Being a Good Citizen Is Good for Employers and Workers

Being a good citizen is good.Being a good citizen is good for business — in more than one way. Last year, Harvard Business Review reported on the beneficial effects when employees engage in “citizenship behaviors.” That’s another way to say going above and beyond: “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.”
Research has found that employees who voluntarily demonstrate citizenship behaviors tend to find their work more meaningful. They also perform better and improve their companies’ performance, as well. For all of these reasons, smart employers want to encourage being a good citizen at their companies.
HBR’s recommendation is to promote “citizenship crafting,” or offering workers the opportunity to figure out how their own strengths and preferences can best be utilized to add value to the business. The idea is straightforward: When employees can help in ways they find personally satisfying and that align with their own values and goals, the help will be better and come more frequently. This is also a relief for managers, who don’t have to push so hard when extra help is needed.
But we know that being a good citizen matters to employees in the more literal sense, too. HR Dive cites two different studies showing that workers overwhelmingly want to work for companies that make a positive difference in the world. Sustainable Brands shared similar findings in a 2016 post:

Nearly three-quarters of employees (74 percent) say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided with opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues – and seven-in-10 (70 percent) would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to important issues. Corporate responsibility (CR) is also a significant consideration for candidates when deciding which job to take:

  • 58 percent consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work
  • 55 percent would choose to work for a socially responsible company, even if the salary was less
  • 51 percent won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social or environmental commitments

Employers can use the same basic idea behind citizenship crafting to motivate employees to get out and serve their communities, too. By encouraging them to find their own ways of being a good citizen, and giving them the necessary time and support, you can enable your workers to help in places beyond the office — leading to greater satisfaction with themselves and with you. And for many businesses, summer is the perfect time to start thinking in this direction!

How Companies Can Promote Good Citizenship

So how do you encourage being a good citizen, both at your company and outside of it?
HBR notes that management should be clear about the kinds of citizenship behaviors that line up with the company’s needs and values. Likewise, employers should expect employees to be honest about the expressions of citizenship they’re most comfortable with. In the workplace, for example:

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.

Out in the community, a sales star could find door-to-door activism fulfilling. A marketer may be interested in helping local institutions and agencies find new and improved ways to share their messaging. An IT employee might be most comfortable providing ad hoc tech support to a group. Keurig Green Mountain told HR Dive last year that while its companywide volunteer opportunities are popular among employees, the business wants employees to use their paid volunteer hours “in ways that are most meaningful to them.”
That’s the next point: You may not be able to give your employees 52 paid hours to devote to being a good citizen each year, as Keurig does. But if you’re interested in truly making it possible for them to give back, you should offer them the time and/or financial support to do it. At Keurig:

Part-time employees can participate at 2.5% of their working hours, and for employees who volunteer off-the-clock, the company will match 25 volunteer hours with a check to the charity for $250. They also have an employee donation match program.

Help employees take on opportunities to be a good citizen.Good Citizenship Should Be Voluntary — and Appreciated

Perhaps most important of all, whether you’re encouraging citizenship behaviors at work or elsewhere, you need to ensure employees are performing these acts because they want to. HBR is clear on the dangers of pushing too hard:

[S]ome 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’ resources, contributing 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.

In other words: Employees want opportunities to go above and beyond in ways that are meaningful to them, as long as they’re not already stretched too thin or resentful at having more added to their plate.
And HR Dive adds one crucial reminder: “Showing appreciation for employees is key, as is giving them chances to develop their skills and try new things.” Good thing we know a little about appreciation!

Free Resource: Your Day-to-Day Employee Engagement Calendar

Looking for easy ways to thank employees year-round? Check out our Day-to-Day Employee Celebration Calendar! This one-of-a-kind resource gives you the tools and inspiration to build a culture of appreciation every day of the year. Download yours today, absolutely free.

“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach and author

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