Contextual performance is defined as the activities that employees carry out to contribute to the social and psychological core of an organisation.
In recent years, it has emerged as an important aspect of an employee’s job performance. The latter is no longer considered to consist strictly of performance on a task. Rather, with an increasingly competitive job market, employees are generally expected to go above and beyond the requirements listed in their job descriptions.
Examples of contextual performance include volunteering for additional work, following organizational rules and procedures even when personally inconvenient, assisting and cooperating with coworkers, and various other discretionary behaviors. By strengthening the viability of social networks, these activities are posited to enhance the psychological climate in which the technical core is nested.
This construct was first identified in the industrial and organizational psychology research world by Borman & Motowidlo. Since that time, contextual performance has become an increasingly important research topic. Because of increased research efforts being focused on contextual performance, actual organizations have begun utilizing this concept by both rewarding it and incorporating it into performance appraisals. With the rise of the knowledge economy, the expectations for employees have expanded. Employees who exhibit voluntary effort and spontaneous, innovative behavior are increasingly important for organizations’ competitive advantage. While the construct of contextual performance is very similar to organizational citizenship behavior (OCBs) and prosocial behavior, various Industrial/Organizational psychologists contend that contextual performance is in fact a construct in its own right.
The counterpart to contextual performance is task performance. Task performance is defined as the work activities that contribute to an organization’s technical core. Contextual performance is more likely to be voluntary in nature, whereas task performance is more likely to be prescribed by the formal job role. Despite the fact that contextual performance is more discretionary in nature, research indicates that managers include these behaviors when conducting performance evaluations. This highlights the fact that these behaviors are becoming more and more of a requirement on the job. While conceptually different, these two types of performance have moderately high correlations, indicating that they share some of the same properties or those employees who are good task performers also are good contextual performers. These findings suggest that the two constructs are distinct yet related, which is important because this overlap may be influenced during performance evaluations.
Research has yielded several taxonomies of contextual performance and organizational citizenship behavior. Borman & Motowildo describe the contextual performance as encompassing both OCB’s and prosocial work behaviors. The following is Borman & Motowildo’s taxonomy:
- Persisting with enthusiasm and extra effort as necessary to complete own task activities successfully
- Volunteering to carry out task activities that are not formally part of own job
- Helping and cooperating with others
- Following organizational rules and procedures
- Endorsing, supporting, and defending organizational objectives
- Interpersonal facilitation
- Job dedication
To garner information regarding an employee’s contextual performance, researchers generally adapt items from the previous taxonomy. Items are generally measured by supervisors on a Likert Scale, from one to five. A few sample items that capture the construct of contextual performance are:
- The employee voluntarily does more than the job requires to help others or contribute to organizational effectiveness
- The employee tackles a difficult work assignment enthusiastically
- The employee volunteers for additional duty.
Contextual performance has been found to be related to overall employee job performance. A significant portion of supervisor ratings can be accounted for by not just task performance, but contextual performance as well. Other organizational outcomes such as turnover (employment) have been found to be related to contextual performance. Indeed, research shows that contextual performance is a significant predictor of turnover over and above task performance. Employees displaying more contextual performance behaviors were less likely to turnover than those engaging in less contextual performance behaviors. While also touted as a predictor of contextual performance, organizational commitment has been found to be an outcome of contextual performance. The facet of interpersonal facilitation significantly predicts organizational commitment. Research generally supports that contextual performance does indeed relate to overall organization performance as measured by quality, quantity, financial measures, and customer service measures.