When Helping Hurts: The Dark Side of Organizational Citizenship Behaviors

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Work-Life Balance
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (AUG 2010)
Article: Citizenship under pressure: What’s a good soldier to do?
Author: M. C. Bolino, W. H. Turnley, J. B. Gilstrap, & M. M. Sauzo
Reviewed by: Sarah Teague

Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are defined as voluntary behaviors that facilitate organizational functioning but are not formally rewarded by the organization. The presence of these behaviors has consistently been shown to benefit both individual and organizational outcomes. In recent years, however, the accuracy of this definition has come into question as the degree to which employees engage in OCBs (or don’t) may actually be impacting the way they are evaluated by the organization. In the midst of the field’s infatuation with the impact of good deeds, the potentially dark side of OCBs has been largely neglected – a state of affairs that Bolino and colleagues intended to correct.

The authors of the current study suggest that increased expectations for employee involvement with the organization outside of work, along with the impact it may have on performance evaluations, has led to what they call citizenship pressure.  Citizenship pressure refers to “a specific job demand in which an employee feels pressured to perform OCBs, and it is conceptualized as distinct from related topics such as role overload and OCB norms. The authors suggested that citizenship pressure would be positively related to OCBs but also to work-family conflict (i.e. work demands interfering with family), work-leisure conflict (i.e. work demands interfering with general personal time away from work), job stress, and intentions to quit.

Results show that indeed, citizenship behavior was positively related to OCBs – interpreted as greater pressure leads to more OCBs. This could be a good thing, right? People helping their coworkers in the office or participating in the company’s charity efforts… Maybe not. Further results support the positive relationship between citizenship pressure and the negative outcomes. Specifically, people who reported more citizenship pressure were more likely to report work-family conflict, work-leisure conflict, job stress, and intentions to quit. Furthermore, these relationships were stronger for those low in conscientiousness and those with fewer family obligations. Taken off your rose-colored glasses yet?

Unfortunately, the old saying appears to be true: All that shimmers isn’t gold. Yes, we do want OCBS, but it appears that they may only be beneficial in the long-term when they are truly citizenship behaviors and not the result of coercive (if well-meaning) company directives.

Bolino, M.C., Turnley, W. H., Gilstrap, J. B., & Sauzo, M. M. (2010). Citizenship under pressure: What’s a good soldier to do? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(6), 835-855.