This chapter deals with prosocial behavior. Like misbehavior, both personal and situational factors explain why people do what their roles require and why they sometimes go beyond the requirements of their roles to help their organization and its members. The standard explanation for in-role prosocial behavior is that organizations use a combination of rewards and sanctions to enforce role requirements. This explanation is helpful but incomplete. In work organizations, for example, rewards are often trivial (a great performer might be a 3% raise, while others get 2.25%) and sanctions are often toothless (even in “employment at will” states, there are often substantial disincentives to firing or demoting employees). Norms appear to be an important factor in explaining prosocial behavior, much in the same way they explain misbehavior.
People often go well beyond the minimal requirements of their jobs or roles to help others and to benefit the organization. This set of behaviors is often referred to as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). OCB is often critical to building and maintaining the social structure of organizations and can be critical to an organization’s survival and success. OCBs are rarely included in the formal descriptions of roles in organizations; few job descriptions include statements like “help others when they need it”, “don’t complain too much”, “stay after closing time if the work is not done”. Nevertheless, these behaviors are often critical; an organization in which everyone does exactly what his or her contract or job description calls for and nothing else can be a very difficult place.
OCBs benefit individuals and organizations, but there are potential downsides to OCB. First, people who devote the majority of their time and effort to OCBs might not get their main tasks done. Second, people who engage in OCBs on top of their main tasks may experience stress, role overload, work-family conflict, and burnout. Third, and most important, “good soldiers” (i.e., organization members who regularly exhibit OCB) are more likely than other members of organizations to go along with illegal or corrupt schemes. Their very level of commitment and loyalty to the organization, together with the persistence and initiative that is characteristic of OCB make them the ideal candidates to do what the organization seems to require. For example, the development and worldwide deployment of cheat devices that allowed Volkswagen’s diesel cars to pass emissions tests required skill, hard work, and dedication, and it is a reasonable bet that many of the people involved in this scheme were very good organizational citizens.
Prosocial behaviors and misbehaviors show many similarities. They both have personal and situational causes. Both types of behavior carry a mix of costs and benefits for individuals and organizations. Norms are critical to support both types of behavior. The big difference is that misbehavior requires a set of norms that run counter to general societal norms, and thus require more moral gymnastics to reconcile the belief that “X is wrong” with “but in this organization, or these circumstances, X is fine”.