Organizational Citizenship Behavior in the Public and Private Sectors: A Multilevel Test of Public Service Motivation and Traditional Antecedents

AuthorAlex Ingrams
Published date01 June 2020
Date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2020, Vol. 40(2) 222 –244
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18800372
Organizational Citizenship
Behavior in the Public and
Private Sectors: A Multilevel
Test of Public Service
Motivation and Traditional
Alex Ingrams1
Scholarly knowledge of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) has developed
significantly in the private and public sectors. However, comparisons between
sectors have not been advanced. This article aims to address the gap with
hierarchical linear modeling of OCB antecedents across sectors, accounting for
individual- and sector-level differences. The results show a significant association
between public service motivation (PSM) and OCB, as well as several other central
correlates of OCB in the public sector: goal clarity, job satisfaction, and leader–
member exchange (LMX). In addition, although there are marginally higher levels of
OCB in the public sector, the interaction effect of sector and PSM is not significant.
This finding suggests the effect of PSM on OCB is important across sectors rather
than solely being a function of public sector employment.
organizational citizenship behavior, public service motivation, public organizations,
sector differences, multilevel modeling
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) refers to “behavior(s) of a discretionary
nature that are not part of the employee’s formal role requirements, but nevertheless
1Tilburg University, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Alex Ingrams, Institute of Governance, Tilburg University, Prof. Cobbenhagenlaan 125, 5037 DB Tilburg,
The Netherlands.
800372ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18800372Review of Public Personnel AdministrationIngrams
Ingrams 223
promote the effective functioning of the organization” (Organ, 1988, p. 4). The
importance of the OCB concept for scholars and managers is that incentive-based
management of employee self-interest is rarely sufficient for achieving what is in
an organization’s collective self-interest. Instead, organizations rely on everyday
occurrence of selfless (or, at least, self-interest deferring) acts that directly help
other members of the organization or that help the general needs and functioning of
the organization. Organ (1988) identified five core dimensions of OCB: conscien-
tiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy, altruism, and civic virtue. Subsequent scholar-
ship has developed variations to the five-dimension approach (e.g., Williams &
Anderson’s [1991] organizational and individual-oriented OCB types), but Organ’s
dimensions continue to be at the core of measurement approaches in both the public
and private sector.
Public sector research on OCB is still far behind the private sector, but scholars
have observed high levels of OCB in public organizations (Christensen & Whiting,
2009; Kim, 2006). There are reasons to believe that OCB has special salience in public
organizations due to the relevance of generalized citizenship in government–citizen
relationships and the goals of public administration reforms to achieve greater organi-
zational responsiveness to citizens. OCB is a sociopolitical construct and has spillover
effects between the workplace and political institutions (Cohen & Vigoda, 2000).
According to Vigoda-Gadot and Cohen (2004), “citizenship behavior is vital for any
public system and administrative bureaucracy in quest of effectiveness, efficiency,
fairness, social justice and overall healthy growth and development” (p. 13). Managing
OCB in the public sector, thus, takes on a challenge of understanding the way OCB
works in its institutional setting.
A further finding in public sector research is that OCB has strong organizational
synergies with public service motivation (PSM); OCB complements PSM. The former
involves innovation and informal behavior, whereas the latter is more formally directed
to public organizations and can motivate many areas of work beyond innovation
(Vigoda-Gadot & Beeri, 2012). For example, research finds that PSM may substitute
for the relationship between transformative leadership and OCB because it provides
individuals with inner motivation to serve their organizations and fellow employees
rather than to rely on external influencers such as the role of leaders (Bottomley,
Mostafa, Gould-Williams, & Cázares, 2016). In Bottomley et al.’s (2016) study, as
with an increasing number of other studies, PSM was shown to directly increase levels
of OCB in organizations (e.g., Gould-Williams, Mostafa, & Bottomley, 2013; Kim,
2006). Thus, empirical studies provide robust evidence of an important role played by
OCB in public organizations, and suggest PSM and OCB are closely related con-
structs. However, the results of the studies beg two key puzzles: first, whether there are
different levels of OCB between sectors, and, second, whether there is a role for PSM
in understanding this possible difference. Knowledge of such public–private differ-
ences provides a means for making better, sector-specific, managerial and behavioral
interventions (Baarspul & Wilderom, 2011). As research on OCB in public organiza-
tions develops, it will be necessary to establish stronger empirical foundations of pub-
lic sector distinctiveness with conceptual sharpness and clarity.

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