The Impact Of Self-Sacrificing Behaviour On Work Performance And Exhaustion

Work performance and self-sacrificing behaviour

Research Paper: Self-sacrificing behaviour and its impact on work performance and emotional exhaustion.

This study, based on the reports of church ministers and their partners, aimed to investigate the impact of self-sacrificing work behaviours.

Worker self-sacrifice behaviour examples include missing out on social or leisure events to work extra hours, giving up material comforts to dedicate efforts to work, or delaying starting a family to focus on career goals. 

The study focused on perceived role performance, worker emotional exhaustion and partner self-sacrifice as potential outcomes of worker self-sacrifice behaviour.

Key findings

The ‘double-edged sword’

While self-sacrifice behaviour at work is associated with increased perceived role performance, it is also associated with greater worker emotional exhaustion.

This helps to show how self-sacrifice behaviour is in fact a ‘doubled-edged sword’ within the context of wellbeing and performance. There are positive links between self-sacrifice behaviour and improved reports of role performance – these suggest that foregoing immediate self-interest can contribute to enhanced worker effectiveness. This arguably challenges conceptualisations of self-sacrifice as monotonically negative, which is the case in much of the mainstream literature.

However, this is only a perception, and ultimately this behaviour is going to have an impact on your overall energy and focus and affirms that self-sacrifice comes at a cost for workers and for organisations.

Spillover effect

Worker self-sacrifice behaviour was associated over time with greater partner self-sacrifice, indicating spillover into the non-work domain.

This spillover of self-sacrifice behaviour between partners confirms that the way you work impacts those around you not and extends beyond the individual making the sacrifices.

Workday recovery practices

Psychological detachment during the evenings and days off significantly moderated the positive relationship between self-sacrifice behaviour and emotional exhaustion.

This demonstrates that recovery plays a huge role, especially when self-sacrifice behaviour is exhibited. When workers ‘give it everything’ during their working day, disengagement is crucial for offsetting lasting damage to health and partners’ lives.

Psychological detachment refers to a worker’s sense of being away from the work situation and their ability to mentally disengage from and not think about work during off-job time. It has been shown to be an important aspect of worker recovery.

The findings of this study also tie into the research into the impact of mastery practices as a form of recovery to improve mood at work.

It also identifies resource recovery, using psychological detachment to repeat your energy levels, as a potential solution to the self-sacrifice double-edged process.


While it might be tempting for managers to ask employees to make additional sacrifices for work, especially considering the potential benefits to performance, the research suggests that this approach may not be beneficial in the long run due to the risk of emotional exhaustion. 

The findings question the effectiveness of this strategy as a means of achieving sustainable performance improvements.

Interestingly, many employees willingly make sacrifices for their work goals, possibly to meet both personal and organisational standards.

However, since self-sacrifice can have both positive and negative effects, effective managers should focus on managing and balancing employee self-sacrifice to promote a sustainable equilibrium between work objectives and personal interests.

The spillover effects of self-sacrifice shown in this study also show that the culture of an organisation is important.

As an organisation, you’re employing an individual and with this, you’re potentially impacting their partners & family. If an organisation understands this aspect and manages these behaviours well, both in providing balance for employees and coaching them on recovery practices, it will impact not only the employee but also prominent individuals in the employee’s home life.

Organisations can support interventions that encourage psychological detachment to combat negative outcomes of self-sacrifice behaviour. Practically, this might include reducing stress and managing deadlines and work goals requiring employees to finish tasks outside of work hours.

Organisations can also help individuals psychologically detach by promoting recovery strategies and thereby enhance employees’ ability to navigate daily challenges and foster a culture of wellbeing. 

This will ultimately lead to sustainable human performance.

Citation: Clinton, M. E. Pushing yourself to the edge: The relationship of worker self-sacrifice behaviour with perceived role performance, emotional exhaustion, and partner self-sacrifice. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12453 (Accessed here)

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