To get their work done and achieve their daily work-related goals, employees seek knowledge from their coworkers. While the benefits of knowledge seeking have been established in the literature, we have yet to understand the potential downsides of daily knowledge seeking. We adopt a cognitive perspective to carve out the negative effect of daily knowledge seeking, while controlling for its established positive effect via perceived learning. Based on cognitive load theory, we argue that daily knowledge seeking produces intrinsic cognitive load that can hinder daily goal attainment through the experience of knowledge overload and subsequent resource depletion. However, the relational context in which knowledge seekers interact with knowledge sources represents an important contextual boundary condition. Coworker contact quality can mitigate the effect of knowledge seeking on knowledge overload because high coworker contact quality reduces extraneous (i.e., ineffective) and increases germane (i.e., productive) cognitive load that knowledge seekers experience when navigating the social interaction with knowledge sources. Under this condition, cognitive capacity is freed up and knowledge overload is less likely to occur. Based on an experience sampling study in which we collected data across 10 working days from 189 German employees, we found support for our hypotheses. An employee’s knowledge seeking had a negative indirect effect on goal attainment via knowledge overload and subsequent resource depletion, however, the downsides of daily knowledge seeking became less pronounced when coworker contact quality increased. We discuss the implications of our findings for research on knowledge seeking and resource exchange behaviors.

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Journal of Applied Psychology
Department of Organisation and Personnel Management