Will Employees Regret Helping Behavior at Work?

Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are behaviors that go above and beyond “the call of duty.” For example, an employee may choose to stay late to help finish a project or take on extra work to relieve a stressed-out teammate. These behaviors aren’t required as part of the job, but when employees choose to participate in them, the organization and the employees reap the benefits. Most previous research has focused on what prompts an employee to choose these behaviors and what positive outcomes occur in response. However, new research is beginning to investigate the possible negative outcomes of OCBs.


Drawing on previous theory, the researchers (Anderson & Bolino, 2023) propose that there can be unexpected negative outcomes to both participating in and withholding from OCBs. For example, when employees engage in OCBs, it could prevent them from accomplishing their own work tasks and goals, lead to heightened expectations of OCBs in the future, or even impede their work-life balance. If an employee withholds from OCBs, it could cause harm to others or the organization.

When experiencing any of these negative outcomes, employees are likely to link them back to their decision to participate or withhold from OCBs. They will start to regret their decision, and that feeling of regret will guide their future decisions. For example, if they regret participating in OCBs, they will be more likely to withhold from OCBs in the future. Conversely, if they regret withholding from OCBs, they will be more likely to participate in OCBs in the future.


While it is not possible to entirely control the outcomes of OCB participation or withdrawal, it is important that organizations become aware of the potential negative results of OCBs. Recently, there has been increased attention on OCBs, especially in regards to discussions around “quiet quitting” – or trying to get away with doing the minimum. More than ever, organizations are concerned about how to increase OCB participation.

Recognizing and working to prevent possible sources of OCB regret can help encourage employees to continue to participate in OCBs. For example, organizations can inform employees that OCB participation is voluntary, and that their own responsibilities take priority. Management can also minimize how often employees are asked to stay late or work extra time. When staying late is required, employees should be compensated fairly, perhaps by being given the opportunity to leave early on another day. Whatever the method, by working to reduce possible sources of OCB regret, organizations can encourage their employees to continue – or start – participating in OCBs.


Anderson, H. J., & Bolino, M. C. (2022). Haunted by the past: How performing or withholding organizational citizenship behavior may lead to regret. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 44(2), 297–310.

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