Winning a “best paper” award from a professional journal is an achievement for any researcher. But for Suzy Fox, professor of human resources and employee relations in Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business (as well as colleague Paul E. Spector and three others who recently earned that distinction), the victory is particularly sweet. Their paper, which challenged conventional thinking in the field of voluntary work behavior, was submitted to several journals over five years before it was finally published.
So having the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology single it out as its best paper of 2012 has been especially gratifying.
“The award is a validation that the top people in the field recognized this as an important contribution,” Fox says.
The paper, titled “The Deviant Citizen: Measuring Potential Positive Relations Between Counterproductive Work Behavior and Organizational Citizenship Behavior,” calls long-held assumptions and empirical findings into question. For 15 years, researchers—including Fox and Spector themselves —have found that counterproductive work behavior (which harms or intends to harm organizations) and organizational citizenship behavior (which helps or intends to help organizations) are inversely related, so that a person who demonstrates more counterproductive work behavior shows less organizational citizenship behavior.
Fox’s team’s paper refutes that model, in part because they found that the scales typically used to measure such behaviors are flawed—and that work behavior itself is more complex. After devising a new organizational citizenship behavior scale that measures purely positive citizenship behaviors (and no counterproductive work behavior, as previous ones did), and testing it in several studies, they turned previous research on its head.
“What we found, to our surprise, was that when we used really distinct scales, counterproductive work behavior and organizational citizenship behavior were often positively related,” she says.
As an example, she cites a stressful work environment that might prompt an employee to put in extra hours but then also feel anger toward coworkers who don’t do the same.
Now, with an award under her belt and her new scale in use by others, Fox is philosophical about the sometimes frustrating journey to getting research published.
“It’s the typical process for critical or innovative work,” she says. “And the result is an improved paper.”