Illegitimate tasks as a source of work stress

Semmer, Norbert K.; Jacobshagen, Nicola; Meier, Laurenz L.; Elfering, Achim; Beehr, Terry A.; Kälin, Wolfgang; Tschan, Franziska (2015). Illegitimate tasks as a source of work stress. Work & Stress, 29(1), pp. 32-56. Taylor & Francis 10.1080/02678373.2014.1003996

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Illegitimate tasks represent a task-level stressor derived from role and justice theories within the framework of “Stress-as–Offense-to-Self” (SOS; Semmer, Jacobshagen, Meier, & Elfering, 2007). Tasks are illegitimate if they violate norms about what an employee can properly be expected to do, because they are perceived as unnecessary or unreasonable; they imply a threat to one's professional identity. We report three studies testing associations between illegitimate tasks and well-being/strain. In two cross-sectional studies, illegitimate tasks predicted low self-esteem, feelings of resentment towards one's organization and burnout, controlling for role conflict, distributive injustice and social stressors in Study 1, and for distributive and procedural/interactional justice in Study 2. In Study 3, illegitimate tasks predicted two strain variables (feelings of resentment towards one's organization and irritability) over a period of two months, controlling for initial values of strain. Results confirm the unique contribution of illegitimate tasks to well-being and strain, beyond the effects of other predictors. Moreover, Study 3 demonstrated that illegitimate tasks predicted strain, rather than being predicted by it. We therefore conclude that illegitimate tasks represent an aspect of job design that deserves more attention, both in research and in decisions about task assignments.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Work and Organisational Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Jacobshagen, Nicola, Meier, Laurenz, Elfering, Achim, Kälin, Wolfgang, Tschan, Franziska


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Taylor & Francis




Christin Schild

Date Deposited:

26 Aug 2016 13:29

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:28

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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