“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”
– Gunter Grass

As a non-academic, there are times when I encounter the outpourings of the higher education community and catch myself thinking “Yes, I knew that, actually. I wouldn’t have explained at such great length, or with so many historic references or such recourse to technical language. But I still feel like I knew that already.” I had that feeling recently, when I researched the idea of Organisational Citizenship.

It turned out that the phrase that I’d be tempted to use in Plain English already has a particular meaning in the literature of Business Schools. I would use the words in the sense that, in the way that organisations nowadays are large, complex bodies with potentially significant populations and uncountably diverse functions and relationships, a person can be a ‘citizen’ of an organisation in the same way that they can be a citizen of a country. Unlike the academics of Business Schools – who use the phrase to (and I paraphrase) describe behaviours linked to discretionary effort – I intended something that we might think of as ‘seen through the other end of the telescope’. Something that perhaps equates to what we might call, in everyday language, a sense of belonging.

Don’t I just mean ‘employee engagement’? Well, yes and no. Which isn’t to say that the importance of pursuing engagement with sincerity should be ignored: indeed, it would be hard to disagree with Jonny Gifford’s posting at the CIPD website:

The organisations that are best at engaging their employees are the ones whose rationale for what they do is: “This is just how we do business”. It’s not a calculated tactic to increase profitability and certainly not, as Cederström and Fleming describe in their book Dead Man Working, a ruse to get employees to exploit themselves. […]

Indeed, I’ve always been suspicious of the reliance on a profit-related business case for progressive employment practices. The implication is that if there is no productivity benefit, which in the short term may be the case, it’s fine to ignore them. A more reliable and ultimately stronger argument lies in saying this is the right and most sustainable way to do business. The slave trade did not end because of a convincing business case, but through moral persuasion.”

All very interesting, but I’m thinking more of what the Scandinavians refer to as ‘medarbetarskap’. Although no direct translation exists, ‘employeeship’ is a possible rendition that has been adopted by Swedish and Danish commentators. As far as a definition goes, the following is offered by Claus Møller, the founder of the Time Management Institute:

When the individual makes a whole hearted and goal-oriented effort within the three success areas (productivity, relations and quality) of the organization, a special kind of personal commitment is demonstrated – this commitment I call employeeship.”

Research by Charlotte Simonsson based on interviews with both managers and employees in a number of Swedish organizations showed that both groups tend to define medarbetarskap as relating to taking initiatives, being involved, taking responsibility, and taking part. More than simply empowerment, it encompasses increased opportunities for employees to influence and be involved but also implies increased demands and requirements.”

When this Nordic concept is exported, how does it play out? Research undertaken by Wajda Irfaeya and Liangyu Liu of the Graduate Business School, Göteborg University, explored data supplied by the Volvo Group’s attitude surveys across 15 countries and cross-related their findings with the World Values Survey and Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions, and many assumptions were disproven by the findings:

  • employees in highly individualistic societies are not more committed than those in the lesser individualistic countries
  • employees in highly individualistic countries (high HDI countries) do not cooperate better than those in less individualistic countries
  • lower HDI countries tend to express more employeeship than those in the high HDI countries

Other intriguing snippets emerge from this research:

  • While white collar workers and managers are generally consistent in outlook, blue collar workers’ perception of the importance of work appears to be culturally dependent
  • Larger working groups typically show lower levels of employeeship (attributable to dividual performance not being so closely appreciated, a greater chance of conflicts within the group, and reduced opportunities to voice opinions or to shape outcomes).

To quote the report’s authors on the impact of leadership behaviours on employeeship:

Employeeship is flourishing under circumstances of managers showing respect to employees, employees trusting the management of the group and the organisation, employees being satisfied with the attention for their personal development, employees getting clear and sufficient information from management, and employees obtaining sufficient recognition from the manager.”

To which, thinking back to our opening remarks about Organisational Citizenship Behaviour, there are two ‘plain English’ responses. Firstly, that ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ is not just a colloquial expression, but also an example of ‘win:win’. And secondly, that – as a quick glance at a thesaurus will tell you – being engaging means being charming, interesting, likeable and loveable. Easier said than done?

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