Q: Does being an organizational citizen mean that you will end up being taken advantage of by your employer?
A: First, let’s talk about what an organizational citizen is. This is someone who goes above and beyond formal job requirements for the organization’s benefit without receiving formal acknowledgment or financial gain. In 1988, Dennis Organ found that organizational citizens possess five common behaviors: altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, conscientiousness and civic virtue.
Behaviors are an active reflection of an individual’s personality traits. And, while an individual’s personality has the potential to evolve, it is generally agreed that the majority of an individual’s personality is determined by inborn traits and early childhood experience. Therefore, organizational citizens enter the workforce as pre-existing considerate, thoughtful, helpful employees.
Research shows organizational citizens are more likely to encourage collaborative environments as well as increase productivity and efficiency. This sounds like an amazing benefit to the organization, especially if the additional work is offered without equitable remuneration. Research also shows organizational citizens often feel a greater connection to their organization.
On the other hand, research has found disadvantages to being an organizational citizen. One disadvantage is that organizational citizens’ behaviors may go unnoticed by management or leadership, which could lead to inaccurate performance reviews. And an organizational citizen’s behaviors could be poached by peers for their own workplace self-preservation, resulting in hurt feelings on one end of the spectrum and possibly destructive workplace behavior on the other end.
In addition, organizational citizens can experience additional job-related stress because, while their actions are voluntary and gratuitous, they can become expected and informally mandated by a manager or their environment. As a result, such conscientious behavior could cause harm to the employee.
Organizational citizens are an exceptional organizational asset, but a wise employer will be mindful not to take advantage of them.
Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of consulting and programming at the Center for Ethical Organizations at the University of St. Thomas.