This paper describes two studies of a new relational variable social burden and its implications for employees' well-being, job attitudes and counterproductive work behaviours. Social burden is defined as behaviours from colleagues that elicit the focal employees' social support. Across two separate samples (540 nurses and 172 university employees), we found that social burden differentiated from psychological aggression and incivility, respectively. A separate cross-sectional sample of 273 nurses from Study 1 revealed that social burden from colleagues was positively associated with focal employees' anxiety, irritation, depressive mood, physical symptoms, job dissatisfaction and turnover intentions. Study 2 used a time-lagged design with a separate sample of 383 university employees and 160 of their coworkers. In this study, social burden from supervisors and from coworkers were together predictive of employees' subsequent emotional strains and job attitudes, as measured 6 months later. With respect to sources of social burden, social burden from supervisors more strongly predicted job attitudes and counterproductive work behaviours directed at others, and social burden from coworkers more strongly predicted emotional strains. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.