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What’s Stopping Your Team From Going The Extra Mile?

Posted by | April 30, 2015 | Coworker, Leadership, Teamwork, Workplace

Via Forbes : ‘My kids have just thrown up and three planes have broken. We’ve now been delayed two days. This is a nightmare. The worst thing is the airline staff don’t seem to care.’

This is the message I got from a colleague when bad weather and broken machinery had left him and his family stranded. It’s the opposite of what business leaders want, which is for their team to ‘go the extra mile’ and deliver great service whatever the weather . Psychologists call going the extra mile – doing things like helping out a colleague, mentoring new recruits, or taking responsibility to solve an unusual customer problem – Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). OCB can make the difference between a great organizational culture and a terrible one. So, if you want a great organizational culture, it’s useful to know what helps and hinders OCB .

Two recent studies have come back with one theme that stops OCB: exhaustion. The pace of change in today’s organizations is a drain on employees’ emotional and mental resources, leaving them with little left to contribute above and beyond the demands of their job. This is especially true, the research suggests, in industries that require people to fake their emotions, such as customer service.

‘Surface acting’ – where employees hide their true feelings or fake positive emotions, is linked to greater exhaustion at the end of the day, which then negatively impacts on OCB. One study, entitled “Too drained to help”, asked administrative employees to fill out a survey twice a day for 10 days, measuring their levels of surface acting (‘faking it’) in the afternoon and then end-of-day exhaustion. They also asked employees to rate their performance that day, in comparison to an average day, and had a close colleague monitor how much that person helped out their colleagues.

The results found that surface acting throughout the day predicated exhaustion, and the more exhausted employees felt at the end of the day the less likely they were to go the extra mile to help out their colleagues. There was no link between surface acting, exhaustion and self-rated performance. The study also found that the negative relationship between exhaustion and OCB was especially pronounced for employees who were chronically exhausted, supporting the idea that OCB drains mental and emotional resources. When people are tired, they shut down – directing their attention to the task at hand, as opposed to helping out their colleagues or tending to stranded customers.

Sounds obvious, but it has important implications. Often business leaders see the answer to customer service as equipping staff with ‘people skills’ – teaching them how to forge better relationships and ultimately ‘fake it ’til they make it’. This study suggests that actually they’d be better off helping employees build their emotional resilience, so that when the going gets tough they have enough regulatory resources to help each other out as well as carry out their duties.

But it’s not all down to individuals. The climate that leaders create also has a significant influence on a team TISI -0.86%’s level of OCB. The second study, called “Well, I’m tired of tryin’” focused on what the researchers termed “citizenship fatigue” – a feeling of being worn out and on edge as a result of going the extra mile. Unsurprisingly, such fatigue makes people less inclined to go above and beyond in the future.

The study, which looked at faculty members at a Taiwanese university over a seven-month period, found three factors which affect citizenship fatigue.

The extent to which employees feel like they are supported by their company. When that support is low, OCB is more likely to lead to citizenship fatigue.
The quality of interpersonal relationships and cooperation between team members. When employees have strong relationships and look out for each other, there is a negative relationship between OCB and fatigue – presumably because people expect their efforts to be reciprocated later.
Pressure to engage in OCB – when there’s low pressure and employees go the extra mile because they find it personally rewarding, OCB is less likely to lead to citizenship fatigue.

“Organizations that continually encourage employees to go beyond the call of duty should be aware that while this may work in the short run, employees may eventually deplete the resources needed to achieve both high levels of task performance and OCB ,” summarized the study’s authors.

There’s little leaders can do to slow down the pace and reduce demands on their employees. So leaders’ efforts are better spent on equipping employees with the capability to cope with demands, create a supportive environment with high-quality relationships between peers and inspire people to be good organizational citizens. This will help create an environment where people go the extra mile even with bad weather and broken planes.

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