What is Organizational Citizenship Behavior?

organizational citizenship behavior

When employees work at a job, they know that certain behaviors are expected of them. Virtually all workers will perform the duties assigned to them in a way that is acceptable to management and beneficial to the organization. They will also avoid behavior that is detrimental. When employees go above and beyond what is expected of them, that behavior is called organizational citizenship.

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is not essential to the job. Yet it can provide benefits for coworkers and the company as a whole through better efficiency. It is separate from task performance since organizational citizenship behavior is not essential to the task at hand.  In fact, as important as these behaviors are, they aren’t included in a formal job description.  Individuals who engage in this behavior do all they can to help their work environment run smoothly. Organizational citizenship behaviors include employee behaviors that exhibit the principles of:

  • altruism
  • courtesy
  • conscientiousness

Organizational citizenship is an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond in the workplace.  Employees perform actions that benefit their coworkers and the business even though they are not included in the basic job description. Organizational citizenship is demonstrated largely by several behaviors in the workplace.  It can go a long way towards improving social and psychological environment in the workplace.   Employees who exhibit the five key behaviors of organizational citizenship are extremely valuable to the workplace.  They motivate their team members and can enhance job performance.

Advantages of Organizational Citizenship

I/O at Work cited a study of employees who engaged in citizenship behavior at work.  Their results indicated employees who engage in more OCB during the day felt their work was more meaningful.  They also had greater job satisfaction. Engaging in organizational citizenship behavior allows workers to have more control over the situation while also helping others.

Experiencing more meaningfulness at work also makes employees more vigorous. Engaging in organizational citizenship also helps those whose roles in an organization may be ambiguous. Why?  It helps them finding meaning in what they do.

Types of Organizational Citizenship Behavior

importance of organizational leadership

In 1988, Dennis Organ conducted a major study about organizational citizenship behavior.  His study found five common behaviors that when displayed in a group setting, increase the effectiveness of the group or organization.  These behaviors are connected to:

  • organizational support
  • job satisfaction
  • transformational leadership

These five behaviors include:

  • altruism
  • courtesy
  • sportsmanship
  • conscientiousness
  • civic virtue


Altruism occurs when a person decides to help another without expecting anything in return.  An example of altruism might be offering to provide childcare for a neighbor so they can go to work without expecting any sort of compensation.

The key to altruistic behavior is that is must be done without the expectation of reciprocity.  Fortunately, altruism is contagious, and the behavior inspires others to also engage in altruistic actions.

Altruism has many benefits in the workplace.  It can contribute to your overall well-being, resulting in something called “helper’s high”.  When we provide assistance or an act of kindness, the pleasure centers in our brain are activated.  We are happier at work when we help others.


When a worker is polite or considerate with those he or she works with, it exhibits courtesy. Examples include helping a fellow employee with a project or keeping personal noise levels low.


Sportsmanship happens when a worker decides to remain cheerful even in the face of adverse decisions or frustrating circumstances.


Coming in early to work, staying late and doing more than one’s fair share is a sign of conscientiousness.

Civic Virtue

When employees represent their company in a good way, both on and off the job, it’s an example of civic virtue.

Best Practices of Organizational Citizenship

Employers are always looking for workers who exhibit these qualities to join their business operations. At the same time, it also benefits managers in the organization to encourage their employees to exhibit the characteristics of OCB.

By setting a good example, company leaders can show employees the types of behavior that are positive and fruitful. Encouraging teamwork can have a positive effect on collaboration and will help achieve stated goals and objectives.

Any statement of company values should somehow incorporate the five components of OCB to encourage a healthy corporate culture. OCBs are valuable to any organization when they occur naturally. Employees should never be forced but should have the freedom to be altruistic.  We discuss some examples of organizational citizenship behavior in each of these five components.

The Role of Altruism

Altruism is an important factor of organizational citizenship. It’s characteristic of one’s ability and willingness to go above and beyond to help others out of their own selflessness. Altruism can be exhibited in many ways, most of which are very beneficial to the workplace as a whole.

Demonstrating altruism may include:

  • helping coworkers with their responsibilities
  • showing appreciation for coworkers in the workplace
  • volunteering to complete extra helpful tasks around the office

An employee who demonstrates altruism is a positive influence on their coworkers and employer. Their actions increase productivity and even boost the morale of the workplace as a whole.

Demonstrating Courtesy

Courtesy is demonstrated by employees who go above and beyond to create a kind and respectful work environment. Courtesy also plays a large role in the morale of the workplace. It’s an important factor in the strength of team relationships.

Courteous coworkers ensure that they:

  • keep a respectable workspace that is not bothersome to others
  • take an interest in the well-being of their coworkers
  • maintain a team-first mindset

Both employers and fellow employees benefit from working around courteous individuals. They make the workplace a more enjoyable space to be, and they are able to develop a positive relationship with others.

The Importance of Sportsmanship

sportsmanship in organizational leadership

Employees who are capable of handling adversity and remaining flexible and optimistic in their response to challenges that arise demonstrate strong sportsmanship. These employees improve the workplace with their willingness to adapt by keeping a positive attitude and motivating others to overcome challenges as well.

Demonstrating sportsmanship may look like taking on extra work during a time where staff members are out or working to meet an early deadline. An employee who maintains a positive mindset despite challenges sets a strong example for the entire workplace. It boosts productivity for everyone.

Exhibiting Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is exhibited by employees who have strong self-control and self-discipline. These employees are willing to go beyond the basic requirements of the job description. Conscientious employees are able to plan ahead. They complete extra work before weekends or vacations. They stay later to ensure that all tasks are completed before a big deadline.

Employers are able to trust conscientious employees to complete their work regardless of challenges and work hours. These employees are self-motivated to do what is necessary, making them reliable and more productive. Conscientious employees make the workplace better by taking stress away from their managers and coworkers.  Everyone knows they will complete their necessary tasks.

Demonstrating Civic Virtue

The ideal employee is one who represents the organization in a positive light at all times, whether they are “on the clock” or not. An employee who supports their company when they are not at work is one who speaks of the business in a positive light and demonstrates pride in where they work.

Acts that demonstrate civic virtue also include engaging in company events like fundraisers or charity events with other coworkers. Civic virtue also encourages a more positive work environment and better work performance by creating a sense of community and collective goals.

organizational citizenship behavior

How Can Employers Foster Organizational Citizenship Behavior in the Workplace?

The biggest takeaway of organizational citizenship behavior is that it is voluntary and done by the individual. The voluntary factor is what makes the behaviors so valuable. It’s hard to duplicate these behaviors naturally since requiring employees to carry them out would make the behaviors less powerful. An employee who chooses to act a certain way will always do better than one who is forced to. There are many ways an employer can improve the chances of having an employee who is willing to go above and beyond while demonstrating organizational citizenship behaviors.

Including Encouragement in the Hiring Process

Throughout the process of selecting employees, human resource management can take several precautions to highlight the values and behaviors that are important to you. One of the ways to do so is by providing an in-depth job description that focuses on the company’s values and vision. An employee who chooses to apply for a role because they agree with your values is more likely to carry out the behaviors that will follow those values without being asked.

An additional option for finding the right employees is simply being selective. Many employers use an assessment tool that can measure an individual’s personality and likely behaviors. This is a great way to narrow down applicants to someone who would likely be a strong fit for your business.

You can continue to be selective into the interview phase by preparing questions that test how an individual would respond to various occurrences once hired. The hiring manager should also ensure they highlight how organizational citizenship behaviors occur in the workplace already. Taking these steps will allow everyone to be closer to having aligned visions even before hiring.

Maintaining Strong Management

As with any profession or activity, leading by example plays an important and necessary role in fostering OCB. A good manager who carries out these behaviors on a regular basis has a strong likelihood of inspiring their employees to also carry out these behaviors.

As touched on, good managers will also find various ways to highlight their employees who already exhibit the five key behaviors. Everyone responds to different recognition, like words of affirmation or tangible rewards. So a manager should know their team and know what motivates them or makes them feel valued.

Recognition should occur both individually and company-wide. It is a great idea to praise an employee personally, but it helps to recognize their impact in front of others at a team meeting as well. A manager should praise their employees themselves, but they should also create a space or avenue for their employees to recognize each other as well. Do this either through email or during designated meeting time.

Factoring Organizational Citizenship Into a Job Performance

One of the options that an employer has for improving OCB is factoring them into an employee’s regular performance evaluation. Some employers choose to include these behaviors into an employee’s goals and objectives or add criteria for factors like sportsmanship into the evaluation process. Some employers choose to avoid adding these behaviors into the evaluation process and instead consider them as “extra credit.” They provide employees the opportunity to receive higher than the overall score. There is no set “correct” way to include these behaviors into the evaluation process, and everyone may achieve different results.

There are potential positives and negatives of including the five behaviors in a job evaluation. On the one hand, it can highlight for employees what these behaviors look like. They can provide motivation for exhibiting them, encouraging them to do so. On the other hand, it can take away the voluntary component of organizational citizenship behaviors. It can end up causing stress to employees who feel they have to go above and beyond, even if they do not have the capacity to do so. Ultimately this decision comes down to understanding your employees and their motivations.

What are the Antecedents of Organizational Citizenship Behavior? 

While early research focused on basic antecedents like employee attitude and management support, different variables have emerged in recent research.  Concepts like organizational commitment and the perception of organizational justice are gaining momentum.

Organizational commitment is an individual’s overall commitment to their organization.  Research has found a high level of organizational commitment is linked to reduced absenteeism and turnover rates.

In 1987, the concept of organizational justice was introduced by Jerald Greenberg at Ohio State University.  Organizational justice is described as the way an employee judges the behavior of their organization.  Their behaviors and attitudes are a reflection of this perception.  When employees feel a sense of injustice, their attitude reflects this feeling.  Productivity and morale may fall.

How is Organizational Citizenship Behavior Encouraged in Individuals?

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Organizational citizenship is demonstrated voluntarily by individuals. They are the key consideration when determining how to foster these behaviors in the workplace. It is important to understand an employee’s personal situation and how it factors into their capability to demonstrate these behaviors. For example, an individual with family or other professional commitments  will likely not be able to attend events outside the workplace. It would not be a realistic expectation that they do. However, they can still be motivated to demonstrate other behaviors like courtesy and sportsmanship. It is important to understand where an employer can have an impact.

Employee morale is also extremely important in continued organizational citizenship behavior and can be influenced by the employer. If an employee loses motivation, the behaviors will be wasted. It is important that managers play a role in recognizing the value of these behaviors and exhibiting encouragement so that their employees maintain them. Employers and managers can help boost morale by:

  • recognizing employees for their behaviors
  • demonstrating appreciation
  • highlighting their worth

The biggest waste of potential is to allow an employee to feel that they are exhibiting these behaviors for no reason. It is important to ensure that these employees feel valued and are recognized for their extra contributions to the workplace. This recognition will also set a strong example for other individuals who may not yet show these behaviors.


Organizational citizenship behaviors are immeasurable but extremely valuable in a workplace. Employees who exhibit the main behaviors are able to go above and beyond their job description to make the workplace better.

An organization can play a strong role in fostering the behaviors by creating the proper space for them. By creating a positive and motivating work environment, an organization can make employees more likely to demonstrate positivity and motivation on their own. Hiring and developing employees who carry out the five behaviors of organizational citizenship will have an invaluable impact on the morale and productivity of the workplace.

Organizational citizenship is a set of individual behaviors that occur in a group setting. These behaviors do not include a formal reward system but produce an increase in productivity and effectiveness. These ultimately result in rewards that cannot be quantitatively measured.

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