In their article in Academy of Management Perspectives, Kathryn Dekas and colleagues explain how Organisational Citizenship Behaviour, or OCB, was developed as a concept in the late 70s and the 80s as a response to the lack of relationship between job satisfaction and traditional measures of performance. Dennis Organ and colleagues had identified that research was narrowly focused on job performance in terms of performance of obligatory activity, and that the consequences of high job satisfaction would instead be for positive acts that are discretionary in nature. So the OCB construct was born, and research over the years has variously defined it in terms of five main components: altruism, conscientiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy, and civic virtue.
Dekas' team felt however that in the 21st century things that were once discretionary may be now considered core, and new frontiers of discretionary work may now matter. This may be particularly true for people engaged in knowledge work - 'thinking for a living' - estimated as being the core activity for 25-50% of workers in advanced economies. To explore this, they conducted 12 focus groups made up of 7-10 participants, principally in the US but with European and Asian representatives. The company? That major epicentre of knowledge work, Google.
Focus groups rated items from the five traditional components of the OCB construct, determining the degree to which their work group saw them as useful and voluntary (as they should be to count as OCB items) or something else. That 'something else' came up a lot: most items were rated as core, expected behaviours by at least one of the groups – for example, attendance at meetings is here seen as expected rather than voluntary - and many items were also rated as simply inapplicable. For instance, "does not spend time in idle conversation" was discarded by many groups: that may be seen as good behaviour on a factory floor, but not at Google.
In a separate task, groups brainstormed behaviours that they did see as discretionary but valuable within their organisation. This data - 615 items in all - was then screened and categorised into new OCB components... eight in all, four that hewed to the original components, together with four further ones. Whereas Helping mapped closely to the pre-existing altruism component, another component of Employee Sustainability referred to helping others - and one's self - to maintain health and wellbeing, an OCB with a much longer-term agenda. Other new components included Administrative Behaviour (such as making sure events happen that could easily slip through the cracks), Knowledge Sharing and Social Participation. Now it becomes clear why 'avoiding idle conversation' didn't resonate as an OCB among these focus groups: employees expect each other to expend discretional effort in conversation, both functional and non-targeted, in order to grease the wheels of exchange and comradeship.
Dekas and her co-authors stress that this is not meant to be the definitive rewriting of OCB, nor that existing measures are now redundant. But it points to the fact that any construct needs to make sense in the context you use it. The team have developed the new components into a new measure of OCB, one that may be more valuable in examining discretionary acts in a knowledge-work environment. Their data - from 300 participants outside of Google – suggests that compared to traditional OCB measures, their measure may correlate better with job satisfaction, fit, and (negatively) with stress. So if you're interested in understanding OCB, watch this space.
Podsakoff, N. P., Whiting, S. W., Podsakoff, P. M., & Blume, B. D. (2009). Individual- and organizational level consequences of organizational citizenship behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(1), 122–141.