Organizational citizenship behaviours (OCB) are considered desired behaviours by organizations as they contribute positively to the organizational effectiveness.

What the heck are OCBs?

One of the major incongruities in organizations is the coexistence of two opposing needs: (i) establishing mechanisms to ensure that people perform their assigned roles; (ii) encourage spontaneous and innovative actions by employees that exceed the requirements of their function.

To put it simply: organizations need, on the one hand, employees who perform the duties assigned to them, i.e., their obligatory acts or behaviours that belong to their job description; on the other hand, companies need employees who demonstrate themselves as spontaneous and who carry out actions that are not defined by their function, but that are essential for organization’s proper functioning. This second category of behaviours is called discretionary acts or “extra-role” behaviours, in which we include the OCBs.

How can we distinguish between role behaviours and extra-role behaviours? In short: it’s complicated.

Here are 5 reasons why such distinction is complicated:

1. Two observers may have different expectations about the behaviour of an employee. For example, an employee works overtime on a critical project. While his manager considers this behaviour to be extra-role, the department manager may already expect this sort of behaviour on critical projects;

2. An observer may see the same behaviour in two different employees but designates only one as extra-role. For instance, two financial analysts (one senior and one junior) prepare special reports on certain departmental costs. The manager of this department assumes the behaviour of one employee as extra-role (junior) and the other as proper to the role (senior), due to the existence of different standards and expectations for different employees based on their abilities;

3. The same observer may have different expectations at different times. For example, an individual’s illness may lead to lower expectations of the role assigned to him;

4. An employee behaviour may be considered role-specific or extra-role, depending on its intensity, positive effects on the organization and whether it may be part of one’s role expectation. For example, arriving early and leaving later can only be considered extra-role behaviour if the employee is productive at such times;

5. National culture can influence the conceptions about which tasks are required of employees. Japan is characterized by a culture of high distance to power, with individuals demonstrating more extra-role behaviours.

Although this is quite a complex topic, let’s just put it like this: if the members of an organization merely performed the tasks assigned to them in the job descriptions — that is, the obligatory acts — the organizations would not survive. So, we must promote these behaviours.

We live in a period mainly marked by turbulence, and it is precisely in this context that OCBs are of relevance. As these behaviours are spontaneous, cooperative and innovative, OCBs largely contribute to the response to the organizational contingencies and unpredictability.

I would argue that, more important than realizing whether a given behaviour is role-specific or extra-role, is knowing how relevant specific behaviours are to the organizational functioning and performance.


If you’re happy and you know it… you know what to do. :)

Written by Ana Dias / Talent Manager at Cleverti