What Are Organizational Citizenship Behaviors?

Staying union-free requires leadership skills that focus on employee engagement and positive employee relations, and organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) are a set of dimensions that round out the skill set. Typically, employee engagement is viewed from the perspective of communication systems, leadership style, and communication skills, giving employees a voice, transparency in decision-making, and much more.

Organizational citizenship behaviors add new dimensions like conscientiousness and altruism to leadership skills. It adds a perspective based on the positive employee discretionary actions that are not part of the formal job description, but with the right balance, can increase morale, motivation, and job performance. In the following sections, we dive deeper into organizational citizenship behaviors of people willing to “go the extra mile.” 

What is Organizational Citizenship Behavior? 

Organizational citizenship behavior is discretionary behavior that is not defined in the job description. Dennis Organ first introduced the OCB term in 1988 as “an individual behavior which is not rewarded by a formal reward system… but that, when combined with the same behavior in a group, results in effectiveness.” In Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Its Definitions and Dimensions, researchers name several essential elements of OCB.  

  • It is behaviors that go beyond the minimum efforts needed to fulfill job responsibilities. 
  • It includes anything employees choose to do of their own accord, often spontaneously. 
  • Behaviors are outside the employment contract requirements. 
  • Behaviors may not always be recognized by the company, but they can be through events like promotions, wage increases, and performance reviews
  • Promotes the “effective functioning of the organization.” 

When you say that someone is a “real go-getter” or “goes the extra mile” or “goes above and beyond the call of duty,” what you are really saying is the person is exhibiting organizational citizenship behavior.   

What Characteristics Define Organizational Citizenship Behavior? 

The definition and forms of organizational citizenship behavior have developed since the first introduction of the term by Dennis Organ in 1988. In 1993, Organ expanded the initial two criteria to include behaviors reflecting contextual performance. Today, there are five basic behaviors defining OCB.  

  • Altruism – a desire to help others without expecting additional compensation 
  • Conscientiousness – using self-discipline to go beyond the job or organization’s minimum requirements 
  • Courtesy – polite, considerate behavior that leads to positive social interactions among employees 
  • Civic Virtue – the positive manner in which an employee represents the business outside the workplace 
  • Sportsmanship – not acting in a negative manner when something does not go as intended or when something is difficult, annoying, or frustrating 

Organizational Citizenship Behavior contributes to organizational goals, but when many employees display OCB, it also helps the organization function effectively and thrive with a positive culture, delivering the added benefit of helping your business stay union-free. So, it’s individual behavior that is combined with organizational citizen behaviors that leads to the highest OCB effectiveness. This is “contextual performance.” Individuals exhibiting OCB direct the behaviors towards peers and coworkers. An OCB on the organizational level refers to behaviors intended to benefit the organization as a whole, like an employee making suggestions for innovations even when the ideas are outside the person’s job.  

Your managers and supervisors can’t force employees to be good organizational citizens. It is voluntary, and how the workforce behaviors are exhibited in the group setting determines how the behaviors support the organization.  

organizational citizenship behavior

What Are Some Examples of Organizational Citizenship Behavior? 

Organizational citizenship behaviors take many forms.  

  • Helping a new hire learn the ins and outs of the workplace 
  • Assisting a coworker with meeting the coworker’s deadlines 
  • Helping a coworker with a project even though the project is not related to the work the employee needs to complete to fulfill job responsibilities 
  • Covering a shift for an employee who needs time off 
  • Volunteering for participation in a team project 
  • Working overtime without expecting a reward or additional compensation 
  • Asking coworkers about personal subjects to show an interest in their life experiences 
  • Not complaining to anyone when a supervisor rejects an employee’s work when the employee thought the work would be accepted. 
  • Saying positive things about the business to other people when not at work 
  • Volunteering to participate in business events, like charity walks 
  • Making an extra effort to ensure team goals are met or exceeded 
  • They are voluntarily presenting new ideas or innovations that are not related to the job description.   

How is Organizational Citizenship Behavior Related to Performance? 

Your organizational leaders should be role models for organizational citizenship behavior. Their behaviors can shape employee behaviors and attitudes. “Do as I do” is the mantra.   

Leadership OCB contributes to developing a positive culture. For example, a manager is considerate when developing work schedules, keeping the needs of employees in mind. The supervisor always speaks respectfully to employees and doesn’t embarrass or demean employees, even when they experience problems on the job. Perhaps the leader makes special accommodations for an employee having work difficulties, makes an effort to understand the life experiences of employees, or volunteers to represent the company at a weekend company-sponsored charity golf event.  

Leaders are more accessible to team members. An open-door policy is a positive voluntary behavior because it makes the employee feel valued and welcomed. It makes the leader more relatable and open and demonstrates a willingness to take the time to listen to employees when they feel the need to talk, even if the topic is not directly related to the job description.  


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Clearly, organizational citizenship behaviors can deliver many benefits to people individually and to the organization as a whole. 

  • Employee engagement is improved 
  • culture of collaboration is encouraged 
  • Employees experience less stress 
  • Communication between leaders and employees and in the workforce is deepened  
  • Interpersonal relationships are strengthened 
  • Conflict is reduced 
  • Better job performance occurs 
  • Employee productivity is increased 
  • Employee retention is increased 
  • Job satisfaction improves 

To develop organizational citizenship behaviors as role models, your leaders need to develop emotional intelligence and excellent communication skills.   

The challenge of OCB is the risk of some employees going overboard and experiencing negative effects from the additional effort. For example, an employee voluntarily takes on too much additional work without pay, leading to burnout or difficulties maintaining a work-life balance. Leaders who recognize OCB in employees has gone too far can discuss the situation with the employee and help them find balance. A major reason for employee burnout is the employee voluntarily taking on more work than can be effectively handled. The intentions are good, but stress and burnout develop.  

It’s easy for the manager to say “yes” when someone volunteers to work more, train new coworkers, or work business events in their personal time, but at what cost to the employee’s well-being? Great leadership means your leaders give employees the freedom to be organizational citizens while also ensuring employees maintain balance. Following are just a few of the things your leaders need to watch for. 

  • Job creep in which the job responsibilities are voluntarily enhanced to the point where there is poor work-life balance despite organizational policies encouraging it, leading to family conflicts 
  • Motivation actually declines due to burnout. 
  • Over commitments (role overload) lead to an employee having difficulty completing required job duties. 
  • Coworkers take advantage of the employees who are always helpful (“social loafing”) 

In How Good Citizens Enable Bad Leaders, the authors discuss the human tendency to balance good behaviors with less virtuous behavior. For example, an employee completes a team project on personal time, so the team meets goals. The employee then spends an equivalent amount of time at work surfing the internet. At the leadership level, a leader may take credit for the good behaviors of employees and then feel free to act unethically. Leaders need skills like a servant leadership style to avoid this kind of behavior.  

organizational citizenship

How is Organizational Citizenship Behavior Measured? 

Measuring organizational citizenship behavior is not quite as simple as measuring work output that meets goals. Professor Paul Spector at the University of South Florida discusses the Organizational Citizenship Behavior Checklist scale. The scale has a list of items related to the frequency of citizenship behaviors, with each item rated from “1 for never” to “5 for every day.” There are two categories of items: acts benefiting the organization and acts directed towards coworkers.  

Examples of five acts benefiting the organization include:  

  1. Offered suggestions on how work is done 
  2. Tried to recruit a person to work for the company 
  3. Volunteering to work extra assignments 
  4. Volunteered to work on a project team on their own time 
  5. Shared job knowledge with a coworker 

Five acts benefitting coworkers include: 

  1. Covered a coworker’s mistake 
  2. Lent a compassionate ear when a coworker had a work issue 
  3. Changed a vacation schedule to accommodate a coworker 
  4. They went out of their way to express appreciation to a coworker 
  5. Defended a coworker who others were speaking ill of 

You can see that OBC covers a wide range of positive behaviors.  

Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Staying Union-Free 

Organizational citizenship behavior contributes to the qualities your organization needs to stay union-free. It improves employee engagement, a sense of belonging, employee voice, and job satisfaction. You leaders can develop organizational citizenship behaviors to model the behaviors for others and can assess employee citizenship behaviors through employee surveys as to how often they are expressed.  

If the assessment results indicate employees only infrequently utilize these positive behaviors, it may be a signal that employees don’t feel collaborative, supportive, engaged or a sense of belonging. Employee engagement surveys combined with an OCB scale assessment can help your leaders determine areas of improvement needed, including leadership skills gaps.  

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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