Organizational behavior

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Organizational behavior (OB) or organisational behaviour is the: "study of human behavior in organizational settings, the interface between human behavior and the organization, and the organization itself". [1] OB research can be categorized in at least three ways: [2]



Chester Barnard recognized that individuals behave differently when acting in their organizational role than when acting separately from the organization. [3] Organizational behavior researchers study the behavior of individuals primarily in their organizational roles. One of the main goals of organizational behavior is "to revitalize organizational theory and develop a better conceptualization of organizational life". [4]

Relation to industrial and organizational psychology

Miner (2006) mentioned that "there is a certain arbitrariness" in identifying a "point at which organizational behavior became established as a distinct discipline" (p. 56), suggesting that it could have emerged in the 1940s or 1950s. [5] He also underlined the fact that the industrial psychology division of the American Psychological Association did not add "organizational" to its name until 1970, "long after organizational behavior had clearly come into existence" (p. 56), noting that a similar situation arose in sociology. Although there are similarities and differences between the two disciplines, there is still confusion around differentiating organizational behavior and organizational psychology. [6]


As a multi-disciplinary, organizational behavior has been influenced by developments in a number of related disciplines including: Sociology, industrial/organizational psychology, and economics.

The Industrial Revolution is a period from the 1760s where new technologies resulted in the adoption of new manufacturing techniques and increased mechanization. In his famous iron cage metaphor, Max Weber raised concerns over the reduction in religious and vocational work experiences. Weber claimed that the Industrial Revolution's focus on efficiency constrained the worker to a kind of "prison" and "stripped a worker of their individuality". [7] The significant social and cultural changes caused by the Industrial Revolution also gave rise to new forms of organization. Weber analyzed one of these organizations and came to the conclusion that bureaucracy was "an organization that rested on rational-legal principles and maximized technical efficiency." [8]

A number of OB practitioners documented their ideas about management and organisation. The best known theories today originate from Henri Fayol, Chester Barnard, and Mary Parker Follet. All three of them drew from their experience to develop a model of effective organizational management, and each of their theories independently shared a focus on human behavior and motivation. [3] [9] [10] One of the first management consultants, Frederick Taylor, was a 19th-century engineer who applied an approach known as the scientific management. Taylor advocated for maximizing task efficiency through the scientific method. [11] The scientific method was further refined by Lillian and Frank Gilbreth, who utilized time and motion study to further improve worker efficiency. [12] In the early 20th century the idea of Fordism emerged. Named after automobile mogul Henry Ford, the method relied on the standardization of production through the use of assembly lines. This allowed unskilled workers to produce complex products efficiently. Sorenson later clarified that Fordism developed independently of Taylor. [13] Fordism can be explained as the application of bureaucratic and scientific management principles to whole manufacturing process. The success of the scientific method and Fordism resulted in the widespread adoption of these methods.

In the 1920s, the Hawthorne Works Western Electric factory commissioned the first of what was to become known as the Hawthorne Studies. These studies initially adhered to the traditional scientific method, but also investigated whether workers would be more productive with higher or lower lighting levels. The results showed that regardless of lighting levels, when workers were being studied, productivity increased, but when the studies ended, worker productivity would return to normal. In following experiments, Elton Mayo concluded that job performance and the so-called Hawthorne Effect was strongly correlated to social relationships and job content. [14] Following the Hawthorne Studies motivation became a focal point in the OB community. A range of theories emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and include theories from notable OB researchers such as: Frederick Herzberg, Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, Victor Vroom, and Douglas McGregor. These theories underline employee motivation, work performance, and job satisfaction. [5]

Herbert Simon's Administrative Behavior introduced a number of important OB concepts, most notably decision-making. Simon, along with Chester Barnard, argued that people make decisions differently inside an organization when compared to their decisions outside of an organization. While classical economic theories assume that people are rational decision-makers, Simon argued a contrary point. He argued that cognition is limited because of bounded rationality For example, decision-makers often employ satisficing, the process of utilizing the first marginally acceptable solution rather than the most optimal solution. [15] Simon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on organizational decision-making. [16] In the 1960s and 1970s, the field started to become more quantitative and resource dependent. This gave rise to contingency theory, institutional theory, and organizational ecology. [17] Starting in the 1980s, cultural explanations of organizations and organizational change became areas of study, in concert with fields such as anthropology, psychology and sociology.

Current state of the field

Research in and the teaching of OB primarily takes place in university management departments in colleges of business. Sometimes OB topics are taught in industrial and organizational psychology graduate programs.

There have been additional developments in OB research and practice. Anthropology has become increasingly influential, and led to the idea that one can understand firms as communities, by introducing concepts such as organizational culture, organizational rituals, and symbolic acts. [1] Leadership studies have also become part of OB, although a single unifying theory remains elusive.[ citation needed ] [18] OB researchers have shown increased interest in ethics and its importance in an organization.[ citation needed ] Some OB researchers have become interested in the aesthetic sphere of organizations. [19]

Research methods used

A variety of methods are used in organizational behavior, many of which are found in other social sciences.

Quantitative methods

Statistical methods used in OB research commonly include correlation, analysis of variance, meta-analysis, multilevel modeling, multiple regression, structural equation modeling, and time series analysis [20] [21]

Computer simulation

Computer simulation is a prominent method in organizational behavior. [22] While there are many uses for computer simulation, most OB researchers have used computer simulation to understand how organizations or firms operate. More recently, however, researchers have also started to apply computer simulation to understand individual behavior at a micro-level, focusing on individual and interpersonal cognition and behavior [23] such as the thought processes and behaviors that make up teamwork. [24]

Qualitative methods

Qualitative research [20] consists of a number of methods of inquiry that generally do not involve the quantification of variables. Qualitative methods can range from the content analysis of interviews or written material to written narratives of observations. Common methods include ethnography, case studies, historical methods, and interviews.



Consultants use principles developed in OB research to assess clients' organizational problems and provide high quality services. [25]

Counterproductive work behavior

Counterproductive work behavior is employee behavior that harms or intends to harm an organization. [26]


Many OB researchers embrace the rational planning model.[ citation needed ] Decision-making research often focuses on how decisions are ordinarily made (normative decision-making), how thinkers arrive at a particular judgement (descriptive decision-making), and how to improve this decision-making (prescriptive decision-making).[ citation needed ]

Employee mistreatment

There are several types of mistreatment that employees endure in organizations including: Abusive supervision, bullying, incivility, and sexual harassment.

Abusive supervision

Abusive supervision is the extent to which a supervisor engages in a pattern of behavior that harms subordinates. [27]


Although definitions of workplace bullying vary, it involves a repeated pattern of harmful behaviors directed towards an individual. [28] In order for a behavior to be termed bullying, the individual or individuals doing the harm have to possess (either singly or jointly) more power on any level than the victim.[ citation needed ]


Workplace incivility consists of low-intensity discourteous and rude behavior and is characterized by an ambiguous intent to harm, and the violation of social norms governing appropriate workplace behavior. [29]

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is behavior that denigrates or mistreats an individual due to his or her gender, often creating an offensive workplace that interferes with job performance. [30]


Organizational behavior deals with employee attitudes and feelings, including job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job involvement and emotional labor. Job satisfaction reflects the feelings an employee has about his or her job or facets of the job, such as pay or supervision. [31] Organizational commitment represents the extent to which employees feel attached to their organization. [32] Job involvement is the extent to which an individual identifies with their job and considers it a material component of their self-worth. [33] Emotional labor concerns the requirement that an employee display certain emotions, such smiling at customers, even when the employee does not feel the emotion he or she is required to display. [34]


There have been a number of theories that concern leadership. Early theories focused on characteristics of leaders, while later theories focused on leader behavior, and conditions under which leaders can be effective. Among these approaches are contingency theory, the consideration and initiating structure model, leader-member exchange or LMX theory, path-goal theory, behavioural modification and transformational leadership theory.

Contingency theory indicates that good leadership depends on characteristics of the leader and the situation. [35] The Ohio State Leadership Studies identified dimensions of leadership known as consideration (showing concern and respect for subordinates) and initiating structure (assigning tasks and setting performance goals). [36] [37] LMX theory focuses on exchange relationships between individual supervisor-subordinate pairs. [38] Path-goal theory is a contingency theory linking appropriate leader style to organizational conditions and subordinate personality. [39] Transformational leadership theory concerns the behaviors leaders engage in that inspire high levels of motivation and performance in followers. The idea of charismatic leadership is part of transformational leadership theory. [40] In behavioural modification, the leader's reward power (ability to give or withhold reward and punishment) is the focus and the importance of giving contingent (vs non-contingent) rewards is emphasized.

Managerial roles

In the late 1960s Henry Mintzberg, a graduate student at MIT, carefully studied the activities of five executives. On the basis of his observations, Mintzberg arrived at three categories that subsume managerial roles: interpersonal roles, decisional roles, and informational roles. [41]


Retaining talented and successful employees is a key factor for a company to maintain a competitive advantage. An environment where people can use their talent effectively can help motivate even the most smart, hard-working, difficult individuals. Building great people relies on engagement through motivation and behavioral practices (O'Reilly, C., and Pfeffer, J., 2000). [42] Baron and Greenberg (2008) [43] wrote that motivation involves "the set of processes that arouse, direct, and maintain human behavior toward attaining some goal." There are several different theories of motivation relevant to OB, including equity theory, [44] expectancy theory, [45] Maslow's hierarchy of needs, [46] incentive theory, organizational justice theory, [47] Herzberg's two-factor theory, [48] and Theory X and Theory Y. [49]

National culture

National culture is thought to affect the behavior of individuals in organizations. This idea is exemplified by Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Hofstede surveyed a large number of cultures and identified six dimensions of national cultures that influence the behavior of individuals in organizations. [50] These dimensions include power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term orientation vs. short term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint.

Organizational citizenship behavior

Organizational citizenship behavior is behavior that goes beyond assigned tasks and contributes to the well-being of organizations. [51]

Organizational culture

Organizational culture reflects the values and behaviors that are commonly observed in an organization. Investigators who pursue this line of research assume that organizations can be characterized by cultural dimensions such as beliefs, values, rituals, symbols, and so forth. [52] Researchers have developed models for understanding an organization's culture or developed typologies of organizational culture. Edgar Schein developed a model for understanding organizational culture. He identified three levels of organizational culture: (a) artifacts and behaviors, (b) espoused values, and (c) shared basic assumptions. Specific cultures have been related to organizational performance [53] and effectiveness. [54]


Personality concerns consistent patterns of behavior, cognition, and emotion in individuals. [55] The study of personality in organizations has generally focused on the relation of specific traits to employee performance. There has been a particular focus on the Big Five personality traits, which refers to five overarching personality traits.

Occupational stress

There are number of ways to characterize occupational stress. One way of characterizing it is to term it an imbalance between job demands (aspects of the job that require mental or physical effort) and resources that help manage the demands. [56]


Chester Barnard recognized that individuals behave differently when acting in their work role than when acting in roles outside their work role. [3] Work-family conflict occurs when the demands of family and work roles are incompatible, and the demands of at least one role interfere with the discharge of the demands of the other. [57]

Organization theory

Organization theory is concerned with explaining the workings of an organization as a whole or of many organizations. The focus of organizational theory is to understand the structure and processes of organizations and how organizations interact with each other and the larger society.[ citation needed ]


Max Weber argued that bureaucracy involved the application of rational-legal authority to the organization of work, making bureaucracy the most technically efficient form of organization. [8] Weber enumerated a number of principles of bureaucratic organization including: a formal organizational hierarchy, management by rules, organization by functional specialty, selecting people based on their skills and technical qualifications, an "up-focused" (to organization's board or shareholders) or "in-focused" (to the organization itself) mission, and a purposefully impersonal environment (e.g., applying the same rules and structures to all members of the organization). These rules reflect Weberian "ideal types," and how they are enacted in organizations varies according to local conditions. Charles Perrow extended Weber's work, arguing that all organizations can be understood in terms of bureaucracy and that organizational failures are more often a result of insufficient application of bureaucratic principles. [58]

Economic theories of organization

At least three theories are relevant here, theory of the firm, transaction cost economics, and agency theory.

Theories pertaining to organizational structures

Theories pertaining to organizational structures and dynamics include complexity theory, French and Raven's five bases of power, [59] hybrid organization theory, informal organizational theory, resource dependence theory, and Mintzberg's organigraph.

Institutional theory

Systems theory

The systems framework is also fundamental to organizational theory. Organizations are complex, goal-oriented entities. [60] Alexander Bogdanov, an early thinker in the field, developed his tectology, a theory widely considered a precursor of Bertalanffy's general systems theory. One of the aims of general systems theory was to model human organizations. Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, was influential in developing a systems perspective with regard to organizations. He coined the term "systems of ideology," partly based on his frustration with behaviorist psychology, which he believed to be an obstacle to sustainable work in psychology. [61] Niklas Luhmann, a sociologist, developed a sociological systems theory.

Organizational ecology

Organizational ecology models apply concepts from evolutionary theory to the study of populations of organisations, focusing on birth (founding), growth and change, and death (firm mortality). In this view, organizations are 'selected' based on their fit with their operating environment.

Scientific management

Scientific management refers to an approach to management based on principles of engineering. It focuses on incentives and other practices empirically shown to improve productivity.

Contributing disciplines


See also

Related Research Articles

Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which is also known as occupational psychology, organizational psychology, or work and organizational psychology; is an applied discipline within psychology. I/O psychology is the science of human behavior relating to work and applies psychological theories and principles to organizations and individuals in their places of work as well as the individual's work-life more generally. I/O psychologists are trained in the scientist–practitioner model. They contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance, motivation, job satisfaction, and occupational safety and health as well as the overall health and well-being of its employees. An I/O psychologist conducts research on employee behaviors and attitudes, and how these can be improved through hiring practices, training programs, feedback, and management systems.

Leadership ability of an individual or organization to guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations

Leadership is both a research area and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organization to "lead" or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. Specialist literature debates various viewpoints, contrasting Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and also United States versus European approaches. U.S. academic environments define leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task".

In organizational behavior and industrial and organizational psychology, organizational commitment is an individual's psychological attachment to the organization. The basis behind many of these studies was to find ways to improve how workers feel about their jobs so that these workers would become more committed to their organizations. Organizational commitment predicts work variables such as turnover, organizational citizenship behavior, and job performance. Some of the factors such as role stress, empowerment, job insecurity and employability, and distribution of leadership have been shown to be connected to a worker's sense of organizational commitment.

Organization development (OD) is the study of successful organizational change and performance. OD emerged from human relations studies in the 1930s, during which psychologists realized that organizational structures and processes influence worker behavior and motivation. More recently, work on OD has expanded to focus on aligning organizations with their rapidly changing and complex environments through organizational learning, knowledge management and transformation of organizational norms and values. Key concepts of OD theory include: organizational climate, organizational culture and organizational strategies.

Job design is a core function of human resource management and it is related to the specification of contents, methods and relationship of jobs in order to satisfy technological and organizational requirements as well as the social and personal requirements of the job holder or the employee. Its principles are geared towards how the nature of a person's job affects their attitudes and behavior at work, particularly relating to characteristics such as skill variety and autonomy. The aim of a job design is to improve job satisfaction, to improve through-put, to improve quality and to reduce employee problems.

Applied psychology is the use of psychological methods and findings of scientific psychology to solve practical problems of human and animal behavior and experience. Mental health, organizational psychology, business management, education, health, product design, ergonomics, and law are just a few of the areas that have been influenced by the application of psychological principles and findings. Some of the areas of applied psychology include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, evolutionary psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, legal psychology, neuropsychology, occupational health psychology, human factors, forensic psychology, engineering psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, traffic psychology, community psychology, and medical psychology. In addition, a number of specialized areas in the general field of psychology have applied branches. However, the lines between sub-branch specializations and major applied psychology categories are often blurred. For example, a human factors psychologist might use a cognitive psychology theory. This could be described as human factor psychology or as applied cognitive psychology.

Job satisfaction or employee satisfaction is a measure of workers' contentedness with their job, whether or not they like the job or individual aspects or facets of jobs, such as nature of work or supervision. Job satisfaction can be measured in cognitive (evaluative), affective, and behavioral components. Researchers have also noted that job satisfaction measures vary in the extent to which they measure feelings about the job. or cognitions about the job.

Theory X and Theory Y theories of human motivation

Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human work motivation and management. They were created by Douglas McGregor while he was working at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1950s, and developed further in the 1960s. McGregor's work was rooted in motivation theory alongside the works of Abraham Maslow, who created the hierarchy of needs. The two theories proposed by McGregor describe contrasting models of workforce motivation applied by managers in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication and organizational development. Theory X explains the importance of heightened supervision, external rewards, and penalties, while Theory Y highlights the motivating role of job satisfaction and encourages workers to approach tasks without direct supervision. Management use of Theory X and Theory Y can affect employee motivation and productivity in different ways, and managers may choose to implement strategies from both theories into their practices.

Behavioral operations research (BOR) examines and takes into consideration human behavior and emotions when facing complex decision problems. BOR is part of Operational Research. BOR relates to the behavioural aspects of the use of operations research in problem solving and decision support. Specifically, it focuses on understanding behaviour in, with and beyond models. The general purpose is to make better use and improve the use of operations research theories and practice, so that the benefits received from the potential improvements to operations research approaches in practice, that arise from recent findings in behavioural sciences, are realised. BOR approaches have heavily influenced supply chain management research, amongst others.

Affective events theory (AET) is a model developed by organizational psychologists Howard M. Weiss and Russell Cropanzano to explain how emotions and moods influence job performance and job satisfaction. The model explains the linkages between employees' internal influences and their reactions to incidents that occur in their work environment that affect their performance, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction. The theory proposes that affective work behaviors are explained by employee mood and emotions, while cognitive-based behaviors are the best predictors of job satisfaction. The theory proposes that positive-inducing as well as negative-inducing emotional incidents at work are distinguishable and have a significant psychological impact upon workers' job satisfaction. This results in lasting internal and external affective reactions exhibited through job performance, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Job performance assesses whether a person performs a job well. Job performance, studied academically as part of industrial and organizational psychology, also forms a part of human resources management. Performance is an important criterion for organizational outcomes and success. John P. Campbell describes job performance as an individual-level variable, or something a single person does. This differentiates it from more encompassing constructs such as organizational performance or national performance, which are higher-level variables.

Occupational stress tensions related to work

Occupational stress is psychological stress related to one's job. Occupational stress often stems from pressures that do not align with a person's knowledge, skills, or expectations. Job stress can increase when workers do not feel supported by supervisors or colleagues, feel as if they have little control over work processes, or find that their efforts on the job are incomensurate with the job's rewards. Although many different professionals work in the area of occupational stress, the CDC indicates that the relatively new field of occupational health psychology is "all about" research and practice aimed at the prevention of "occupational stress, illness, and injury." Traditionally clinical psychology, counseling psychology, health psychology and industrial psychology have dealt with occupational stress at both the individual and organisational level. Other professions such as medicine and occupational hygiene also deal with occupational stress.

Despite a large body of positive psychological research into the relationship between happiness and productivity, happiness at work has traditionally been seen as a potential by-product of positive outcomes at work, rather than a pathway to business success. During the past two decades, maintaining a level of happiness at work has become more significant and relevant due to the intensification of work caused by economic uncertainty and increase in competition. Nowadays, happiness is viewed by a growing number of scholars and senior executives as one of the major sources of positive outcomes in the workplace. In fact, companies with higher than average employee happiness exhibit better financial performance and customer satisfaction. It is thus beneficial for companies to create and maintain positive work environments and leadership that will contribute to the happiness of their employees.

Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) is employee behavior that goes against the legitimate interests of an organization. These behaviors can harm organizations or people in organizations including employees and clients, customers, or patients. It has been proposed that a person-by-environment interaction can be utilized to explain a variety of counterproductive behaviors. For instance, an employee who is high on trait anger is more likely to respond to a stressful incident at work with CWB.

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others. The authors hypothesize there is an "incivility spiral" in the workplace made worse by "asymmetric global interaction".

Personnel Psychology is a subfield of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Personnel psychology is the area of industrial/organizational psychology that primarily deals with the recruitment, selection and evaluation of personnel, and other job aspects such as morale, job satisfaction, and relationships between managers and workers in the workplace. It is the field of study that concentrates on the selection and evaluation of employees; this area of psychology deals with job analysis and defines and measures job performance, performance appraisal, employment testing, employment interviews, personnel selection and employee training, and human factors and ergonomics.

Implementing positive psychology in the workplace means creating an environment that is relatively enjoyable and productive. This also means creating a work schedule that does not lead to emotional and physical distress.

Work motivation "is a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual's being, to initiate work-related behavior, and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration" Understanding what motivates an organization's employees is central to the study of I–O psychology. Motivation is a person's internal disposition to be concerned with and approach positive incentives and avoid negative incentives. To further this, an incentive is the anticipated reward or aversive event available in the environment. While motivation can often be used as a tool to help predict behavior, it varies greatly among individuals and must often be combined with ability and environmental factors to actually influence behavior and performance. Results from a 2012 study, which examined age-related differences in work motivation, suggest a "shift in people's motives" rather than a general decline in motivation with age. That is, it seemed that older employees were less motivated by extrinsically related features of a job, but more by intrinsically rewarding job features. Work motivation is strongly influenced by certain cultural characteristics. Between countries with comparable levels of economic development, collectivist countries tend to have higher levels of work motivation than do countries that tend toward individualism. Similarly measured, higher levels of work motivation can be found in countries that exhibit a long versus a short-term orientation. Also, while national income is not itself a strong predictor of work motivation, indicators that describe a nation’s economic strength and stability, such as life expectancy, are. Work motivation decreases as a nation’s long term economic strength increases. Currently work motivation research has explored motivation that may not be consciously driven. This method goal setting is referred to as goal priming. Effects of primed subconscious goals in addition to goals that are consciously set related to job performance have been studied by Stajkovic, Latham, Sergent, and Peterson, who conducted research on a CEO of a for-profit business organization using goal priming to motivate job performance. Goal priming refers to the achievement of a goal by external cues given. These cues can affect information processing and behaviour the pursuit of this goal. In this study, the goal was primed by the CEO using achievement related words strategy placed in emails to employees. This seemingly small gesture alone not only cost the CEO very little money, but it increased objectively measured performance efficiency by 35% and effectiveness by 15% over the course of a 5 day work week. There has been controversy about the true efficacy of this work as to date, only four goal priming experiments have been conducted. However, the results of these studies found support for the hypothesis that primed goals do enhance performance in a for-profit business organization setting.

Adaptive performance in the work environment refers to adjusting to and understanding change in the workplace. An employee who is versatile is valued and important in the success of an organization. Employers seek employees with high adaptability, due to the positive outcomes that follow, such as excellent work performance, work attitude, and ability to handle stress. Employees, who display high adaptive performance in an organization, tend to have more advantages in career opportunities unlike employees who are not adaptable to change. In previous literature, Pulakos and colleagues established eight dimensions of adaptive performance.

Abusive supervision is most commonly studied in the context of the workplace, although can arise in other areas such as in the household and at school. "Abusive supervision has been investigated as an antecedent to negative subordinate workplace outcome." [weasel ] "Workplace violence has combination of situational and personal factors". The study that was conducted looked at the link between abusive supervision and different workplace events.


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Further reading