Organizational Citizenship: When Good Leadership Inspires Good Employees


Are some employees innately driven to contribute more to the workplace than others, or does workplace culture deserve credit for motivating employees to go the extra mile?

The short answer: the latter. Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) refer to an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond in the workplace. And according to a reWork study, “when employees perceive their team climate to be one rooted in fairness, trust, autonomy, and cooperation, citizenship behaviors are more common.”

Since leaders have the power to influence organizational culture, they are in a position to either enhance — or foil — an employee’s drive to push the bounds of their job descriptions. Here’s a look at what leaders need to know about organizational citizenship, and what they can do to inspire these behaviors.


What is organizational citizenship?

Organizational citizenship involves performing “good acts” that benefit both coworkers and the organization — without any expectation of reward, recognition, or compensation.

According to The Oxford Review, organizational citizenship behaviors involve three key components:

    • They are voluntary behaviors that people choose to do of their own free will.
    • They are behaviors that go beyond an employee’s job description and established responsibilities.
    • They contribute positively to the organization.


Under this somewhat large umbrella, there are several specific types of OCBs. For example, some employees display altruism by going out of their way to help a colleague solve a problem. When an employee shows conscientiousness, they are aware of how their work impacts others, which might prompt them to show up to work early and complete their part of a project. Employees practicing good sportsmanship bring a positive attitude to work and don’t let minor issues sour their performance, and employees with courtesy show consideration for the responsibilities of others, thereby refraining from adding extra tasks to a teammate on a tight deadline.

The benefits of organizational citizenship are well-established. OCBs improve employee engagement, boost job satisfaction, create organizational loyalty, and support a culture of civility and respect.

However, with increasing focus on work-life balance and wellness in the workplace, it’s important that leaders understand how to inspire the workforce to go above and beyond without overextending employees — risking burnout and resentment.


Maximize the good of OCBs by avoiding the bad

In the case of OCBs, being a good leader means advancing the right culture for organizational citizenship *without requiring it.

Organizational citizenship should be voluntary

Expecting employees to practice OCBs will likely make them drag their feet rather than go an extra mile, and with good reason. The pressure to go above and beyond is at the heart of the quiet quitting trend and overemployment, both of which resist hustle culture as exploitative and unhealthy.

Mandating organizational citizenship can also be problematic for employees who already face unspoken pressure to do more than the job requires, such as traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups. For example, one research study found that women are more likely than men to volunteer to take on extra tasks that benefit the organization but are less likely to support their career advancement, compounding other barriers women face in achieving promotion.

Requiring good behavior might even inspire deviance, as reported in the HBR article “Pushing Employees to Go the Extra Mile Can Be Counterproductive.” The authors designed two studies to measure the outcomes of externally mandated citizenship. The result: employees who were compelled to be good were good. However, forced compliance also resulted in more bad behaviors, including making fun of a co-worker and stealing office property. The researchers concluded that an uptick in good behavior gave employees a sense of entitlement to also act poorly.

The good news: this only applies when employees are externally compelled toward citizenship. When employees choose citizenship of their own free will, they don’t feel entitled to become a workplace Walter White.

The takeaway: sidestep these pitfalls by building a workplace culture that inspires citizenship without depleting the citizens


Tips for organizational citizenship from the perspective of leadership

So, how are leaders inspiring (and not requiring) organizational citizenship?

1. Model behaviors for others to follow

According to Max Benz, founder and CEO at BankingGeek,“It is essential for leaders to set the tone for their teams through leading by example, embodying the values that are important for the organization, and speaking positively about citizenship. […] “I’ve seen mid-level managers volunteer to teach financial literacy classes during lunchtime or take part in charitable activities such as blood drives.”

2. Provide training on motivating citizenship

At EasyMerchant, investing in citizenship is considered essential for productivity. Sharon Heather, Business Development Director, reports that “One way we have done this is by providing ongoing training for our managers on how to recognize and reward citizenship behaviors among employees.”

The company also encourages citizenship and community-building through a culture of open communication and psychological safety, where employees are comfortable voicing ideas — and bandwidth — to management.

3. Make OCBs core to company values embraces the mantra of “Level 10 Integrity,” a call to action for everyone in the workplace to act with courtesy and respect toward clients and coworkers. One of the company’s most important values is “got your back,” which encourages coworkers to support each other.

As People and Culture Director Grace HE says, “Nary an all-hands meeting goes by without a mention of these ideas.”

4. Take organizational citizenship beyond the office

Natasha Maddock, co-founder of Events Made Simple, suggests creating opportunities for employees to give back to the community through volunteer and other charitable activities.

She says, “This type of work not only makes a positive impact in the community; it can also help to enhance the organization’s reputation, improve employee engagement, increase staff retention, and even drive financial success.”


Bottom line: when leadership invests in effective (ie, voluntary, recognized, and supported) organizational citizenship, employees are inspired to go above and beyond both for their own benefit and that of the organization.


For more on creating a workplace that inspires employees to go the extra mile and find more meaning in their work, check out these resources from The Forem:

Want Your Employees to Excel? Make Them Fearless. (Here’s how.)

Why Your Workplace Empathy Efforts are Failing

Are Your Employees Falling For These Confidence Crushers?

The Problem with “High Potentials” Development Programs