Feeling Good By Doing Good

April 21, 2011

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is a term used to describe discretionary behavior at work where an employee goes above and beyond what’s written in their job description to either help other coworkers or to help the organization. The evidence shows that engagement, empowerment, and leading by example all produce more citizenship behavior from employees. You want your employees to be good citizens, because this extra effort at the individual level aggregates to enhanced performance of your business.

A new study published in Personnel Psychology (full citation below) suggests another reason to promote OCB at work – it can help your employees display a more positive mood. This unique study equipped 68 employees with mobile devices and cued them twice a day for 29 days to answer questions about their behaviors and moods. The helping behaviors examined in this study were altruism (e.g. helped someone from outside my workgroup, cooperatively worked with others) and courtesy (e.g. checked with others before doing something that would affect their work, taken steps to prevent problems with other workers).

The study found that when workers reported a negative mood and then engaged in altruistic helping behaviors, their mood became more positive. This effect was particularly strong for individuals high in extroversion. Courtesy behaviors also produced positive moods, but the results were somewhat mixed and not as strong as were the results for altruistic behaviors. According to the authors:

If indeed, “doing good” leads to “feeling good,” then organizations may consider feeling good an additional benefit to engaging in helping, which is often organizationally encouraged through mechanisms such as mentoring, participation in volunteer efforts, or team coaching. Expansion of such organizational practices, often designed with primarily employee development objectives important to the organization, may also reap unexpected benefits in terms of regulating individual mood. (p. 214).

So the next time you find yourself in a bad mood at work, consider getting up and helping someone with their work. Not only will it enhance productivity and your own social capital, it might also make you feel better! If you witness your employees in a down mood, find ways to get them helping others, or invite them to spend a little time helping you with something you are working on.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Full citation: Glomb, T.M. et al. (2011). Doing good, feeling good: Examining the role of organizational citizenship behavior in changing mood. Personnel Psychology, 64: 191-223.

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Comments (9)

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  1. Bret,
    This is so very true! In addition to everything else I have going on, I am also a Junior Achievement volunteer. My outlook at work on the days that I teach is very, very positive. And, I am more productive as I am trying to free my schedule to take the time for this volunteer event.

    Companies can get their employees more engaged through these types of activities…if they would just give them a try!

    Great and sorely needed post!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree with you, Sharon, it would be worth the effort and this research shows the benefits can be more than expected. Thanks! Bret

  2. Michelle Fox says:

    I think this also works if your company’s products or services genuinely help or improve the lives of your customers. If you feel your work is contributing to some greater purpose, you feel happier and more motivated in your job.

    Great post!


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Interesting and very good point, Michelle. That would make for good research to know if providing products and services you love and believe in affects your mood. Thanks for the great advice! Bret

  3. Erin Wootan says:

    It is very hard, for me anyway, to get the motivation to be helpful if I’m in a bad mood at work, however I can see the logic and will definitely be trying this technique next time I’m feeling less than productive.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Me too, Erin! I can think of a few situations that really bring me down. The key for me will be to avoid those situations and find others that make me feel better. Thanks! Bret

  4. Roger Scime says:

    Bret: I guess I’m the designated cynic, here.

    The past couple jobs I’ve had have shown me the downside of “doing good.” In almost every instance, doing good has led to suspicion on the part of co-workers and insecurity on the part of supervisors.

    Let me give you an example (I wasn’t the principal in this instance, but I have encountered similar—if not identical—results in others):

    “Bob” was a new hire at an online retailer I was working for as a mid-level supervisor. He was industrious, competent, engaging, and enthusiastic. He made friends easily and after just a few weeks, the general impression (unspoken) was that, if nothing else, he’d be around for a while.

    Suddenly, and unexpectedly, however, he was gone—and the office scuttlebutt was that he’d been fired.

    I never asked directly (it wasn’t my department), but over the next few days, I learned through the grapevine that:

    1) Bob’s supervisor believed that Bob had been after his job: He would often finish his assignments ahead of schedule, and would ask that supervisor for additional work. Thus, the supervisor concluded, Bob was a show-off and too ambitious for his own good;

    2) Bob’s fellow employees had begun to mistrust him, believed that he had a “superior” attitude, and wanted to show them up: During his breaks Bob had offered to help other, struggling employees with whatever they were having problems with—something they quickly came to resent.

    Because Bob was still in his trial period, it was an easy thing to let him go. As for myself, I stuck around for another year, but left shortly before the company went under.

    The “Bob” incident occurred about four years ago, if I remember right, but at the five or six jobs I’ve had since then, I’ve seen the similar situations play out in more or less the same fashion.

    In some instances, in fact, I’ve been “Bob.”

    Perhaps it’s the economy or maybe people are just more paranoid today than 20 years ago. Or maybe it’s always been like that and I just never knew, because I’d had my own business for so long and—as the employer—would have promoted Bob in a flash.

    Or, as I said in the first sentence, maybe I’m just a cynic.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Roger, and thanks for sharing your story. The study did not suggest that doing good produced an outcome – good or bad – other than in improvement in mood, which was measured as “in the moment.” It suggests that if you will do good, you will feel good about it. Thanks! Bret