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March 16, 2016 | Volume 10 | Number 3
March 16, 2016
By Sarah N. Guarino and Matthew J. Grawitch, PhD
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), described as behavior that is discretionary and aimed at promoting the functioning of an organization (Organ, 1988), has been widely studied in the last several decades. OCBs can be directed toward other individuals (e.g., taking over the work shift of another employee that cannot come into work or assisting an employee to help finish a job task) or the organization as a whole such as giving advanced notice when unable to work a specific shift or contributing additional work hours to complete a project (Williams & Anderson, 1991).
OCB has commonly been viewed as essential to the performance and functioning of organizations (Kolade, Oluseye, & Omotayo, 2014). When individuals go above and beyond expected job requirements, organizations can be more efficient and productive systems (Dekas, Bauer, Welle, Kurkoski, & Sullivan, 2013). Because OCB is not recognized as part of a formal reward system and is not generally seen as an enforceable requirement (Organ, 1988), individuals must be willing to exceed their responsibilities in order to collectively improve their organization. Essentially, then, OCB represents a voluntary set of behaviors that make the organization a better place to work.
However, there has been recent research interest in a competing set of expectations that exists in the workplace. These expectations remove or reduce the voluntary nature of OCB, making such behavior a normative expectation. Vigoda-Gadot (2006) referred to these as compulsory citizenship behavior (CCB) and described it as “imposed activities” that can be harmful to both individuals and the organization as a whole. Although CCB are usually not formally rewarded (similar to OCB), OCB can be transformed into CCB when, for instance, an employer or manager places demands on employees to engage in OCB, making it difficult for employees to refuse to comply without fear of negative consequences (e.g., decreased opportunity for promotion or future rewards, damaged employer-employee relationships). Further, individuals may be inclined to give others a good impression of them by complying with expectations to go above and beyond formal job requirements (e.g., not wanting others to think they don’t care about the organization).
In a similar vein, Bolino, Valcea, and Harvey (2010) emphasized a nearly identical issue when they described a phenomenon called “citizenship pressure,” that occurs when individuals perceive there is pressure to engage in OCB. Both of these new phenomena (CCB and citizenship pressure) emphasize new challenges that individuals are facing in the work environment: being pressured to go beyond one’s role requirements so as to improve organizational functioning, though they are not formally rewarded for doing so.
Although research involving compulsory citizenship behavior/citizenship pressure is limited, there is evidence to suggest that the consequences of experiencing this type of pressure are generally negative. Bolino, Turnley, Gilstrap and Suazo (2010) found that citizenship pressure was positively related to work-family conflict, job stress and turnover intentions, while Vigoda-Gadot (2007) found CCB to be positively related to job stress, organizational politics and burnout. Thus, the effects of feeling pressured to engage in these “voluntary” behaviors may impact both employees and the organization as a whole. It is important to note that experiencing pressure to engage in these behaviors may not uniformly affect all individuals, as the extent of the pressure that one feels is subjective and may vary from person to person even within a single department or team (Bolino et al., 2010). Further, some individuals may be more or less content with being pressured to engage in these behaviors, which will likely lead to differential outcomes depending upon the individual.
Therefore, the experience itself is rather subjective. It suggests that managers or supervisors may consciously or unconsciously impose a spirit of coerciveness within a particular department or work unit. It also suggests that such experiences may produce an increase in job-related stress, which can have an adverse effect for employees and the organization. Bolino, Hsuing, Harvey and LePine (2015) suggested that because employees have a limited amount of resources to accomplish their work, pressuring them to engage in these discretionary behaviors will likely lead to resource depletion and subsequently having insufficient resources to meet formal work responsibilities.
Practical Recommendations: What Employers Can Do
As an employer or supervisor, a practical step to reduce this pressure (and thus some of the effects associated with it) includes having a discussion with employees regarding the types of behaviors that are included within their formal job description. This may present a challenge, as job descriptions often include an “other duties as assigned” catch-all. However, the purpose of the discussion is to begin drawing boundaries between what is expected (and formally rewarded) and what is truly discretionary. In addition, because roles may transform over time, it is important that this is not just a one-time conversation. Without regularly occurring opportunities to check in, it is possible that an employee may feel that he or she is being forced to engage in OCB (e.g., staying late to help a coworker finish a project), when in reality the expectations of the job have simply changed.
Employers should also take the time to recognize how they may be implicitly or explicitly putting this pressure to engage in OCB on employees. For example, even if a supervisor does not directly say, “You must go above and beyond your job description to be a valuable employee,” making a comment such as, “Look at how great of an employee John is. He always does things outside of his formal job to make sure we are successful,” may still make employees feel pressured to do the same. Putting this pressure, whether implicitly or explicitly, on employees to go beyond formal work responsibilities may create work-family conflict, particularly for those individuals who may already have limited resources (e.g., time, energy).
If there are normative expectations that exist and fall outside of one’s formal job responsibilities, those should be minimized but made explicit, so employees clearly recognize what is expected of them. If, for example, the organization or department has some sort of signature event that occurs annually, and employees are expected to attend, then they should know that in advance, even if it is not a part of their formal job descriptions. However, such expectations should be minimized in order to decrease the coercive and stressful nature of such expectations.
Thus, as an employer, it is recommended to take a step back and reflect on different sources of pressure (both direct and indirect) that an employee may be experiencing. Even if employees are engaging in OCB, it is necessary to recognize where that behavior falls on a continuum from entirely voluntary to coercive or pressured. This reflection may become critical to understanding why an employee who engages in behaviors that support the functioning of the organization may report high levels of stress and conflict and subsequently intend to leave the organization. Taking these steps to discuss and document job expectations and responsibilities with employees, as well as reflect upon the sources of pressure to engage in OCB are productive actions to reduce this pressure. Aligning job expectations between employer and employee will also hopefully create a positive exchange relationship, in which the employee may eventually feel comfortable to voice concerns if these types of behaviors start crossing the line to enforced rather than voluntary.
Bolino, M. C., Hsiung, H.-H., Harvey, J., LePine, J. A. (2015). “Well, I’m tired of tryin’!” Organizational citizenship behavior and citizenship fatigue. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(1), 56-74.
Bolino, M. C., Turnley, W. H., Gilstrap, J. B., & Suazo, M. M. (2010). Citizenship under pressure: What’s a “good soldier” to do?. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31 (6), 835-855.
Bolino, M. C., Valcea, S., & Harvey, J. (2010). Employee, manage thyself: The potentially negative implications of expecting employees to behave proactively. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 325-345.
Dekas, K. H., Bauer, T. N., Welle, B., Kurkoski, J., & Sullivan, S. (2013). Organizational citizenship behavior, version 2.0: A review and qualitative investigation of OCBs for knowledge workers at Google. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(3), 219-237.
Kolade, O. J., Oluseye, O. O., & Omotayo, O. A. (2014). Organizational citizenship behaviour, hospital corporate image and performance. Journal of Competitiveness, 6(1), 36-49.
Organ, D. W. (1988). Organizational Citizenship Behavior: The Good Soldier Syndrome. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2006). Compulsory citizenship behavior: Theorizing some dark sides of the good soldier syndrome in organizations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 36(1), 77-93.
Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2007). Redrawing the boundaries of OCB? An empirical examination of compulsory extra-role behavior in the workplace. Journal of Business and Psychology, 21(3), 377-405.
Williams, L. J., & Anderson, S. E. (1991). Job satisfaction and organizational commitment as predictors of organizational citizenship and in-role behaviors. Journal of Management, 17(3), 601-617.
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