Organizational Citizenship Behavior

Although the origin of what is called organizational citizenship behavior, contextual performance, or prosocial organizational behavior can be traced back to classic management and organizational science treatises, serious theoretical and empirical research in the area did not begin until the late 1970s. Researchers Dennis Organ, Walter Borman, Stephen Motowidlo, Phillip Podsakoff, and Scott MacKenzie have been instrumental in the development and popularization of this construct.

The relevance of organizational citizenship behavior rests primarily on the persuasive contention that job performance should encompass not only behavior that contributes to the technical core of the organization, referred to here task performance, but also behavior that contributes to organizational performance by shaping the organization’s social and psychological environment, known as organizational citizenship behavior. The former category includes duties that are listed in the employee’s job description (e.g., an industrial truck or tractor operator operates a machine that transports, lifts, stacks, loads, packages, or cuts products), whereas the latter category includes behaviors such as volunteering for tasks that are not required, helping other employees with their work, and praising the organization to outsiders.

Relative to task performance, employees perceive that organizational citizenship behavior is required by the job less frequently, and supervisors and other organizational authorities recognize and reward its expression less frequently. Thus, employees are believed to have more latitude in performing (or not performing) organizational citizenship behavior than they have in task performance. Consequently, Organ proposed a variant of the happy/productive worker hypothesis: in his version, job satisfaction is posited to predict organizational citizenship behavior rather than (task) performance. Borman and Motowidlo proposed that organizational citizenship behavior (which they termed contextual performance) should be better predicted by personality, whereas task performance should be better predicted by general mental ability (i.e., intelligence).

These predictions are consistent with the idea of situational strength. To the extent they are mentally and physically able to do so, individuals will exhibit behavior (i.e., task performance) that is prescribed by the situation. However, the extent to which individuals exhibit behavior (i.e., organizational citizenship behavior) that is not explicitly prescribed by the situation depends on volition.

Later, we will examine the extent to which these early predictions have been borne out by empirical research. First, though, it is necessary to examine organizational citizenship behavior in more detail.

Structure of Organizational Citizenship Behavior

Should organizational citizenship behavior be treated as a cohesive entity, or are there different types or facets of citizenship that are important in their own right? According to Organ’s taxonomy, there are five facets of citizenship: (a) altruism, helping others; (b) conscientiousness, or engaging in role-required behavior, but doing so beyond minimum required levels; (c) sportsmanship, or refraining from complaining about trivial matters; (d) courtesy, or providing others with advance notice, reminders, and information; and (e) civic virtue, or contributing in a responsible fashion to the corporate governance of the organization. Borman and Motowidlo, in contrast, proposed the following five types of citizenship: (a) persisting with enthusiasm and extra effort as necessary to complete one’s own task activities successfully; (b) volunteering to carry out task activities that are not formally part of one’s own job; (c) helping and cooperating with others; (d) following organizational rules and procedures; and (e) endorsing, supporting, and defending organizational objectives.

Other taxonomies have been proved moot. Yet the most consistent distinction is between citizenship behavior that is directed toward the organization and behavior that is directed toward other employees in the organization. Behavior that is directed toward the organization includes actions such as displaying loyalty to the organization and following informal rules designed to maintain order, whereas behavior that is directed toward other employees includes being considerate to others and helping them with their work.

In general, theoretical attempts to distinguish between facets or types of organizational citizenship behavior have not been overly convincing. Perhaps more crucially, findings from meta-analyses indicate that the facets are strongly interrelated and that their relationships with a variety of other constructs are relatively similar in strength. In other words, the case for disaggregating organizational citizenship behavior into more specific facets has not yet been made. It is unsurprising, therefore, that many researchers continue to use overall measures rather than facet measures of the construct.

The construct definition of organizational citizenship behavior would be incomplete without a discussion of its relationships with other job-related constructs. Hence, we turn to this issue next.

Relationships with Other Constructs

The relationships of organizational citizenship behavior with other constructs are best assessed by separately considering relationships with (a) constructs concerned with appraisals of and attitudes toward the job; (b) dispositional constructs; and (c) other employee job performance facets, global employee job performance, and organizational performance.

Relationship with Job-Related Appraisals and Attitudes

Social exchange theory, the theory of psychological contracts, and the norm of reciprocity have been used to explain the relationship between organizational citizenship behavior and organizational justice, leader supportiveness, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. These theories predict that employees respond to satisfying working conditions, supportive leaders, and fair workplace processes, outcomes, and interactions by engaging in organizational citizenship behavior and exhibiting organizational commitment. Thus, organizational justice, leader supportiveness, and job satisfaction are conceptualized as antecedents of organizational citizenship behavior, whereas organizational commitment is conceptualized as neither an antecedent nor a consequence. In contrast, other theoretical formulations conceive of organizational commitment as an antecedent. Because the vast majority of studies have been cross-sectional in design, however, we are unable to clearly ascertain temporal precedence.

Of the predictors just mentioned, the most research attention has focused on job satisfaction and organizational justice. Yet meta-analyses (quantitative reviews of existing research studies) indicate that job satisfaction, organizational justice, leader supportiveness, and organizational commitment are all weak to moderate predictors of organizational citizenship behavior and, consequently, none of them stands out as being a much better predictor than the others.

Relationship with Dispositional Constructs

Appraisals of and attitudes toward the job are largely (though not completely) dependent on conditions and experiences on the job. Thus, their study is consistent with a philosophy in which certain workplace situations are more conducive to organizational citizenship behavior than others. In contrast, the quest for dispositional antecedents is consistent with a philosophy in which certain types of employees (the “good soldiers”) are more apt to perform organizational citizenship behavior than others. Armed with knowledge of dispositional predictors, researchers could design selection tests to screen out applicants who are less likely to engage in citizenship.

Meta-analyses conclude that employees who are more conscientious—that is, those who exhibit greater industriousness, orderliness, and self-control— engage in more organizational citizenship behavior than those who are unconscientious. Yet conscientiousness is best characterized as a weak to moderate predictor of citizenship. It thus predicts citizenship about as well as the appraisal and attitudinal constructs discussed previously.

Other consistently examined dispositional contenders, such as agreeableness and affectivity (emotionality), appear to be weak predictors of citizenship. Apart from conscientiousness, therefore, the search for dispositional predictors of organizational citizenship behavior has proved disappointing.

Meta-analyses have produced another interesting finding. Recall that organizational citizenship behavior (or contextual performance) was originally touted as a construct that, unlike task performance, is strongly influenced by job satisfaction and personality. Yet the findings indicate that neither appraisals and attitudes nor dispositions predict organizational citizenship behavior to an appreciably greater extent than they predict traditionally conceptualized performance. This may be because some traditional conceptualizations, such as ratings or judgments of employee performance, do not represent only task performance: As we will see, they are also infused with organizational citizenship behavior.

Relationship with Performance Constructs

Organizational citizenship behavior has been differentiated conceptually from task performance, but what is the strength of the empirical relationship between these constructs? Results indicate that employees who are good task performers generally engage in more organizational citizenship behavior. There is one important caveat, however: The relationship appears to be strong only when task performance and citizenship are both measured using ratings and judgments by the same person. When task performance is measured objectively (e.g., using measures of quantity or quality of work that require no judgment) or when the person who is rating task performance is not the same person who is rating citizenship, the relationship between the two constructs is best construed as moderate.

Apart from task performance and organizational citizenship behavior, another aspect of overall employee job performance is counterproductive work behavior. This refers to intentional employee behavior that is harmful to the legitimate interests of an organization, and it encompasses behavior ranging from lateness, lack of effort, and spreading malicious rumors to more severe actions such as theft, vandalism, and drug and alcohol abuse on the job. In a sense, the definitions of organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior set them up to be opposites. But the two constructs have been linked, albeit in opposite directions, to the same set of dispositional and appraisal or attitude constructs. Yet meta-analysis has demonstrated that the (negative) relationship between the constructs is only moderate in strength. In addition, relationships with antecedents are generally stronger, sometimes substantially so, for counterproductive work behavior than for organizational citizenship behavior.

Which of these components of employee job performance is most important to supervisors? Certain studies have assessed how supervisors weigh employees’ task performance and organizational citizenship behavior, and, in general, they conclude that the latter is at least as important as the former in determining judgments and ratings of overall job performance. Only one study has considered counterproductive work behavior as well; intriguingly, its results indicate that supervisors consider citizenship less important than counterproductive work behavior.

Finally, the extent to which organizational citizenship behavior improves the functioning or performance of the organization (as a whole) has been scrutinized. Results are generally supportive, regardless of whether the latter is measured using quantity, quality, financial, or customer service (satisfaction and complaints) indexes. As several researchers have commented, however, theory on the mechanisms by which employee citizenship behavior influences organizational performance is scant.

Recent Directions in Organizational Citizenship Behavior

Thus far, much attention has been paid to the person who is enacting the organizational citizenship behavior. With regard to predicting interpersonal citizenship behavior (i.e., behavior directed toward other employees rather than toward the organization), however, researchers are awakening to the potential of studying the relationship between the actor and the recipient(s) of the behavior. It has been argued that the extent to which person X helps person Y depends on much more than merely person X’s predilections and his or her reactions to the work situation. Specifically, it is important to consider relational features such as the positivity or negativity of the relationship between person X and person Y, how often and for how long they have interacted, whether they are linked by more than one type of relationship (e.g., coworker, friend, and neighbor), and the extent to which they share common friends.

At the same time, important advances are being made with regard to the person who is enacting organizational citizenship behavior. To date, most research of a situational bent has employed relatively stable job-related appraisals and attitudes as predictors of citizenship. In other words, reactions to situations— hence organizational citizenship behavior itself—have been treated, in effect, as differences between individuals. Yet is it not possible for a given individual to display levels of organizational citizenship behavior that fluctuate rapidly over time? An influential contemporary theory, affective events theory, contends this may be the case. At the risk of oversimplification in the service of brevity, the theory suggests the following:

  • Mood and emotions on the job fluctuate rapidly over time and can be distinguished from more stable cognitions or evaluations about the job.
  • Whereas other types of work behavior are influenced primarily by job-related cognitions or evaluations, organizational citizenship behavior is influenced primarily by mood and emotions at work.

With regard to organizational citizenship behavior, a growing body of empirical research now supports this theory. Results suggest that a substantial proportion of the variation in organizational citizenship behavior occurs within an individual over time (rather than because of differences between people) and that mood and emotions predict these dynamic aspects of citizenship better than do commonly used dispositional and appraisal or attitudinal predictors.

Finally, several authors—but most notably, Mark Bolino and colleagues—have begun to question key assumptions in the research literature. For example, one common assumption is that employees’ motives for engaging in citizenship behavior are not self-serving. This, however, excludes motives such as impression management, making amends for previous or anticipated (future) counterproductive behavior, and avoiding normal responsibilities (i.e., task performance).

It has also been assumed that organizational citizenship behavior improves organizational functioning. This assumption is so centrally held that it is part of the very definition of organizational citizenship behavior. Despite research showing that citizenship behavior tends to lead to better organizational performance, however, we might question whether this is always (or must necessarily be) the case. Organizational performance may not improve—and may even be affected adversely—if organizational citizenship behavior takes place instead of, rather than in addition to, task performance. Additionally, in some instances, the organizational bottom line (and perhaps even employee satisfaction) may be better served by hiring additional employees to reduce the need for existing employees to engage in organizational citizenship behavior.

A third assumption is that citizenship goes beyond behavior that is required and therefore may not be noticed or rewarded to the same extent as task performance. Yet evidence indicates that employees do perceive citizenship as being required to some extent, and supervisory performance evaluations are nontrivially influenced by employees’ citizenship behavior. In response to these concerns, Organ recently agreed that the definition of organizational citizenship behavior should sidestep the issue of whether such behavior is required. The question that remains, though, is whether there are situations (or jobs) in which organizational citizenship behavior is perceived to be required as much as, if not more than, task performance.

The directions charted here require new methodological and statistical techniques and, more generally, new ways of thinking about the world. Further redefinition of the construct of citizenship may also be required. These directions are not easy to navigate, yet they present exciting opportunities to build on the solid foundation created by extant research on organizational citizenship behavior.

References:

  1. Bolino, M. C., Turnley, W. H., & Niehoff, B. P. (2004). The other side of the story: Reexamining prevailing assumptions about organizational citizenship behavior. Human Resource Management Review, 14, 229-246.
  2. Borman, W. C., & Motowidlo, S. J. (1993). Expanding the criterion domain to include elements of contextual performance. In N. Schmitt & W. C. Borman (Eds.), Personnel selection (pp. 71-98). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Dalal, R. S. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relationship between organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1241-1255.
  4. LePine, J. A., Erez, A., & Johnson, D. E. (2002). The nature and dimensionality of organizational citizenship behavior: A critical review and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 52-65.
  5. Organ, D. W. (1988). Organizational citizenship behavior: The good soldier syndrome. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
  6. Organ, D. W., & Paine, J. B. (1999). A new kind of performance for industrial and organizational psychology: Recent contributions to the study of organizational citizenship behavior. International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 14, 337-368.
  7. Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Paine, J. B., & Bachrach, D. G. (2000). Organizational citizenship behaviors: A critical review of the theoretical and empirical literature and suggestions for future research. Journal of Management, 26, 513-563.
  8. Rotundo, M., & Sackett, P. R. (2002). The relative importance of task, citizenship, and counterproductive performance to global ratings of job performance: A policy-capturing approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87,66-80.

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