The 3rd industrial revolution started the digital era which began in the late 1950s–1970s with the introduction of digital technology and the movement away from mechanical and analogue technology. The digital revolution marked the start of the information age Schoenherr [1
]. The 4th industrial revolution is marked by technological innovation in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and biotechnology. Schwab [2
] indicates that these new technologies are transforming industrial systems of production, management and employee qualitative and quantitative workloads.
Digitalization and automation introduced by the 4th industrial revolution has momentous and widespread effects on the workplace and employees. Like globalization there have been both benefits and costs in the digitalization process. On the negative side there has been the creation of a poorly paid underclass of workers forced out of skilled work by the introduction of automated and robotic processes in the workplace. The effects have been many on the incidence of voluntary and involuntary turnover, unemployment and well-being of the workforce. Desperation in the work force of the loss of traditional work opportunities and the threat to livelihood from digitalization and globalization have contributed to a wave of rebellion in the United States and ushered in a new era of politics focused on job protectionism and trade tariffs.
At the organizational level, employees have sought to make themselves less dispensable in the face of the wave of automation. This has led to extreme forms of worker organizational citizenship-type behavior in some situations through workers’ attempts to demonstrate their special worth to the organization. Through altruistic behavior and overt demonstrations of ‘going the extra mile’ for the organization, employees have sought to reduce their chances of redundancy. The effects have been many as Litchfield and Cooper [3
] put it: “It is clear that work can be harmful but so can the absence of work. The link between poverty and illness has been recognized for many centuries but it was only in the 1930s that the independent effect on health of unemployment was first described. Research since that time has confirmed that both job loss and continuing ‘worklessness’ impact adversely on people’s health with increased levels of both mental and physical problems. Rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and heart attack have all been shown to be elevated in those who are made unemployed”. The pressure to keep employment in the face of automation and rapid industrial change in the 4th industrial revolution, has also had negative effects on maintaining a healthy work/life balance and forces workers to maintain their citizenship behavior far beyond formal office hours, thus introducing forms of citizenship extremism. As Harrison and Lucassen [4
] indicate ”while in the past there was often a clear boundary between where work ended and home life began…this area is very much grey. Most of us have our work emails on our phones making us constantly available and contactable. This makes it very difficult to ever truly disengage from work and relax.”
Effects on well-being and mental health of the work force have been considerable, “For individual companies, mental health is now often the commonest cause of sickness absence in developed countries, accounting for up to 40% of time lost with presenteeism adding at least 1.5 to the cost of absenteeism” Litchfield and Cooper, [3
Past and current secondary data evidence of extreme forms of organizational citizenship behavior as a reaction to highly stressful situations, suggest that extreme citizenship behavior can generate a ‘toxic’ spread among employees and the organization, ultimately leading to entropy. This paper aims to contribute to the literature by presenting a theoretical explanatory model of extreme forms of organizational citizenship behavior generated by highly stressed situations, experienced by employees in the digital era, which can generate disorder and entropy in business organizations.
The paper aims to show using a theoretical explanatory model how:
Toxic forms of leadership brought on by pressures of rapid industrial change, automation, and information explosion of the 4th industrial revolution, and
Pressures of the 4th industrial revolution in the form of redundancies, erosion of healthy work/life balances, and problems of mental health, have generated toxic employee citizenship behavior and threaten organizational entropy.
The paper takes the following structure: The first section presents a brief literature review of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), entropy, entropic citizenship behavior (ECB), employee and organizational toxicity, and organizational entropy. The second section deals with methodology of secondary data analysis. This is followed by a presentation of a sequential model built up from the findings and analysis of the secondary data, and a discussion of employee and organizational toxicity and entropy in highly stressed 4th industrial revolution workplace situations.
The conclusion outlines limitations of the study, recommendations for further research and the paper’s implications for management in maintaining employee well-being and organizational sustainability.
2. Literature Review
This review describes the extant literature regarding various conceptual and theoretical foundations of the explanatory model developed later in the paper.
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) has interested social scientists for several decades [5
]. Although OCB emerges as a distinct area of study, it has strong conceptual convergence with concepts such as: extra-role behavior [6
], pro-social organizational behavior [7
], and contextual performance [12
]. Organ [15
] originally defines OCB as: “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system”. More recently OCB is defined by Organ [16
] as, “contributions to the maintenance and enhancement of the social and psychological context that supports task performance (or the technical/technological/production system”. Organ’s [16
] more recent definition of OCB emphasizes its social and group level effects in the organization which underlines the core importance of OCB in organizational effectiveness
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) has generally been associated with positive aspects of organizational functioning through its effect on the attainment of formal organizational goals. However, more recent studies have shown that excessive organizational citizenship behavior of “personal support” [17
] and “organizational support” [18
] types may be inimical to organizational goal attainment. Extreme personally supportive OCB may become detrimental to the accomplishment of organizationally proscribed tasks through, for example, spending large amounts of time helping coworkers in the workplace or performing extra-role socio-environmentally oriented tasks driven by toxic leaders, which negatively affect worker morale and productivity [19
]. On the other hand, extreme organizationally supportive OCB may also have negative effects on the organization; for example, disruption caused by workplace norms and productivity through rate-busting [21
] and burnout [18
Having briefly outlined the concept of organizational citizenship behavior, it is necessary to discuss the origins of the concept of entropy in physical sciences and its adoption in the social sciences. The ‘entropy’ concept originates from the Greek en+tropein meaning “transformation content”. It is considered by Clausius [22
] as that fraction of energy contained in a system unavailable to produce work; and that in any system this unavailable energy tends to increase. Landsberg [23
], proposes a simple order/disorder entropy theory based on thermodynamics and information theory which defines entropy (total disorder) in a system that arises when a system’s capacity for disorder is ‘overwhelmed’ by its capacity for absorbing further information.
], conceptualizes entropy as a measure of dividedness and dispersion in the development of his “evenness of spread” entropy concept.
The social sciences have used the concept of entropy in a number of disciplines. For example, Bailey [25
], working in the disciplinary field of sociology, maintains that “order is not a constant value but a matter of degree. Order can vary from zero (absolute randomness or maximum entropy) to one, or perfect predictability (maximum departure from randomness or minimum entropy)”. In zero order (maximum entropy) social systems, there will be maximum energy wastages. On the other hand, in social systems with minimum departures from randomness, there will be minimum energy wastages.
The notion of energy wastages in social systems is a common theme in various disciplines in the social sciences. For example, Gunn [26
] defines business thermodynamics as energy transformation in a productive system which he regards as deriving its core energy from human motivation. Corporate entropy is regarded as that portion of a system’s energy that is unable to be transformed into a productive and functional system, and thus is irreversibly lost to that system. Ackoff [27
] regards corporate entropy as being reduced through the elimination of wastage of corporate energy. If, for example, an executive manager uses unutilized board meeting time in motivating subordinates to increase work outputs, he/she will have reduced time wastage and corporate entropy by doing so.
In contrast to Theil [24
], DeMarco and Lister [28
] define corporate entropy as “levelness or sameness”. The more ‘sameness’ increases, the more the potential to create energy to do work diminishes. Uniformity in attitudes and thought processes in a corporation is regarded as entropy because they tend to smother productive work energy. DeMarco and Lister [28
] maintain that organizational entropy is engendered by increases in ‘staleness’. General organizational stasis is often found in older corporations with tightly structured bureaucracies.
] defines organizational entropy as the disorder
in the organization and in the performance of work functions. For example, if person A is working on project Y and needs person B’s skills to accomplish a task but, person B is already working on project X, project Y is held up.
DeMarco and Lister [28
] suggest that in large organizations with multiple projects occurring simultaneously, disorder in energy utilization leads to energy wastage and entropy. They indicate that entropy arising from such sources could be counteracted by managerial interventions, such as critical path analyses.
The selected examples described above clearly show that organizational forms of entropy are associated with the common underlying dimension of energy wastages leading to disorder and entropy in social systems. This idea is now developed further with the concept of OCE in the literature review.
], definition of OCB as a phenomenon that extends beyond individual to group level has multiple implications for the importance of OCB in organizational entropy. Two major aspects of Organ’s [15
] definition of OCB emerge the; conception of “individual” “conscientiousness” and the conception of “group morale”. From this it seems reasonable to suggest, although not specifically indicated by Organ [15
], that group morale
arises largely from the collective aspects of individual conscientiousness
being ‘joined together’ and is considered an important aspect of OCB.
At the individual level of analysis, OCB is usually regarded as multifaceted and incorporating aspects of altruism, compliance, sportsmanship, courtesy, and civic virtue. In general terms, however, OCB can be, as it is in the current paper, conceptualized as being a basic dichotomy made up of organizational and personal support
]. Findings of empirical studies of OCB [19
], suggest that balance
between personal and organizational goals in organizational citizenship is critical for good organizational performance and that extremes of either personal
citizenship orientations, may increase organizational entropy propensities. Theoretically it is maintained, in line with Coldwell’s model [30
], that increasing amounts of either personally or organizationally oriented OCB, distributed unequally amongst categories of organizational personnel, will result in disorder and increases in organizational entropy.
In the original model proposed by Coldwell and Callaghan [31
], organizational citizenship entropy (OCE) is defined as an extreme form of organizational citizenship behavior that occurs at very high levels of personally oriented citizenship behavior and very low levels of organizationally oriented citizenship behavior, and vice versa, Historical examples from the extreme contextual circumstances created by war are used as secondary empirical data to validate the heuristic of OCE developed by Coldwell and Callaghan [31
Very briefly. Axelrod’s [32
] insight into extreme personal oriented citizenship behavior demonstrated in the altruism of front line trench soldiers in the First World War indicates that the military’s formal organizational goals of applying lethal force involved both killing and the prospect of being killed, could be undermined by interpersonal supportive behaviors of “live and let live” adopted by soldiers on both sides in the opening stages of the war. Ultimately, the effect of this behavior would have been to undermine the purpose of waging war which is to ensure victory and the destruction of the enemy, had it been allowed to persist.
The highly stressed contextual circumstances of warfare have also been shown to generate extreme forms of organizationally oriented citizenship behavior leading to OCE. Coldwell and Callaghan’s [31
] original heuristic did not formally present the kind of disordered distribution of personal and organizational citizenship behavior that led to OCE. This aspect was taken up by Coldwell [30
]. who uses Theil’s [24
], “evenness of spread” concept to provide a more formal and detailed development of the original model Theil’s [24
], conceptualization of entropy emphasizes “evenness of spread”, Theil [24
], considers the proportion of the maximum possible dispersion in which a variable is spread among categories or spatial units. This is 1, if the variable is evenly spread among all categories or 0, if the variable is concentrated in a small number of categories. “Categories” in the current paper, refer to divisional and departmental personnel. When specific types of personal or organizational oriented citizenship behavior are concentrated among individuals in units, teams and departments, and unevenly those units, teams and departments tend towards entropy through the toxic effect of this behavior on other employees.
] formal model of organizational citizenship entropy consists of an inverted U-shaped curve with organizational sustainability
on the vertical axis and levels of personal and organizational-oriented citizenship
behavior on the horizontal axis.
The relative evenness and unevenness of the OCB distribution is seen as ranging from 0 (complete uniformity) to H (complete chaos). Points beyond H Min (minimum level of disorder) become increasingly even in OCB as they progress towards point 0 (complete uniformity). Beyond point H Max, (maximum level of disorder) increasingly uneven distributions of personal and organizational OCB become evident. Organizationally- and personally oriented OCB between H Max and H Min are regarded as areas of order in organizational departments (an evenness of OCB distribution without extreme forms). In this area, balanced forms of OCB become increasingly evident. Increasing imbalances (extremes) in personal and organizational OCB occur towards H Max and, become OCE. OCE in units and teams ‘poisons’ the organizational climate and can spread to other departments resulting, ultimately, in the development of a toxic organization.
In general terms, Coldwell’s [31
] model suggests that an absence of extreme manifestations of personal and organizational OCB distribution in units, departments and divisions, promotes organizational sustainability and reduces the probability of toxic employees’ OCE spreading and generating a toxic organization, but complete evenness in OCB may generate stasis and rigidity making the organization less able to adapt to rapid industrial change [16
Appelbaum and Roy-Girard [33
] state: “Toxicity is a fact of life in all organizations; however, not all organizations are toxic. Toxic organizations are usually defined as largely ineffective as well as destructive to its employees. Simply having toxins present in an organization does not necessarily make it a toxic organization. The tone of an organization tends to be set from the top and so toxicity is often a top-down phenomenon. The higher up the toxic person is, the more widely spread is the pain, and the more people there are who behave in the same way”. This definition indicates that toxicity, particularly when originating at leadership levels, generates a poisonous climate in an organization. The use of the concepts of toxin and toxic to describe the destructive, spreading aspect of poison introduced to a system is considered particularly apt in relation to organizational entropy because of the instability (disorder) toxins are known to generate in a system. Although, as Applebaum and Roy-Girard [33
] suggest, toxins in an organization are often introduced by a leader and spread through the organizational climate created by that leader to managers and other employees, it is unlikely that a leader, however forceful or pervasive his/her influence might be, can create a toxic organization on his/her own. She can, however, create a climate conducive to its spread and propagation.
Toxic leadership can therefore be regarded as a necessary, but not necessarily a ‘sufficient’ condition for the emergence of toxic organizations. A toxic organization can be initiated through leadership behavior, but this can only be spread throughout the organization through the collective interaction of toxic employees. Toxic leaders do not just materialize out of the air, they are usually the result of socio-economic pressures, such as those created by the 4th industrial revolution with its emphasis both on competitive efficiency through technology and automation, and environmental sustainability.
Rasool et al. [34
] indicate how workplace toxicity can negatively influence productivity through the mediating role of depression: which leads “…employees to undermine performance and leave a bad image of the workplace among their peers”. Rasool and Summa [34
] conclude that “…a toxic workplace environment increases the level of work depression. When workers feel negative about their organization, they tend to compromise their productivity level, which could also increase their level of trauma.” Moreover, as Anjum et al. [35
] note, a toxic work environment negatively impacts on job productivity and generates employee burnout.
Toxic employees and organizations can arise from many sources but distorted types of leadership which drive distorted employee behavior and a toxic organizational climate are becoming more prevalent in the digital era. Toxic employees and organizations arise from contextual stressors created through extreme circumstances such as economic and socio-political turmoil arising from, for example, rapid industrial change (revolution) and war.
This paper has indicated through secondary data analysis and the development of a novel theoretical modular framework, interrelationships between 4th revolution pressures that promote leadership toxicity, employee entropic citizenship behavior, employee and organizational toxicity and, ultimately, organizational entropy. The paper contributes to the literature by presenting a theoretical framework built from extant secondary data that articulates testable relationships for future primary data empirical research. It has also shown how pressures emanating from, but not necessarily unique to, the 4th industrial revolution have impacted on the workplace and, in some cases, generated extreme forms of personal and organizational-oriented citizenship behavior that lead to energy wastages, disorder, and organizational entropy.
The model suggests that management and stakeholders need to be alert to toxic leadership and to avoid recruiting company leaders who show toxic tendencies in their overriding fixations on community/environmental or profitability goals often arising through 4th industrial revolution pressures. The model also alerts management to possible digital era pressures on employees that drive them, sometimes through threats of redundancy and unemployment, to ‘go the extra mile’ for the company by extreme forms of citizenship behavior. The model shows how extreme forms of employee citizenship behavior can emerge from toxic leadership pressure and/or the erosion of job security and work/life balances associated with the digital era. From a practical point of view, instances of burnout, depression, and general mental illness need to be carefully monitored by management. Prescriptive remedial steps need to be taken by management through the implementation of specifically designed training programs to alleviate stress. Management needs to be alert to identifying, reporting, and responding to toxic behavior [35
] and, when considered necessary, the active intervention of mental health providers.
The paper is limited by the fact that it is conceptual
and further testing of the modular framework presented using primary research data is called for before the model can be considered generalizable. In this regard it is recommended that further primary research should use qualitative and quantitative analyses to establish the validity and generalizability of the model. The paper has also depended on secondary data reports that are the perceptions and interpretations of second party investigators which have then been further interpreted by the current researcher. As mentioned earlier this tertiary data interpretation remains tentative and open to change. The paper has focused on negative influences of toxic leadership and extreme forms of citizenship behavior that can disrupt a company’s performance and threaten its survival. This can occur, as we have seen in the secondary data discussed in the paper, but in many cases, it occurs through breakdowns in organizational checks and balances. As Chen and Beers [50
] point out “By separating the duties of various employees into clearly defined roles, businesses, and organizations are better able to ensure that rogue employees or executives cannot harm a business without the intervention of other employees. Having these types of internal controls in a business can help improve operational efficiency”. However, it is nevertheless true that effective checks and balances are more prevalent in the government than private sector where rogue forms of leadership and employee behavior are more evident.
The paper has suggested that there are twin sources of stress in the workplace generated by unique pressures created by the rapidity of change in the 4th industrial revolution. The first source of pressure towards extreme forms of citizenship behavior is intrinsic to the employee. The digital era has created technology that allows no respite for employees from the responsibilities of the workplace; they, in effect, continue working in the office even when away from the office, 24/7. This has created extreme forms of compulsory-type citizenship behavior [18
], aided and abetted by the constant threat of redundancy which has led inexorably to increases in problems of employee well-being and mental health evidenced in cases of withdrawals from the workplace and withdrawals from work while being at work (presenteeism) and complete burnout. The second source of extreme forms of citizenship behavior emerging in the workplace has been, the paper suggests, from toxic leadership, themselves driven by the competitive pressures of the 4th industrial revolution of automation, efficiency, and corporate social responsibility. These two primary sources of digital era pressure create fertile ground for extreme forms of citizenship behavior, disorder, and entropy.