also experience significant emotional exhaustion, and struggle to keep a work-life balance.
Participants in the study, all workers in a UK bank’s inbound call-centre, reported feelings of being drained and “used up.” This was often because of workplace policies, that, in today’s age of tenuous employment with vaguely defined boundaries, called on participants to go beyond their job descriptions.
While participants were frequently rewarded for their “organizational citizenship behaviour,” in the form of being considered for raises, job advancement, and being thought of as generally dependable, this goodwill had a dark side.
“Conscientious workers have been noted for their dependability, self-discipline and hard work, and their willingness to go beyond the minimum role requirements for the organization. They are also said to make a greater investment in both their work and family roles and to be motivated to exert considerable effort in both activities (not wanting to “let people down”), thus increasing work-family conflict and leaving them with little resource reserve. […]
Our study shows that a possible overfulfillment of organizational contributions can lead to emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict. […] Managers are prone to delegate more tasks and responsibilities to conscientious employees, and in the face of those delegated responsibilities conscientious employees are likely to try to maintain consistently high levels of output. […] The consequences, however, may be job-related stress and less time for family responsibilities.”
I do wonder if the fact that they drew from a pool of employees in an already emotional-labour heavy industry made the study’s results even starker. It will be interesting to see if further research into other types of work, as the study’s conclusion calls for, might uncover the same trends. I know that in my working life, I myself have seen firsthand proof of the adage “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” This study shows that, similarly, “If you want something done well ask a conscientious person” — but maybe now we have a responsibility to think about the personal fallout of that request.