Work overcommitment: Is it a trait or a state?

  • Jean-Baptist du PrelEmail author
  • Roma Runeson-Broberg
  • Peter Westerholm
  • Lars Alfredsson
  • Göran Fahlén
  • Anders Knutsson
  • Maria Nordin
  • Richard Peter
Original Article



Effort–reward imbalance (ERI) is a well-tested work-related stress model with three components, the two extrinsic components “efforts” and “rewards” and the one intrinsic component “overcommitment”. While an imbalance between “efforts” and “rewards” leads to strain reactions, “work-related overcommitment” (OC) has been described as a personal characteristic with a set of attitudes, behaviours, and emotions reflecting excessive striving combined with a strong desire for approval. However, the question whether OC is a personality trait or a response pattern sensitive to changes in the work context (state) is still open.


2940 Swedish industrial employees were included in this longitudinal analysis of the WOLF-Norrland data over 5 years. A change of OC index or its subscales were regressed against a change of freedom of choice at work, extra work, and ERI adjusted for age, sex, and education.


While OC was insensitive to changes in freedom of choice at work and extra work, it was clearly associated with changes of work-related stress over time. Three of four OC subscales exhibited statistically significant associations with ERI.


For the first time, we studied fundamental characteristics of OC as an independent personality variable (trait) or an outcome variable subject to changes in the work environment (state). The association between external ERI and OC over time supports our hypothesis of OC being a state. Further investigations are needed to establish OC as a trait or a state.


Work stress models Coping Work organisation Organisational change 



This work was supported by the Swedish Working Life and Social Sciences Foundation (FORTE) under Grant Number 2012-2022; and by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under Grant Numbers FKZ 01ER0827, 01ER0825, 01ER0806, and 01ER0826.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


The study was funded by the Swedish Working Life and Social Sciences Foundation (FORTE) under Grant Number 2012-2022; and by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under Grant Numbers FKZ 01ER0827, 01ER0825, 01ER0806, and 01ER0826.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of the History, Philosophy and Ethics of MedicineUlm UniversityUlmGermany
  2. 2.Department of Occupational Health ScienceUniversity of WuppertalWuppertalGermany
  3. 3.Occupational and Environmental MedicineUppsala University HospitalUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Institute of Environmental MedicineKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  5. 5.Centre for Occupational and Environmental MedicineStockholm County CouncilStockholmSweden
  6. 6.The National Agency for Special Needs Education and SchoolsHärnösandSweden
  7. 7.Department of Health SciencesMid Sweden UniversitySundsvallSweden
  8. 8.Department of PsychologyUmeå UniversityUmeaSweden
  9. 9.Stress Research InstituteStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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