Does Job Security Lead to Organizational Citizenship Behavior?

Researchers have been trying to assess the relationship between job security and organizational citizenship behavior. Job security is something we’ve probably all thought of, and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) refers to workplace behavior that goes above and beyond the call of duty and helps the organization, like helping a co-worker or taking on extra responsibilities without extra compensation. Do people who have more job security perform more or less OCB? Some researchers have found that they perform more OCB, some have found that they perform less OCB, and some have found that it doesn’t matter either way. So who is right? 

JOB SECURITY AND ORGANIZATIONAL CITIZENSHIP BEHAVIOR

Researchers (Lam, Liang, Ashford, & Lee, 2015) have finally answered the question. They found that there is a “U-shaped” relationship between OCB and feelings of job security. It is called U-shaped because if we plotted the data on a graph, it would look like a big letter U. As an example, there might be a U-shaped relationship between time in the workday and how energetic you feel. In the morning you feel great because you are well-rested, in the middle of the day you feel lethargic after your stressful meetings and heavy lunch, and at the end of the day you feel good again because you are excited about the end of the day. Your daily experience would look like the letter U on a graph.

In this study, people who felt that their jobs were secure also performed more OCBs. The reason is simple: if you feel appreciated by your organization, you will also feel the need to reciprocate by going beyond your formal job obligations. As employees started to feel some insecurity about the future of their jobs, they also lowered their performance of OCB. These employees feel less appreciated, and therefore feel less of a need to reciprocate. As employees started experiencing a high level of job insecurity, fearing greatly for their jobs, they actually started increasing their performance of OCB back to a high level once again. Fearing the worst, it seems these employees were actively trying to give their employers a reason to keep their jobs.

THE ROLE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL CAPITAL AND “GUANXI”

The researchers also found that there were two factors that made this U-shaped relationship even more pronounced. The first is psychological capital, which refers to having confidence, resiliency, and optimism. The second is called “guanxi”, which is a Chinese concept (this research was conducted in China) basically referring to an interconnected social network of people capable of being relied upon for assistance. In general, when job insecurity is at a medium level, people performed less OCB because they felt less of a need to reciprocate to their employers. This effect was more pronounced when employees had lower social capital and less guanxi with their supervisor.

In general, when employees felt very insecure in their jobs, they resumed higher levels of OCB in order to try to save their jobs. This effect was also more pronounced among people with lower social capital and lower guanxi with their supervisors. It seems these types of people may be especially fearful of job loss and felt a greater need to compensate by performing OCB. 

ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS

This research is important because it helps organizations understand a little more about what inspires people to perform above and beyond their job descriptions. It also helps organizations understand how performance is impacted when job security is not guaranteed, an unfortunately common theme in today’s world economy. Based on these findings, employers can see the importance of increased social capital and reciprocity-based workplace relationships. These factors can limit the slide of OCB in the face of moderate job insecurity.

The authors encourage use of training sessions to help employees boost resiliency and self-confidence. They also encourage social retreats or events that can help boost the quality of relationships between employees and supervisors. These changes can help workplaces functions more smoothly in times of uncertainty.

Lam, C. F., Liang, J., Ashford, S. J., & Lee, C. (2015). Job insecurity and organizational citizenship behavior: Exploring curvilinear and moderated relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 499-510.