Every employee in your organization (hopefully) performs his or her formal work tasks. In fact, possibly the largest body of knowledge in applied organizational research has been the study of factors that are related to the performance of such tasks. However, task performance is not everything! Beyond task performance is another topic of importance: extra-role performance. Extra-role performance is consisted of employee behaviors that are not part of a formal job description. These can include organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB- voluntary behaviors that go above and beyond formal duty to help individuals or the organization) and counterproductive work behaviors (CWB- behaviors that are harmful to the organization). OCBs include behaviors like staying late to help a coworker or taking the time to onboard new employees, while CWBs include behaviors like stealing, skipping work, or sexual harassment. These behaviors have the potential to greatly affect the well-being of an organization and its members.
Recently, researchers have looked at the role of personality in the display of OCB and CWB at work. They found that one personality trait has a particularly strong relationship with these behaviors, and trait is conscientiousness. One of the Big Five personality traits (along with extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and emotional stability), conscientiousness can be defined as the tendency to aim for achievement, act dutifully and deliberately, and have strong self-discipline. Of all of the Big Five traits, conscientiousness has the strongest links with positive job outcomes. For example, it is predictive of:
- job performance (across all categories of jobs)
- getting along with coworkers
- job dedication
So how does conscientiousness relate to OCB and CWB? A recent study (Bowling, 2010) found that conscientiousness plays a large role in the performance of positive extra-role behaviors such as OCB. Although behavior is mostly the result of a combination of environment and personal disposition, this is an important finding in that organizations can accurately use this type of research to make selection decisions, especially if they are actively trying to change culture or create a more positive work environment. The findings indicated that high conscientiousness individuals are more likely to engage in OCB, while low conscientiousness was connected to CWB, especially when job satisfaction was low. Here are some practical implications associated with these findings:
- Organizations that want to increase OCB and decrease CWB can do so by using a selection system that screens out individuals that are low on conscientiousness (note- personality measures should also be combined with other tools like interviews in any selection procedure)
- Improving job satisfaction (by acting on the results of the most recent employee survey, for example) will also increase OCB and decrease CWB, especially among employees with average and low conscientiousness