On day one of Remus Ilies's survey-based study, 146 university employees recorded the counter-productive work behaviours (CWBs) they got up to, such as playing pranks on others or taking extra-long breaks. The next day, half of them received feedback on their CWB levels compared to the average. The feedback noted that above-average CWBs were harmful to the wellbeing of the organisation. Participants were then asked how much they intended to engage in another kind of extra-role behaviour, positive organisational citizenship behaviours such as assisting others or offering ideas. Three days later, they were surveyed again about how much citizenship behaviour they had actually engaged in.
Above average offenders who received no feedback were least likely to plan or carry out citizenship acts for others. Typical of those lot, eh? But when feedback was provided, the intentions of high offenders, and their actual efforts to do good, shot up to levels similar to those of the well-behaved, low CWB participants. The Day two survey also recorded ratings of emotional guilt, and this was what mediated the relationship between feedback on high CWBs and more citizenship behaviours: the more guilt, the more they tried to make up with good deeds.
Previous work has suggested going the extra mile at work is related to positive emotions, but here we see a benefit from a negative emotion, and one that produces a crossover from harmful work behaviours to constructive behaviours. The authors characterise it as 'a dynamic phenomenon in which negative and positive voluntary behaviours influence each other' until employees find their own balance according to 'their personal level of comfort.' They call for future work to see whether the compensatory behaviours occur in the same domain - teasing a co-worker leading to helping that person out - or whether guilt leads to indirect compensation such as more active work participation, rather than looking the bad deed in the face.