What Is Organizational Citizenship Behavior?

K.C. Bruning

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is discretionary employee activity that is not explicitly part of the job description and which tends to promote the organization. This behavior is also not a part of the official system of rewards and compensation. The term was first defined by Dennis Orgon in 1988. It is not a thoroughly-defined concept by nature, though an employee who embodies the qualities of OCB is often easy to recognize.

A worker with good OCB will often be able to take charge of a situation with little direction.
A worker with good OCB will often be able to take charge of a situation with little direction.

While an employee who engages in OCB may not be specifically recognized for those actions, such behavior will often be rewarded indirectly. This is partly because employees who practice OCB tend to be committed to their jobs and the overall health of the organization. They are also often adept at the core functions of their jobs, which can lead to formal recognition that includes unspoken appreciation for OCB.

Some common traits observed in organizational citizenship behavior include good sportsmanship, active involvement in all professional and social company activities, and general acceptance of the rules and culture of the organization. An employee who practices OCB will typically be an exceptionally strong team player who maintains goodwill among co-workers and keeps the spirits of others upbeat.

Another strong element of OCB is personal initiative. A worker with good OCB will often be able to take charge of a situation with little direction. This kind of employee typically has an innate understanding of what needs to be done in order to promote organizational goals. Employees who practice OCB tend to be strong ambassadors for the company brand as well.

Though organizational citizenship behavior is by its nature removed from the official functions of an organization, it does not go entirely unnoticed. Some companies have attempted to define this kind of employee dedication, at least on an individual basis, so that the employee may be recognized and encouraged. There are some who dispute the validity of the concept of OCB because of these kinds of organizational efforts.

Some people who are skeptical of the concept of organizational citizenship behavior have also claimed that jobs no longer have the sort of structure that would allow for the phenomenon. The argument is that while most positions used to be well-defined, they are now often more pliable. Thus, it is arguably more difficult to distinguish between actions that are a part of the job and those that go above and beyond what is expected of the employee.

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Discussion Comments

A lot of companies tend to weave in organizational citizenship behavior into the culture of the firm by stating a certain mission or having a values statement. Also, companies tend to provide ample opportunities for workers to participate in out-of-the-office initiatives.

I used to work for a large entertainment company that had very clear mission and values statements -- all employees were expected to adhere to them. The company had teams that were focused on organizing employee events in-and-out-of the office. These teams enabled us to volunteer in the community, work on environmental issues or engage in something they called "cultural enrichment." In addition to performing your job duties, the company expected us to participate in many of these activities.

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