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How Organizational Citizenship Behavior impacts companies


Today’s working environment focuses on productivity, quality, innovation and organizational effectiveness. The qualities displayed by a top performer are consistent across industries and different sized companies, and people strive for success in a highly competitive environment.

Nowadays, the HR professionals seek to foster an empowerment environment that enables all employees to contribute at their top performance. Individual behavior displayed at work covers a wide range – from individual, competitive,  to altruistic  people that do more than they are required to, and who are willing to go the extra mile, not only for them, but also to support others.

Since the 1980s, when Organ and his colleagues first introduced the term, Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB) is firmly embedded into organizational performance. The increasing number of articles and research regarding the concept indicates the high levels of interest in the field.

The first definition provided by Organ, in 1988, viewed OCB as “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and that in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization.“ The three elements which compose OCB include: discretionary behaviors, extra-role not linked to formal or informal rewards, organizational effectiveness have led to consistent criticism and discussions related to the subject.

Understanding the impact of the concept on the organization is highly beneficial if we consider the following: OCB can be seen as being linked to high levels of motivation and engagement. Additionally, there is a positive relationship between its elements and employee performance, as perceived by direct superiors. Effects of displayed Organizational Citizenship Behavior go beyond internal worlds as they can influence how the company is perceived externally.

There are five common types of behaviors associated with OCB, as explained by Organ:

  • Altruism: the desire to help others ( or assist them in reaching their objectives), without expecting something in return;
  • Courtesy: behavior which is polite, thoughtful towards others, aimed at preventing work related problems;
  • Sportsmanship: willingness to tolerate difficult, ambiguous, stressful or frustrating situations without complaining or being able to restrain themselves from negative behaviors, when things do not go as planned;
  • Conscientiousness: behavior that is associated with compliance, self-control and discipline, accepting and adhering to rules, regulations and procedures;
  • Civic virtue: behavior representing the interest shown by the employee in the organization, how someone supports and promotes the company outside the boundaries of the job description, working hours outside an official capacity.

Peacekeeping and cheerleading are sometimes included in the concept, but practical research shows that for managers it is difficult to separate altruism, peacekeeping and cheerleading, and usually they are integrated in the “helping behavior “component.

Turning our attention to the impact of this kind of encountered behaviors, we can identify two tiers – impact at individual level and at organizational level, with implications on internal processes and external orientation.

According to different studies conducted since the introduction of the concept, OCB has noticeable effects on individual –level outcomes such as: performance evaluations, decisions regarding rewards allocation, absenteeism, fluctuation, and employee withdrawal, relationship with direct superiors or learning and development.

Why this and what happens in the life of a company? The employees that exhibit helpful behaviors, display a high degree of tolerance, or promote the company are perceived by their managers as motivated, engaged and committed to the company success. Sometimes they are seen as model for the other members of their teams. Managers also appreciate when they coordinate employees who are self-driven and do extra –role efforts, beyond job description requirements – it’s a lot easier for them! Thus, they are more likely to give higher ranking at performance evaluations and reward accordingly.

From a different perspective, a manager knows intuitively that if a person doesn’t put soul into his work, he or she is less likely to leave soon, or display negative workplace behaviors.

What is important to consider is the relationship established between the employee and the manager: the better the relationship, the more likely the employee will exhibit OCB behaviors.

Other interesting findings:

  • OCB is not linked with gender;
  • The level of education is related to the probability of displaying OCB behaviors. A higher degree of education could be linked with the above behaviors (so educational programs do have an impact!);
  • The more committed to the labor union an employee is, the less likely is to exhibit OCB.

At organizational level, displayed OCB might enhance the measures of effectiveness: teamwork and cooperation is encouraged, innovation and new ideas can be used to improve different internal aspects or to reduce costs. % Client satisfaction is a KPI than can also be influenced: employees are more informed about products or services offered, more willing to solve problems in due time and, of course, more polite.

But there is also a side-effect: OCB behaviors can have a negative impact in some areas, such as sales performance, for example. Because the profile of the sales person implies being competitive and usually independent, focusing on others can affect their desired productivity.

Notwithstanding the limitations and construct related debates, the implications for the organization are clear and managers and HR Professionals should take them into consideration when measuring the bottom line effectiveness and taking people-related actions (training, promotions, and dismissals).


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