Organizational Wellness

What is Organizational Citizenship Behavior and What Does it Mean for Your Team?

May 15, 2023
Last Updated Jun 1, 2023

When you finish grocery shopping, you have a choice: Do you leave your shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot, or push it into the cart return?

You don’t have to bring your cart over to the cart return. There isn’t a fine or a penalty for leaving it out. But taking those few extra steps is a small act that can help keep the parking lot clear and save time for others. Put simply, it shows good citizenship.

At work, you likely have employees who go above and beyond in a similar way in actions known as organizational citizenship behavior. Maybe they stay late to empty the dishwasher, arrive early to get the coffee pot started, offer rides to colleagues to company happy hours, or walk their less experienced team members through a task, even when they’re busy. 

While organizational citizenship behavior is difficult for company leadership or HR teams to proactively foster, it offers clear benefits for the whole team. It’s often the sign — and the result — of a healthy work environment. Here’s what you need to know about these unprompted helpful behaviors.

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What is Organizational Citizenship Behavior?

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) was coined by Robert B. Organ in 1988 to capture the voluntary behaviors that employees engage in outside of their assigned work and job duties. 

Throughout his research, Organ observed that certain employees exhibited traits and behaviors that contributed positively to their work teams and organizations, such as punctuality and volunteering.

He formally defines OCB as “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and that in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization.”  

In other words, OCB is behavior by employees that goes beyond what’s expected of them on a daily basis. It’s about taking initiative and showing dedication — both of which are essential for a high-performing team. Scholars have found that OCB isn't requested or rewarded by companies, but in Organ's opinion, this type of employee behavior is crucial for an organization's survival.

Organizational citizenship behavior looks different depending on the industry and company culture, but there’s typically a few common themes: an increased willingness to help others, going beyond their typical job duties to complete projects or tasks, and providing thoughtful feedback that contributes to the overall success of the team.

Five Common Types of OCB

Within the framework of organizational citizen behavior, there are five main types of behavior that employees may display — altruism, conscientiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy, and civic virtue.

  1. Altruism: Employees who selflessly provide help to others without expecting any recognition in return exhibit altruism. This could be as simple as offering to volunteer for a project or taking over a task for a coworker who could use the assistance during a busy week.
  2. Conscientiousness: This behavior usually goes hand in hand with reliability, responsibility, and dependability. These types of employees are considerate of their coworkers, their time, and their space. They show up on time to meetings, stick to their deadlines, and try not to let work pile up for their colleagues.
  3. Sportsmanship: Employees who exhibit sportsmanship understand the true value of being a team player and facing their work with a positive attitude. They can handle frustrating or challenging situations with grace, such as when they receive unexpected feedback or a last-minute request to change a project before a deadline.
  4. Courtesy: Being courteous is about more than just manners — it’s about respect for your colleagues and their work. Employees who demonstrate courtesy are considerate of others, listen intently during conversations, and show genuine interest when asking about a teammate's weekend or vacation.
  5. Civic virtue: This type of OCB involves looking for ways to act selflessly and speak positively on the organization's behalf. These employees tend to represent the company well when they're out in the community, acting as an unofficial but genuine ambassador for your employer brand.

Benefits of Organizational Citizenship Behavior in Your Workplace

  • Improved morale: Organizational citizenship behavior can help to create a positive, supportive work environment. When employees are willing to help one another without expecting something in return, it sets an example of selflessness and fosters a spirit of cooperation that leads to better relationships and increased morale among the team.
  • Increased productivity and performance: OCB can also lead to increased productivity as they can lead to stronger team dynamics, making workplaces more efficient and productive. One study found that OCB positively predicted performance, efficiency, and creativity.
  • Increased loyalty: A study in Nigeria found that organizational citizenship behavior is tied to higher employee loyalty — which isn't surprising, since people like working in places where they have good relationships with helpful, conscientious coworkers. Employees who demonstrate OCB might develop a stronger connection to their work and feel like an integral part of the organization.
  • Enhanced wellbeing: It’s no secret that job satisfaction and wellbeing are closely linked. Research shows that organizational citizenship behaviors can actually enrich and reinvigorate employees who engage them, likely by giving them a sense of purpose and meaning at work. And when employees feel energized instead of stressed at work, it helps support overall wellness.

OCB is One Aspect of a Healthy Work Environment

While most of us would love to be surrounded by coworkers who are respectful, empathetic, and willing to lend a hand, OCB is not the only thing that we look for in our work environments. Different people value different qualities in a company’s culture. But, generally, employees thrive in places that are free of harassment, stress, and burnout, where feedback is valued and they feel psychologically safe.

In fact State of Work-Life Wellness Report, 77% of employees surveyed in our State of Work-Life Wellness Report would consider leaving a company that didn’t focus on their wellbeing. You can help create a positive and supportive workplace for your team by demonstrating care for your employees, demonstrating organizational citizenship behavior is valued at the highest levels of your company.

One way to do this is by offering a wellness offering at your company. A wellness program can help employees access resources and support depending on their individual health and fitness needs, whether it’s a gym membership, meditation class, personal trainer, or nutrition training.

Learn more about crafting a wellness offering that contributes to a positive work environment by speaking with one of our wellbeing specialists!




Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.