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Good Actors vs. Good Soldiers

SIOP Member Explores Dark Motives Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior

The next time an employee offers to come into work early or volunteers to take on a project no one else wants, employers may want to ask one question: What’s your motive?
Research presented by SIOP Student Affiliate Joshua Bourdage at SIOP’s annual conference in April shows that the motives for this type of behavior—called organizational citizenship behavior (OCB)—aren’t always in the best interest of the organization.
In his study, performed under advisor and SIOP Member Kibeom Lee, Bourdage, a graduate student at the University of Calgary, sought to understand the personality correlates of engaging in OCB for different motives and how OCB engaged in for each of these motives affected coworker perceptions of that individual as an organizational citizen.
What Bourdage found was that hard-working, agreeable, sentimental people engage in OCB with motives to help others and the organization (“good soldier” motives), whereas those who are somewhat hard-working but predominantly low in honesty and humility engage in these behaviors to be viewed positively by others and gain rewards for themselves (“good actor” motives), otherwise known as impression management (IM). Further, he found that those engaging in the behavior for impression management were likely to be viewed as organizational citizens by fellow employees just as those engaging in the behavior for more altruistic motives were, though organizational concern still had the strongest correlation to coworker perceptions.
Bourdage said he wanted to explore the darker side of OCB with his study. The research in this area, he said, has predominantly assumed that OCB is driven by “positive” traits such as Conscientiousness and Agreeableness, as well as altruistic motives.
“So it was based on the assumption that the organization gives good things to you, and you are giving back,” Bourdage explained.
However, Bourdage said, that is not always the case. Some research, he said, has suggested that some individuals engage in OCB for their own benefit, such as pay raises and promotions, and use OCB as a form of impression management (IM) to control what others think of them.
“Some people would say, ‘What’s the difference? Why does it matter what their motive is?’” Bourdage said. “Well, our statistics show that some of the people who are engaging in organizational citizenship behavior, like many of those engaging in it for impression management purposes, score low on honesty and humility personality scales,” Bourdage said. “And these people who score low on honesty-humility are also the same types of people that would lie and steal from an organization. Those aren’t necessarily the types of people employers want in their company.”
Three hundred and fifty employees from two different organizations in South Korea were asked to participate in the study by completing a self-report questionnaire and forwarding a survey packet to one of their coworkers who had good opportunities to observe their work behaviors. A total of 262 matched surveys were returned with 52% of the participants being telecommunication company workers and 48% manufacturing company employees.
Personality was assessed with self-ratings on the 100-item version of the Korean HEXACO-PI-R, which measures Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. The participant then answered questions to determine their levels of OCB engaged in for each motive. For example, an item measuring engaging in OCB for IM would be: “I voluntarily serve many extra functions mainly to impress my boss.” Coworker-rated OCB was assessed using the Korean version of the 16-item OCB scale developed by Lee and Allen (2002). Coworkers rated the individual on each of these items. An example is: “gives up time to help others who have work or non-work problems.”
As Bourdage expected, those engaging in OCB for prosocial motives were those employees who rate higher in Emotionality (i.e., who, among other qualities, have a tendency to feel strong emotional bonds with others as well as be sentimental and sensitive, fragile, and nervous), and are more conscientious (i.e., hard-working, diligent, etc.). Openness to Experience was also found to positively relate to OCB engaged in for this motive. Another outcome was the fact that those who are characterized as hard working and diligent (i.e., high in conscientiousness) are more likely to report engaging in OCB for the organizational concern motive.
More interestingly, Bourdage said, those who are low in Honesty-Humility (i.e., those who are more likely to be manipulative, greedy, and insincere) were more likely, according to the research, to engage in OCB for impression management purposes, such as to get ahead and appear positively to others in the workplace. Although, these individuals are engaging in OCB, people with lower Honesty-Humility ratings have also been shown to be more likely to engage in a number of counterproductive workplace behaviors that can negatively impact organizational functioning, Bourdage explained. Bourdage cited work (e.g., Bolino, 1999) that notes that those engaging in OCB for IM are “likely not as effective at promoting the effective functioning of the organization as those motivated by ‘good soldier’ motives.”
OCB motivated by organizational concern was the most strongly correlated to coworker ratings of OCB. Bourdage explained that this may be due to the fact that this research was conducted in a sample in Korea, a culture where collectivism may be emphasized more than efforts motivated towards individuals. He said he would like to conduct this study in North America to determine if there are any cultural differences.
On the other hand, Bourdage explained, all three motives showed significant positive OCB rating among coworkers. So although those employees motivated by prosocial or organizational concern motives are able to influence their coworkers’ perceptions of them, Bourdage said, so are those employees motivated by less altruistic motives. “In essence,” he said, “it appears that IM motivated behavior may pay off,” which corroborates other research in this area.
Bourdage said knowing about the darker motives is important to employers.
“If you’re a manager or business owner, it’s important to realize that some people engage in these kinds of behaviors to look good and not necessarily to help the company,” Bourdage said. “So if you are rewarding this behavior, you could also be rewarding people who are more likely to lie and steal and otherwise act dishonest as well.”
However, it’s important to understand, Bourdage said, that not all people who engage in OCB for impression management purposes are necessarily dishonest people.
“Whenever you are dealing with personality, the correlations are not perfect,” he said. “The people who engage in OCB for impression management purposes are more likely to be dishonest, that doesn’t mean all of them are liars.”
One of the biggest problems employers then face is the fact that it is nearly impossible to know a person’s motives, Bourdage said.
“We don’t know how likely someone engaging in OCB is to be doing it for their own benefit or for the benefit of the company or others,” he explained. That’s the crux of the problem in that it is virtually impossible to determine what the motive is.”
Bolino, M.C. (1999). Citizenship and impression management: Good soldiers or good actors? Academy of Management Review, 24, 82-98.
Lee, K., & Allen, N.J. (2002). Organizational citizenship behavior and workplace deviance: The role of affect and cognitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 131-142.