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

Results from these studies were consistent with those of the in-basket study. As before, employees viewed the different types of OCBs as  social dilemmas involving short-term costs to the employee and long-term benefits to the employee and organization. Second, employees with a short-term time horizon were less likely to engage in OCBs. Finally, a short-term time horizon led to a decrease in OCBs mainly among those employees low in  empathy and high in  concern with future consequences. In general, these results applied to OCBs directed to co-workers ( altruism, courtesy), and OCBs directed toward the organization (civic virtue and conscientiousness).

Conclusions & Implications

It is not uncommon for employees to be asked to go above and beyond the call of duty at work. These  organizational citizenship behaviors frequently make important contributions to the well-being of one’s coworkers and/or the organization. One challenge associated with motivating  organizational citizenship behaviors is that, while they may eventually lead to long-term benefits, they tend to be costly in the short-run. Assuming an employee anticipates staying within an organization for the long-run, this may not pose an insurmountable problem, as employees may engage in OCBs in an effort to reap the long-term rewards of organizational citizenship behaviors via social exchange and reciprocity. However, if an employee anticipates leaving an organization in the near future, and already has a job lined up, OCBs would seem to lose some of their appeal. What motivates employees to persist in  organizational citizenship behaviors despite this short-term horizon? Our results suggest that one important factor is the employee’s pre-existing level of  empathy: those employees with a personality high in dispositionalempathy are concerned about others and will help them regardless of whether they plan to leave in the near future or not. Those low in  empathy, on the other hand, appear to reduce their involvement in OCBs when facing a short-term time horizon, presumably because they see no future benefits associated with engaging in  organizational citizenship behaviors. Interestingly, employees who are concerned with future consequences also show this same tendency (a reduction in  organizational citizenship behaviors when faced with a short-term time horizon). While somewhat counterintuitive, this pattern does make sense, because what motivates a person like this to engage in OCBs is presumably the possibility of future returns, and those future returns are unlikely when one plans to leave an organization. Managers wishing to capitalize on these findings would do well to either help employees envision a long-term future within their organization, or, if that is not possible, recruit employees who are high in  empathy, employees who are likely to take one for the team, even on their way out the door.


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Cardona, P., Lawrence, B. S., Bentler, P. M. (2004). The influence of social and work exchange relationships on organizational citizenship behavior. Group and Organization Management, 29, 219-247.

Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.

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