How to Motivate Employees to Go Beyond Their Jobs

  • September 19, 2017

Every day, employees make decisions about whether they are willing to go the extra mile in ways that contribute to their organization’s success. These are important decisions because research shows that when employees are willing to go beyond their formal roles by helping out coworkers, volunteering to take on special assignments, introducing new ideas and work practices, attending non-mandatory meetings, putting in extra hours to complete important projects, and so forth, their companies are more efficient and effective. As a result, a critical task for successful managers is to motivate their employees to engage in these extra-role behaviors, which researchers refer to as “citizenship behaviors.”

Although the benefits of citizenship behavior for organizational performance are clear, the implications for employees are more equivocal. On the one hand, many employees perform acts of citizenship because they feel committed to and connected to their peers, supervisors, and organizations. Being a good organizational citizen can also be personally and professionally rewarding because it makes work more meaningful and invigorating and contributes to better performance evaluations. On the other hand, some studies have also shown that employees sometimes feel pressured to be good organizational citizens and may only do so in order to enhance their image. Moreover, going the extra mile can deplete employees’ resourcescontributing to stress, work-family conflict, and citizenship fatigue. Recent research further suggests that employees who feel pressured to engage in citizenship may start feeling entitled to act out by engaging in deviant behaviors. Further, while employee citizenship is often associated with positive feelings, it can also impede employees’ ability to get their jobs done, which can undermine their well-being.

As this work continues, consensus is emerging that citizenship behavior tends to have negative implications when employees go above and beyond at work not because they intrinsically want to, but because they feel that they have to, or when they are unable to carry out their regular job duties and be a good citizen at the same time. Given the importance of citizenship behavior for organizational success, it is important that managers help employees find better ways to go beyond the call of duty in order to help make work more meaningful and less depleting. One potentially effective way of doing this is something we refer to as “citizenship crafting.”

The idea of citizenship crafting is based on the concept of job crafting, in which people redesign their work by altering aspects of the job itself (task crafting), the people with whom they work (relationship crafting), and their mindset about their jobs (cognitive crafting) in ways that play to their strengths, motives, and passions. Whereas job crafting captures how employees redesign their formal role at work, citizenship crafting is based on the notion that employees can proactively shape the ways in which they to go beyond the call of duty such that they not only contribute to the organization, but that they are also personally meaningful, rewarding, and consistent with their strengths.

While employees are the ones who will craft their citizenship behavior, ideally, they will consider not only their own needs but those of their manager and colleagues. For this reason, we encourage managers to let their employees know what types of citizenship behaviors are most important for their workgroup, while recognizing that asking employees to engage in too much citizenship can be counterproductive. Employees should also be forthright in communicating to their managers what types of citizenship behavior are most consistent with their strengths, motives, and passions. For instance, an introverted engineer who dreads socializing but does not mind pulling the occasional all-nighter might feel less obligated to take part in every social event, knowing that she can be the one to take charge when someone has to stay late to complete a critical project. Or a salesperson who cannot stand to sit through meetings, but relishes opportunities to coach others, can ask to be spared tedious committee work in exchange for making extra time to shadow and informally mentor new recruits. And employees should feel comfortable making a conscious decision to voluntarily assist their colleagues who are appreciative and generous in return, offering the type of assistance that’s not such a burden to provide.

Although citizenship crafting is a new idea, prior research indicates that it should benefit employees and managers alike. First, to the extent that jobs contain tasks that align with employees’ intrinsic motives, and are absent of tasks that employees feel forced to complete, job performance tends to be significantly higher; as such, citizenship crafting should result in higher quality and more impactful acts of citizenship. Second, employees who are able to engage in citizenship behaviors that play to their strengths and passions should feel less stressed and worn out from going the extra mile. By realizing that not all good citizens look alike, and allowing employees to tailor their citizenship to fit their unique interests and talents, managers can simultaneously enhance employee well-being and workgroup productivity. Finally, citizenship crafting should reduce the need for managers to rely on extrinsic sticks and carrots to motivate employees to go the extra mile. This should not only conserve financial resources, but given evidence that extrinsic rewards can sometimes undermine intrinsic motivation, citizenship crafting should also help employees stay internally driven to go the extra mile.

The bottom line is that managers and employees’ efforts to enhance the meaningfulness of work by redesigning employees’ jobs should not stop where the formal job description ends. Instead, we encourage employees to more thoughtfully and proactively craft their citizenship behavior in ways that their extra-role contributions lead to more meaning and fulfillment while, at the same time, enhancing their firm’s performance.


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