Taking One for the Team, Even on Your Way Out of the Door

six memos, two formal letters, and a company newsletter. Each item presented three options for action. One option fell below expectations. A second option reflected reasonable behavior. The third option (the OCB) went “above and beyond the call of duty”. The first option required the least amount of time to complete, whereas the third option required the most time to complete. As an example, in one newsletter, employees were encouraged to take time to get to know two new employees. The response options included (a) not spending any time with the new employees, (b) talking with the employees if they happened to bump into them (30 minutes); or (c) scheduling a 30 minute meeting to get to know each employee and see if they need any help getting adjusted (1 hour total). In another memo, an employee is asked to be involved in a trade-show. The response options include (a) not attending; (b) indicating that one’s subordinates will attend (20 minutes to draft a memo); or (c) helping to prepare for the trade-show (1 hour). 

Preliminary studies revealed two important findings: First, participants rated the first option as beneficial to the employee in the short-run, but harmful to the organization in the long-run, and they rated the third option as costly to the employee in the short-run, but beneficial to both the employee and the organization in the long-run. This allowed us to conclude that participants viewed the decision as a social dilemma. A second important finding was that participants viewed the third option as an extra-role behavior (i.e., as a behavior that went above and beyond what would be expected as part of the employee’s typical role). This allowed us to conclude that participants viewed the third option as an OCB. Having established that the in-basket exercise reflected a viable measure of OCBs, which were perceived as  social dilemmas, we proceeded to evaluate predictors of participants’ willingness to engage in OCBs.

In the primary study, for each in-basket item, participants were asked to choose one of the three options and put it in their “daily calendar.” The catch was that if an employee consistently chose the third option (the OCB), they would need to work late to accommodate all of these OCBs. Two weeks prior to the in-basket exercise, we measured two personality variables, including participant’s level  empathy (Davis, 1983) and  concern with future consequences (Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, & Edwards, 1994). Just prior to the in-basket exercise, we asked half of the participants to imagine they had another job lined up and would be leaving the company in three months (short-term time horizon condition). We told the remaining participants nothing about their time horizon in the organization (long-term time horizon condition).

Results from the primary study were consistent with our hypotheses: First, employees with a short-term time horizon were less likely to engage in OCBs. Second, a short-term time horizon led to a decrease in willingness to engage in OCBs mainly among employees low in  empathy and high in  concern with future consequences.

Multinational Conglomerate Study

To further evaluate our hypotheses, we next went out into the real-world to solicit responses from employees and their supervisors (Joireman, Kamdar, Daniels, & Duell, 2006). In two closely related studies, we first assessed employee’s level ofempathy and  concern with future consequences, as before. We also asked employees to fill out a scale that measured their time horizon within the organization (short-term vs. longer-term). In one study, we then asked employees to self-report how often they engage in a set of OCBs ( altruism, civic virtue, conscientiousness, courtesy, sportsmanship and voicing opinions). Because self-reports can biased by self-presentation concerns, in another study, we asked supervisors to rate their subordinates’ willingness to engage in these same OCBs.

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