Organizational Citizenship Behavior: A Review

Theme: Organizational citizenship behaviors can improve organizational performance, but only when you have the power to engage in them or it is encouraged.

Introduction: My Favorite Activity

I am a very energetic person. You’ll almost always find me doing something productive. Maybe it’s writing, volunteering, working, learning—anything of the sort. Rarely will you find me relaxing; I’m just too hyperactive. And even when I am relaxing, like listening to music, I’m thinking or analyzing. It’s just my personality.


This pretty much sums me up, especially when I was younger

Source: Mommynesia

This personality trait of mine often has come up at work, maybe a bit too often. It’s manifested itself through my work ethic. I usually am the individual, whether that be employee or volunteer, who goes beyond a job’s expectations. Lots of managers aren’t prepared for someone with my energy, which is sometimes great…and sometimes not so.

There is a term for when someone goes beyond a job’s expectations: organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). I’d like to use this blog entry to explore the concept in-depth, provide you with a framework for understanding them at your workplace, and explore how they can be both good and bad. 

What are OCBs?

Jack is a truck driver for UPS. He absolutely loves his job. Although he may not have a ton of energy, he likes the long-winding roads of Pennsylvania. He enjoys the rides, and even more so, the smiling faces and interesting conversations he encounters with his customers. He often asks for additional work, which is beyond his regular hours. UPS was hesitant at first—they didn’t want to pay overtime (OT) for the additional hours. However, he said that he did not mind taking on the extra hours, as long as any additional expenses were covered by a fair subsidy that covered food and any other travel expenses. His managers agreed.

Victoria is a secretary in a law office. Her bosses absolutely love her. They think that she does great work and still does not boast. When they first hired her, they provided her with a clear set of responsibilities. However, her role soon changed, and they needed her to do tasks outside of the originally-listed responsibilities. The partners were hesitant to recruit: The process was tedious, they were busy, and they didn’t have such a great recruiting system in the first place.

Victoria approached them one day and told them that she’d be willing to stay extra hours, at most one hour, to complete the additional tasks, as long as they clearly organized a list before the end of the day for her. An agreement was made, and Victoria started doing extra hours. Victoria didn’t necessarily love the work, but she enjoyed the challenge and knew that it would help the company’s performance. She also knew that it would end up paying off in some way.

What both Jack and Victoria do on a daily basis is something known as “organizational citizenship behaviors” (OCBs). Zhang (2011, p. 3) defines them best:

OCB refers to anything that employees choose to do, spontaneously and of their own accord, which often lies outside of their specified contractual obligations. In other words, it is discretionary. OCB may not always be directly and formally recognised or rewarded by the company, through salary increments or promotions for example, though of course OCB may be reflected in favourable supervisor and co-worker ratings, or better performance appraisals. In this way it can facilitate future reward gain indirectly. Finally, and critically, OCB must ‘promote the effective functioning of the organisation’ (Organ, 1988, p. 4).

OCBs typically are broken down into five types:

  • Altruism — Altruism refers to behavior in which the individual helps or assists another without expectation of recognition or reward.
  • Courtesy — Courtesy refers to behavior displaying politeness or consideration toward another (which aren‘t typically considered a requirement of a job).
  • Sportsmanship — Sportsmanship refers to behavior in which the person does not respond in a negative manner when something (anything, really) that can be perceived as frustrating occurs.
  • Conscientiousness — Conscientiousness refers to behavior in which the person does “more than just the minimum.” (This definition of conscientiousness is different than the one used in the Five-factor Model.)
  • Civic virtue — Civic virtue refers to behavior in which the person does any action in an attempt to represent the organization positively.

Let’s understand how what Jack and Victoria do follows all the criteria for OCBs:

  1. Discretionary work — Although it has become typical for both of them to do extra work, they don’t have to do it and can stop at any point. Either of them can approach their managers and tell them, “I no longer have time to do the extra work,” and their managers would thank them for all the additional help, and they would continue with their usual roles.
  2. Improves organizational functioning — Both Jack’s and Victoria’s additional work help the organization in the long-run. Without Jack and Victoria, their companies would have to hire additional workers, and their work simply sees improved organizational performance.

Note that the type of OCB Jack and Victoria engage in are considered “conscientiousness”: They are doing more than the minimum and helping the organization succeed.


OCBs can be viewed as pieces on a chessboard

Source: Business NLP Academy

Additional Resources: Scales for Measuring OCB Frequency

Consider checking out the following resources for reliable and valid scales on OCB frequency. They help you determine how frequently employees engage in OCBs at work. Knowing such is useful. Here are a few:

  • This researcher asked for some scales, so if you read through the answers, you can find some that may help you out.
  • Drs. Sharma and Jain provide, in the middle of the document, a list of items and statements you can use for measuring OCB frequency.
  • Drs. Fox and Spoctor are conducting research on their OCB checklist. They have an entire website dedicated to their work. However, you can only use their scales for educational or research purposes; you cannot use them for your business. And if you do so for either of those purposes, you must share the results with them.
  • Dr. Organ has been doing a lot of research on OCBs, and he put together a book with two colleagues, Drs. Podsakoff and MacKenzie, which should include a scale.

Distinguishing Between OCB’s Friends

Not surprisingly, the term “OCB” has many sister concepts. Unfortunately, researchers are still not clear on the differences between them. However, each term is slightly different from the other in one the following ways: It exists to achieve something that the other does not (prosocial organizational behavior), it is contrasted with another behavior (ERBs and contextual performance), or it is performed differently (organizational spontaneity).

  • Prosocial organizational behavior — Prosocial organizational behavior refers to any behavior “intended to promote the welfare of individuals or groups [or organization] to whom the behavior was directed at.” Therefore, unlike OCBs, its purpose is to improve others’ work lives. Examples include counseling other employees struggling or complying with the organization’s policies even though the employees do not want to.
  • Extra-role behavior (ERB) — Extra-role behavior refers to any behavior that is outside of a job’s “in-role behaviors,” where in-role behaviors are the core tasks that allow an employee to succeed. Examples include anything that is not an in-role behavior, such as helping coworkers with one of their job tasks or learning new skills unrelated to the individual’s job.
  • Organizational spontaneity — Organizational spontaneity (Grönfeldt & Strother, 2006, p. 211) refers to “impulsive” behavior that contributes to organizational performance. Examples include taking initiative as leader of a group project or making constructive suggestions.
  • Contextual performance — Contextual performance refers to any behavior that “support the motivational and social context in which the task performance takes place.” Examples include approaching a project with enthusiasm or cooperating with difficult coworkers.

The relationships between these terms are confusing, and it may make you wonder whether it’s important to distinguish between all of them. While it may not be crucial to know how to identify them, knowing each provides you with a framework for understanding how an individual can improve organizational performance voluntarily. Knowing that an individual is “impulsively” taking upon him- or herself the opportunity of getting an MBA, which would be organizational spontaneity, ERB, and OCB, helps you understand how the individual is improving organizational performance.

Benefits & Drawbacks of OCBs

There are no drawbacks to OCBs in the workplace…right? I mean, how can promoting “going above and beyond the call of duty” be bad? Well, while you may immediately think to yourself, “There are absolutely no drawbacks to OCBs,” there are actually quite a few. (Isn’t the answer always more complicated?) Take a close look at this chart to get a quick sense of both the good and bad:

Benefits Drawbacks

Erhart (2004) found that “OCB explained approximately 20% of the variance in store profitability.” This means that store profitability is greater when any given store has a high frequency of employees exhibiting OCBs.

Heavy toll on employees:

This paper explores the relationship between OCBs and emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict. Emotional exhaustion means higher rates of burnout and work-family conflict means greater expectations from the organization to give them extra time-off, which is what OCBs are meant to prevent.

Employee retention:

Dr. Farooq found a moderating relationship between employee engagement, OCBs, and employee retention. Employee engagement refers to an individual’s overall “involvement with, satisfaction with, and enthusiasm for the organization.” This means that an individual who partakes in OCBs is more likely to have a higher degree of employee engagement, which increases employee retention.

Building a culture where employees engage in OCBs is difficult:

  • Leaders need to be:
    • emotionally intelligent and team-oriented;
    • able to build relationships and engage their employees;
    • and available, especially “on-call” for employee needs.
  • You need to have employees that want to partake in OCBs
  • You need the resources that show the organization is concerned about their welfare.
Employee happiness:

I/O at Work tells us that employees who partake in OCBs experience higher levels of work meaningfulness. In the end, they feel more energized by their work.

Zhang (2011, p. 11) does a great job pointing out three very major pitfalls to OCB:

  • Issues with gender expectations — Men are rewarded more for OCBs than women.
  • Organizational justice — Employees may perceive unfairness if some employees are rewarded more than others for engaging in OCBs
  • Habituation — OCBs become habitual instead of voluntary.
Employee selection:

“Applicants who display OCB during job interviews are less likely to voluntarily quit, are likely to be more productive, and are likely to be more efficient than their coworkers.” In other words, hiring managers are better equipped to select the right employees

Employee selection:

Selecting applicants who display OCBs during job interviews is a two-way street: While we want employees that exhibit OCBs, if HR recruiters begin to expect OCBs during job interviews, then they may miss out on talent that doesn’t exhibit them. Additionally, once a candidate is hired, it puts a requirement on that person to always exhibit OCBs when, really, the onus should be on the organization encouraging OCBs.

Case Study: When OCBs Go Wrong

To give you an illustration of when OCBs go wrong, I’d like to provide a short case study.

When I worked a summer job a few years ago, I was given very certain responsibilities, and my manager expected nothing else. As I said, I have the tendency to engage in OCBs, but it wasn’t what my manager wanted from me. When I started working, it led to conflict between us.

I began voluntarily doing more than what was asked, trying to add new responsibilities to my job, putting in extra hours. I engaged in new initiatives, but my manager was not happy. At the time, I thought what I was doing was appropriate, but looking back, I understand that what I did was wrong. Sometimes, your manager designs a program or the organization and does not want it to be changed. Unless you have the power to start changing things or it is encouraged to engage in them, don’t do it. You are not making things better; if anything, you are just causing confusion and/or frustrating coworkers and your manager.

Conclusion: Making Sense of All of It

What you should take away most from this post is how complicated the study of OCB is. Simply putting in extra effort on-the-job does not mean better organizational performance; in fact, it can detract from it. Instead, consider your organization’s needs and take into account how competent, satisfied, committed, and engaged your managers and employees are. Additionally, determine if your structure causes role ambiguity since ambiguity typically requires employees to engage in OCBs on behalf of the employee.

Employees should engage in OCBs when they know what their roles ask of them, are engaged in the organization and their work, and are encouraged by their managers to do more. That’s a good starting point for knowing whether OCBs are actually increasing organizational performance.

Published: 08/01/17, 21:42

Last Revised: 08/25/17, 22:50



Statements made about other people or organizations in this blog post are expressly opinion, and all of them are entirely substantiated by that person’s or organization’s actions or words. No opinion should be misinterpreted as a true representation of him/her or it; instead, it must be interpreted as evidence behind the blog post’s theme.


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