Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is the fancy term for going the extra mile, above and beyond job requirements. And while researchers have been studying OCB since the 1970s, there are still a few things we need to learn. For example, research has shown that mentoring is associated with more OCB, but it hasn’t been clear which is the cause and which is the effect. Perhaps the positive takeaways from mentoring can influence employees to start going beyond job requirements, or on the other hand, perhaps going beyond job requirements leads a person to be perceived as talented and is therefore deemed worthy of mentoring. Answering this chicken versus egg question was one of the primary purposes of new research (Eby, Butts, Hofman, & Sauer, 2015).
TWO TYPES OF ORGANIZATIONAL CITIZENSHIP BEHAVIOR
Organizational citizenship behavior can happen in two different ways. There is behavior that aims to benefit individuals (OCB-I) and behavior that aims to benefit the organization as a whole (OCB-O).The researchers analyzed data that had been collected at two times spanning about one year. The research design helped them determine which thing was causing the other. They found that mentoring causes employees to engage in more organizational citizenship behavior, but only the OCB-I type, meaning only the extra behavior that aims to benefit individuals. The authors explain that when someone is mentored, they may be likely to emulate the actions of the mentor. Because mentors are usually, by definition, going above and beyond job requirements to help individuals, the people being mentored will want to engage in this kind of behavior themselves. The authors explain that this is also what is predicted by the classic psychology stalwart called Social Learning Theory. On the other hand, the need to engage in citizenship behavior that aims to benefit an entire organization (OCB-O) is not necessarily something you’d pick up from emulating a mentor.
THE ROLE OF CO-WORKER SUPPORT AND ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT
The researchers also considered whether the perception of co-worker support or organizational support influenced how employees responded to mentoring. When employees felt that they were well supported by their co-workers, the relationship between mentoring and OCB disappeared. The authors reason that support from co-workers may already lead to high levels of OCB, and for those employees, mentoring simply could not add much more. However, when co-worker support was perceived as low, there was a relationship between mentoring and OCB directed at individuals. In the absence of adequate support, mentoring can take its place and lead to an increase of OCB.
As for the other type of support, the extent of an employee’s perception of organizational support did not matter. That is, it did not alter the relationship between mentoring and OCB.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study shows that mentoring can lead employees to engage in more organizational citizenship behavior that is directed at other individuals. The role of mentoring becomes especially important when co-worker support is not present. Conversely, if co-worker support is good, mentoring has no further affect on OCB.
For organizations that have been furiously scratching their collective heads trying to conceive a way to foster OCB, this study has important implications. First, mentoring can cause employees to engage in OCB. While some employees may begin their tenure with a propensity for engaging in OCB, others who do not are not a lost cause. Organizations can encourage mentoring or set-up formal mentoring programs and expect to see a rise in OCB, at least the type directed at individuals. And second, say the authors, co-worker support seems to substitute for the positive effects of mentoring. Encouraging employees to support one another—for example via increased collaboration—may pay dividends. This provides a second strategy for organizations who want to increase organizational citizenship behavior.