Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Benefits and 3 Best Practices

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Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Benefits and 3 Best Practices

We all know an employee who always goes the extra mile, right? That one person who goes above and beyond for their co-workers and the company. They may not even know it themselves, but what they’re demonstrating is called organizational citizenship behavior. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at organizational citizenship behavior, its benefits, different types, and best practices. Here goes!

What is organizational citizenship behavior?
Types of organizational citizenship behavior 
Benefits of OCB
Organizational citizenship behavior – best practices
On a final note

What is organizational citizenship behavior?

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is a term that’s used to describe all the positive and constructive employee actions and behaviors that aren’t part of their formal job description. It’s anything that employees do, out of their own free will, that supports their colleagues and benefits the organization as a whole.

OCB is not something that’s required from employees to do their job and it’s not part of their contractual tasks.

Organizational citizenship behavior was first defined by Dennis Organ 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.”

It was that same Dennis Organ who identified five different types of organizational citizenship behavior. We’ll take a look at each of them in the section below.

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Types of organizational citizenship behavior

The five most common organizational citizenship behaviors, according to Organ, are:

  • Altruism – Altruism in the workplace occurs when an employee helps or assists another employee without expecting anything in return. A simple example of altruistic behavior at work is when someone offers their assistance to a co-worker who is swamped by taking over (part of) their tasks or volunteering to help clean up the canteen after an internal company event. Altruism in the workplace can boost employee morale, productivity, and effectiveness.
  • Courtesy – Courtesy is polite and considerate behavior towards other people, in this case, other employees. Examples of courtesy at work include saying good morning (!), asking a co-worker how their holiday was, how their kids are doing, how a project they’re currently working on is going; basically any question related to a (personal) subject someone has previously spoken about that shows people you’ve listened to what they were saying.
  • Sportsmanship – Put simply, sportsmanship is about an employee’s ability to be a good loser. It’s about being able to deal with situations that don’t go as planned – or negative surprises – and to not demonstrate negative behavior when that happens.
    An example of good sportsmanship in the workplace is an employee who is temporarily taking over the tasks of a team member who broke his leg and will be on sick leave for a few weeks. While this considerably increases this employee’s workload, she isn’t complaining about it to her colleagues because she knows it’s a temporary situation and that she’s taking one for the team (to stick with the sports jargon).
  • Conscientiousness – Conscientiousness is defined as behavior that involves a certain level of self-control and discipline and that goes beyond the minimum requirements. In a work setting, this means that employees don’t just show up on time and stick to deadlines, but that they, for instance, also plan ahead before they go on holiday so that their colleagues won’t be drowning in a big workload.
    An example that’s related to a remote work set-up is having enough self-discipline to get up in the morning and get the work done, even when there is no manager around to give you a nudge. Conscientiousness also means knowing that sometimes the job simply needs to get done, despite the fact that it’s after hours.
  • Civic virtue – Civic virtue is about how well someone represents the organization they work for. It’s about how an employee supports their company when they’re not in an official capacity. How do they talk about the organization to their friends and family for instance?
    Civic virtue can also be demonstrated by employees signing up for business events such as fundraisers, or running a (semi) marathon for a charity with a team of co-workers. Civic virtue is a type of organizational citizenship behavior that creates a sense of community and camaraderie within the organization. This, in turn, leads to higher job satisfaction and better job performance.
Organizational citizenship behavior

Benefits of OCB

We’ve already mentioned a few benefits of organizational citizenship behavior above, but here is a (non-exhaustive) overview:

  • OCB can boost employee morale
  • It increases people’s levels of work meaningfulness
  • It is good for employee performance and productivity; in fact, research shows that OCB positively predicts performance
  • It creates better social interactions between employees
  • It reduces stress
  • It creates a sense of community among employees
  • It is good for your Employer Brand

Organizational citizenship behavior – 3 Best Practices

As we’ve seen in the previous section, OCB can have great benefits both for employees and organizations. So how can HR encourage this kind of behavior? We’ve listed 3 best practices.

1. Hire right

There are certain things you can already include in your selection process to 1) show candidates the kind of organizational citizenship behavior your company encourages and 2) take a potential ‘OCB fit’ into consideration when you hire people. Here are a few examples of what this could look like in various parts of your hiring process:

  • Job description – Your job description can (should) reflect company values so candidates can decide whether or not those values are in line with their own. If your values resonate with them, they’ll be more likely to show, for instance, acts of civic virtue than when they don’t.
  • Realistic job preview – Using a realistic job preview enables you to show candidates an actual ‘day in the life of’. This means you can show applicants how people treat each other in the company (courtesy), how people work (conscientiousness), and collaborate (altruism), etc. In other words, a realistic job preview is a great opportunity to demonstrate candidates the kind of organizational citizenship behavior you would like to see in your organization. Here too, they can then decide for themselves if working for your company suits them or not.
  • Pre-selection – Organizations that recruit high volumes of people often use a pre-employment assessment tool. These tools can include a wide range of different assessments like cognitive testing, job sample tests, a personality test – to measure people’s conscientiousness for instance! – but also questions that determine whether or not there is a culture fit between the candidate and the company culture.
  • Interview – During the interview phase, the hiring manager or anyone else who interviews the candidates can highlight some examples of organizational citizenship behavior when they talk about the company or the team. When they ask candidates questions, for instance using the STAR method (STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result), they’ll be able to gauge whether or not someone is likely to engage in OCB.

2. Involve management

Managers play an important role when it comes to encouraging organizational citizenship behavior. First, as leaders, they need to set an example. If people see their manager being polite and considerate, supporting team members where they can, be ‘good losers’, and participating in (charity) events outside work, it will inspire them to do the same on their own level, at least to a certain extent.

Second, managers should praise the kind of OCB they’d like to see from their teams. An easy way to give some well-deserved praise in public to employees who’ve engaged in organizational citizenship behavior is during a weekly team meeting. But OCB should also be recognized on a company level, this can be done for instance during a company-wide all-hands meeting.

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Another great practice to have in place is something that’s called Cheers for Peers. This can take different forms, for instance, that of an end of week celebration where people thank their peers and colleagues to let them know they had a positive impact. Employees can send in their ‘Cheers’ by email during the week and then these can be read in front of the whole company on Friday. Here are a few examples:

“Cheers to James for staying late to help me meet that deadline. You worked super hard and it really made a difference to the project. I owe you one!”

Cheers Sophie for organizing the office party. Everyone had a great time and it was awesome to celebrate all together. Looking forward to the next one!”

3. Rethink performance management?

Some companies include their employees’ OCB in their performance management process and appraisals as a way to formally encourage, measure, and reward this. How they do this can differ. A few examples of how organizational citizenship behavior can be integrated into performance management are:

  • Goals and objectives – as well as evaluation and rewards – are set in a way that encourages workers to look out for the team
  • Someone’s altruism or other types of organizational citizenship behavior can result in a performance rating of more than 100%
  • Criteria like ‘how people collaborate with other teams in the organization’ are part of the evaluation

The image below is based on a 2007 research that looked at both the positive and negative effects of incorporating a formal way of dealing with OCB.

Effects of formalizing organizational citizenship behavior

While there certainly is something to be said for gently trying to encourage OCB by making it a part of the performance management process, there are a few things to keep in mind here. First, organizational citizenship behavior is characterized by its voluntary nature. OCB actions and behaviors aren’t part of an employee’s contractual obligations, they are an added bonus, if you like. Evaluating and rewarding people based on something that isn’t part of the official deal can seem unfair.

Second, taking into account people’s OCB can create stress for employees as they may feel that they don’t have a choice. It may also create a feeling of injustice as not everyone will have the same possibilities to engage in organizational citizenship behavior due to their personal circumstances. For example, people who have a family with small children may not have time to participate in external company events that take place outside office hours.

Third, managers and other people involved in the appraisal process may not always notice their employees’ OCB. In fact, they will probably miss out on plenty of times when one of their team members helps out a colleague with their workload or asks a co-worker how their sick child is doing. While this is only human, it does cause an issue when people are assessed on these behaviors.

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On a final note

While organizational citizenship behavior isn’t something every employee will engage in, it can have tremendous benefits for both your workforce and the organization. As such, it’s worth looking for ‘OCB potential’ in candidates during the hiring process, actively involving managers in setting the right example, and rethinking your performance management to make organizational citizenship behavior an intrinsic part of your company culture.


What is organizational citizenship behavior?

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is a term that’s used to describe all the positive and constructive employee actions and behaviors that aren’t part of their formal job description. It’s anything that employees do, out of their own free will, that supports their colleagues and benefits the organization as a whole.

What types of organizational citizenship behavior are there?

There are five different types of organizational citizenship behavior: altruism, courtesy, sportsmandship, conscientiousness, and civic virtue.

What are organizational citizenship behavior best practices?

Best practices for organizational citizenship behavior include looking for OCB potential in your hiring process, actively involving managers in setting the right example, and rethinking your performance management.


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