Choosing to Engage in Citizenship Behaviors: Lessons from Research and Lent

As an Episcopalian, I observe the 40 days of Lent. This is the time, not including Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter (technically ending on Maundy Thursday) where people will typically either give something up or add on an activity. For example, some people will fast (giving something up) or add a daily devotional (add on). 

I tried giving up stuff years ago, but found that resulted in begrudging Lent, and this seemed antithetical to the purpose. Thus, for the past several years, I have opted to add an activity, which meant doing something extra for someone else each day. Examples include buying meals for strangers, writing notes of appreciation, unloading the dishwasher (which my younger daughter especially liked since that is one of her daily chores), and the like.

Surprisingly, I liked doing so. In fact, while I would forget the "extra something" on occasion, near the end of the 40 days, I found I was intentionally seeking out opportunities to do something extra. And, it was not because I had to, but because I wanted to. 

All of this brings me to recent research from Kai Cha Yam, Anthony Klotz, Wei He, and Scott Reynolds.*  Organizational scientists will frequently refer to the helping behaviors I described as organizational citizenship behavior. In general, the more your company's employees engage in these behaviors, the better they perform, the higher the collective satisfaction, and the higher the overall effectiveness in the workplace. 

Yam and colleagues took an interesting approach by considering the source of motivation for the organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB's): did people engage in them because they wanted to or because they felt like they had to? And, did this matter in terms of the subsequent outcomes?

They collected data across three studies and observed that the source of motivation does matter. When people felt compelled to engage in OCB's, they also developed a sense of entitlement. They believed they had gone above and beyond what was expected of them. And, when this sense of entitlement developed, employees were more likely to actually engage in deviant behaviors, not helpful ones. 

I found the results from this study to be particularly relevant for me. As previously described, when I felt I was obligated to engage in certain behaviors for Lent, especially ones I did not enjoy (like giving up sweets), the outcomes were negative. But, when I engaged in extra behaviors I wanted to, the behaviors actually increased and will likely do so following Lent (to the delight of my daughter and hungry strangers at the local pizza by the slice shop). The key for sport organizations, then, is to understand how to foster this feeling of personal agency instead of obligation. 

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Yam KC, A Klotz, W He and S Reynolds (in press). From good soldiers to psychologically entitled: Examining when and why citizenship behavior leads to deviance. Academy of Management Journal