Organization OR Environment?

organization-enviroment[We’re pleased to welcome Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, Assistant Professor at Babson College in Organizational Behavior. Tosti-Kharas recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior for the Environment.” From Tosti-Kharas:]

The origin of this paper came from bridging two different research projects. My co-authors, Tom Thomas and Eric Lamm of SFSU, published a theoretical paper regarding how individuals develop attitudes toward organizational sustainability. Meanwhile, Eric and I have performed research on what motivates employees to perform sustainable behaviors. We look at what we term organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment ¬ OCB-Es for short ¬ which are voluntary actions at work that help conserve resources, things like recycling, printing double-sided, etc. This paper joined these two streams of inquiry to examine how the reasons why people think it is important to act sustainably at work relates to their performance of OCB-Es and we tested it empirically.

Most past research on this topic has used a measure of how important people think sustainability is in general, meaning for broad ecological reasons, but never contextualized within a work organization. In the paper we distinguish between believing sustainability is important in and of itself, what we term an ³eco-centric rationale,² and believing it is important as a means to an end, specifically a business end, which we term an ³organization-centric rationale.² We also differentiate employees¹ own rationales about why it is important for their companies to operate sustainably from their perceptions about why their organizations believe it is important. Perhaps the most surprising finding when we surveyed 489 working adults across a wide range of organizations and occupations was that people were more likely to perform OCB-Es when they believed their organizations valued sustainability, regardless of their own personal beliefs about the importance of sustainability. These findings held for both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales. This to us was surprising, as lots of research would lead us to predict that personal values would trump perceived organizational values. Yet, we find the opposite, which suggests that perhaps people perform voluntary sustainability behaviors at work not just because they think it¹s important, but because their company believes it is important. It is worth noting that we included in our OCB-E measure not only simple, everyday tasks, but also ³higher-level² behaviors, like collaborating with other employees or making suggestions to supervisors to increase organizational sustainability.

These findings raise several interesting and timely implications for organizational leaders looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors. Since employee perceptions of organizational rationales for sustainability were so important in motivating OCB-Es, we advise communicating corporate values around sustainability and resource conservation as clearly as possible. By contrast, trying to screen employees for pro-environmental values seemed to be less important in a company that clearly communicated these values, since even employees who didn’t buy in on their own behaved more sustainably when they believed their employers cared about the environment.


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