From discretionary to required: the migration of organizational citizenship behavior.

Author:Turnipseed, David L.

The distinction between organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and required behavior remains questionable more than two decades after its conceptualization. To examine the conceptual confusion, OCB was assessed for consistency with the traditional definition. OCB perceived as owed to the organization was also identified. Results indicate that many OCBs are perceived as part of the job description, rewarded, and punished. This highlights the definitional problem: What is the theoretical and pragmatic difference between OCB and required behavior, or what does the label OCB mean? Assuming that OCB exists (perhaps at organization entry), it is argued to migrate from discretionary to psychologically required. Results are discussed in terms of role sending, leader-member exchange, and reinforcement by managers. Rather than reduce the worth of the OCB construct, we suggest that it remains valuable: discretionary, extrarole OCB may be a midpoint between a formal job description and expanded work behavior migrating to psychologically required.

Keywords: organizational citizenship behavior; OCB; psychological contract; extrarole behavior


The concept of work behavior going beyond that of a minimalist has its origin in Barnard's (1938) global idea of the "willingness to cooperate." Barnard's idea was refined by Katz and Kahn (1966, 1978) to include a distinction between formal in-role versus extrarole behaviors instrumental to effective organizational functioning. The popular term describing the wide range of cooperative behaviors that are beyond formal roles is organizational citizenship behavior (OCB; Bateman & Organ, 1983). Examples of traditional OCB include helping others with job-related problems, volunteering for extra duty, tolerating the occasional inconveniences of work without complaining, being punctual, promoting the organization to outsiders, adhering scrupulously to roles and regulations (even if no one is watching), protecting and defending the organization against external threats, encouraging cooperation within the work group, participating actively in governance of the organization, and keeping abreast of the latest skills in one's field (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000).

OCB was formally defined by Organ (1988) as follows:

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. By discretionary, we mean that the behavior is not an enforceable requirement of the role or the job description, that is, the clearly specifiable terms of the person's employment contract with the organization; the behavior is rather a matter of personal choice, such that its omission is not generally understood as punishable. (p. 4) In 2006, Organ, Posakoff, and MacKenzie added efficiency as a consequence. Organ (1988) argued for a continuum in organizations such that different types of contribution vary in the probability and magnitude of reward, and he places OCB in the area of nonrequired behaviors that are relatively less likely to lead to reward by an obvious and fixed path.

Organ's (1988) definition fails to provide adequate distinction between OCB and in-role or required behavior (Morrison, 1994). Research shows that employees often consider OCB as nondiscretionary, part of their role, and rewarded (cf. Kamdar, McAllister, & Turban, 2006; Tepper, Lockhart, & Hoobler, 2001). Although OCB is not required by formal job descriptions, one's actual work role and job description may be different. Role describes how the various situational forces acting on one are perceived (Wexley & Yukl, 1983). Managers communicate role expectations--not restricted to job description--with role-laden messages, such as counsel about preferred behaviors and those to avoid, and rewards and penalties contingent on role performance: Roles then emerge (Katz & Kahn, 1978). When OCB is perceived as role prescribed rather than discretionary, employees are more willing to engage in those behaviors (Tepper & Taylor, 2003; Zellars, Tepper, & Duffy, 2002). Barnard's (1938) "willingness to cooperate," Katz and Kahn's (1966, 1978) "extra-role," and Organ's (1988) "personal choice" suggest a quid pro quo: Why are employees willing to cooperate, and why do employees expand their roles and do extra for the organization? Social exchange theory offers an explanation.

Social exchange occurs when one is attracted to another in expectation of reward due to that association (Blau, 1964). Huston and Burgess (1979) suggested that individuals' social exchanges are anchored in self-interest and characterized by interdependency, the terms of which may be defined by psychological contract (Blau, 1964). These exchanges involve reward between dyads enabling each party to work better (Homans, 1961). OCB reflects a social exchange relationship with an organization, and if employees believe in the long-term fairness of the organization, there is no concern about recompense (Organ & Konovsky, 1989). Similarly, organizations with employee-friendly work milieus create social pressures for reciprocation by organizationally desired behavior (Eisenberger, Armeli, Rexwinkle, Lynch, & Rhoades, 2001). The reciprocal nature of these mutual expectations defines the psychological contract.

In many cases, employees know their required duties; in others, expectation-satisfying behavior must be inferred. As these nonrequired behaviors are linked with rewards and employees perceive reciprocal obligations, psychological contracts emerge. At this point, Organ's (1988) discretionary behavior completes the migration from OCB to psychologically required or owed. Organ (1988) places OCB in a region of nonrequired contributions that may expand or contract in response to perceptions of required. This suggests a role of psychological contracts in migrating OCB as different behaviors are desired and rewarded by the organization and provided by employees.

Employees may have greater willingness to cooperate or engage in nonrequired behavior when that behavior advances their interests. Their interests may be served by cooperating with management and receiving reward, thus defining an idiosyncratic set of reciprocal expectations concerning their obligations (what they owe the employer) and entitlements (what they believe they are owed in return; McLean Parks, Kidder, & Gallagher, 1998) that defines a psychological contract. Fulfillment of psychological contracts is positively linked with OCB (Turnley, Bolino, Lester, & Bloodgood, 2003); however, when employers are perceived to violate terms of the contract, employees are less likely to engage in OCB (Robinson & Morrison, 1995).

Assuming that OCB exists as extrarole, discretionary behavior beyond the job description at some point, we examined its migration to nondiscretionary, required behavior. Our purpose was to assess the efficacy of the OCB construct to differentiate between discretionary OCB and required behaviors and to investigate the degree to which traditional OCBs have migrated to required behavior and are now perceived to be owed and rewarded. Kamdar et al. (2006) defined OCB role definitions as the extent to which OCB is considered "to be part of the job or role defined" (p. 841). However, our results go beyond that and examine how OCB may eventually move out of the realm of discretionary and into expected behavior that is psychologically required. We addressed that issue by determining whether OCBs are simultaneously expected, rewarded, or punished and whether the employee believes the behaviors are owed or should be exhibited.

The Role of Reward

Whether behaviors are formally rewarded was central to the initial conceptualization of OCB. Despite Organ's (1988) qualification of the probability of reward, researchers continued to use the lack of formal reward in the classification of OCB (e.g., Moorman, 1991; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Hui, 1993; Turnipseed, 2002; Williams & Anderson, 1991). Organ's (1988) definition of OCB specifies that it is not directly or explicitly rewarded; however, any reward may move OCB from discretionary, or extrarole, to psychologically required. Research indicates that many OCBs are likely to elicit rewards (cf. Haworth & Levy, 2001; MacKenzie, Podsakoff, & Fetter, 1991; Tepper et al., 2001). Both required and discretionary behaviors, when rewarded, may be perceived as part of the mutual obligation that defines a psychological contract between the employee and the organization.

In his construct cleanup, Organ (1997) reminded us that his working definition did not totally rule out some type of reward, but the reward is not contractual. He recognized that few rewards are contractually guaranteed in the evolving business environment. If OCBs are rewarded in any form, contractual or not, the rewards may create the promise segment of the psychological contract and move OCBs to behaviors that the employee perceives are owed. Given the decreasing frequency of formal job descriptions, as a result of broader and more-fluid job requirements, and the proposed function of psychological contracts, any role for reward in definitions of OCB is prone to criticism.

The Question of Discretionary Behavior

A major concern with the OCB construct is whether the actor perceives behaviors as required or discretionary. Citizenship involves many behaviors that observers and respondents may consider part of the job (Haworth & Levy, 2001; Organ, 1997; Tepper et al., 2001). Morrison (1994) observed that OCB was ill defined and varied among individuals; however, Organ (1997) argued that the problem may be a measurement issue rather than a construct issue. Measuring OCB is not the measurement of a fact or tangible event but rather an assessment of opinion with no external criteria of correctness. Individuals evaluating behaviors are providing a personal reaction to some stimulus (Crano...

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