Role stressors and organizational citizenship behavior: Don’t stress those workers out

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Stress
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (JAN 2011)
Article: Relationships of role stressors with organizational citizenship behavior: A meta-analysis
Authors: Erin Eatough, Chu-Hsiang Chang, Stephanie Miloslavic, and Russell Johnson
Reviewed By: Bobby Bullock

Job performance is not only evaluated by looking at an employee’s formal tasks but also through extra-role behaviors like organizational citizenship behavior (OCB, or behavior that goes beyond job requirements to support and benefit the workplace).  However, while researchers have looked at a myriad of predictors of formal performance, much less attention has been awarded to predictors of OCB.  To address this, Eatough, Chang, Miloslavic, and Johnson (2011) conducted a meta-analysis to determine the effects of occupational role stressors on OCB.

Role stressors, or factors that strain the behaviors and demands associated with a particular job, include role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload.  Role ambiguity refers to unclear or vague performance expectations (Katz & Kahn, 1978).  Role conflict refers to simultaneous contradictory expectations from coworkers and employers (Katz & Kahn, 1978).  Role overload is when employees feel overloaded with tasks and responsibilities, or when too much is expected (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970).  The importance of examining the role stressor-OCB relationship is obvious when considering the importance of OCB.  OCB is linked to performance, customer satisfaction, job satisfaction, organizational effectiveness, and profitability (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000; Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006). In the meta-analysis, Eatough et al. (2011) found the following:

  • The presence of each of the three role stressors had negative impacts on job satisfaction (role ambiguity had the strongest negative relationship and role overload had the weakest)
  • Job satisfaction was positively related to OCB, indicating that happy employees are more helpful employees.
  • Both role ambiguity and role conflict had significant negative relationships with OCB, in that greater ambiguity and conflict each led to decreased OCB.
  • Role overload had no negative relationship with OCB (interesting!).  This may be because when employees feel overloaded, they respond with increased effort; both in-role and extra-role (Eatough et al., 2011).
  • The strongest model was a mediation, whereby job satisfaction mediated the role ambiguity-OCB relationship.  In other words, when employees lacked understanding of what was expected of them (role ambiguity), this led to much less job satisfaction than any other role stressor.  The decreased job satisfaction in turn led to decreased displays of OCB.  This finding shows just how crucial it is to be clear about job expectations!

The findings above are important and relevant  for a few reasons.  First, they show that the three role stressors are distinct and should therefore be treated as individual areas of concern for leaders, employees, and researchers.  Lumping them all together into a single construct does not respect their distinct effects on performance, job satisfaction, and OCB.  Second, they show that role stressors can negatively influence both OCB and job satisfaction.  These findings suggest that steps should be taken within organizations to address and alleviate these three role stressors.  Eatough et al. (2011) suggests taking the following steps to reduce role stressors and increase OCB:

  • Provide clear job descriptions and make sure that employees are always aware of what is expected of them (this will reduce role ambiguity).
  • Create a work environment that encourages feedback (which can provide information and reduce role ambiguity & conflict).
  • Provide high organizational support, make fair decisions, and adequately reward performance (this will increase job satisfaction, which will in turn increase OCB).


Eatough, E., Chang, C., Miloslavic, S., & Johnson, R. (2011). Relationships of role stressors with organizational citizenship behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0021887

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Organ, D. W., Podsakoff, P. M., & MacKenzie S. P. (2006). Organizational citizenship behavior: Its nature, antecedents, and consequences. London: Sage Publications.

Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Paine, J. B., & Bachrach, D. G. (2000). Organizational citizenship behaviors: A critical review of the theoretical and empirical literature and suggestions for future research. Journal of Management, 26, 513–563.

Rizzo, J. R., House, R. J., & Lirtzman, S. I. (1970). Role conflict and ambiguity in complex organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 15, 150–163.