Round and Round

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For the past two weeks, in conjunction with work, I participated in the 2010 Norbertine Heritage Tour. The purpose of the tour is to help faculty and staff understand the Catholic intellectual tradition of the college. So, from May 17-May 31, 23 colleagues and I toured the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, and visited Abbeys in Prague, Doksany, Geras, Schlagl, Roggenburg, and Den Bosch. A video blog of the tour put together by one of the trip members can be found here

Of the many things I was struck by, one was the work of the confreres. In visiting the various abbeys, one could see bold, ostentatious displays while others were very simple. Yet, a similar level of engagement and passion was demonstrated by all our hosts. I can only attribute it to the strong mission and culture that exists.

I also thought about the notion of altruism. In the psychological literature, altruism is typically defined as an action carried out with the intent to benefit others without the desire to receive benefit from others in return. The altruistic helper only wants to receive the benefits of knowing that he or she has aided others who deserve (and maybe those who do not deserve) to be helped. In contrast the nonaltruistic helper may be someone who wants to help others and, in addition, wants to receive material or social compensation in return. Most research on helping focuses on personality or situation influences on such behavior.

A similar vein of research in the management field, called organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), has been directed toward understanding the motives of employees who exhibit helpful and cooperative behaviors that are not part of their formal job requirements. Most studies of the antecedents of OCB have employed Organ's social exchange-based explanation. Organ argues that employees perform OCB when they believe that relationship with their employer is one of social exchange (i.e., relationships and activities that exist outside formal contracts such that participants' contributions are unspecified) rather than economic exchange (i.e., relationships and activities in which each party's contribution is contractually stipulated).
From this perspective, OCB reflects the employees' input to an ongoing, psychological contract with their employer.

What role, then, does spirituaity play in moderating the relationship between motivation investigated in previous research, such as social exchange, and OCB. Are employees who are more spiritually-oriented likely to perform OCB with greater frequency than those who are not spiritually-oriented?

Acting altruistically in the workplace, and during work hours, represents an "opportunity cost" by using that time to help others rather than on work activities that represent individual outcomes, such as salary, or organizational success, such as increased profitability or productivity. Similarly, there may be expectations by an organization to act altruistically outside the work force, such as participating in Habitat for Humanity or the United Way, without accompanying compensation. Will the failure to meet such expectations reflect negatively upon the employee, resulting in lower salary and other outcomes?

In addition, what role does impression management play in influencing authentic altruism. Some employees may perform OCB in order to influence the image others have of them. When is OCB an example of "authentic" altruism, or an example of nonaltruistic helping, such as impression management?

NEXT TIME: What does Jarvis Cocker have to do with Seth Godin's "Linchpin?"


Interesting how you meshed the economics "opportunity cost" term! The Economics of Altruism would be a good topic!

by Benjamin McCall on June 1, 2010 at 2:40 PM. #

@Ben I believe Stanford has a Center for Altruistic Research.

by akaBruno on June 1, 2010 at 2:44 PM. #

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