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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Organizational behavior is the study of individuals and their actions within the context of the organization in a workplace setting. It is an interdisciplinary field that includes sociology, psychology, communication, and management; and it complements the academic studies of organizational theory (which is more macro-level) and human resource studies (which is more applied and business-related). It may also be referred to as organizational studies or organizational science. The field has its roots in industrial and organizational psychology.

Overview Edit

Organizational Behaviour studies encompasses the study of organizations from multiple viewpoints, methods, and levels of analysis. For instance, one textbook [1] divides these multiple viewpoints into three perspectives: modern, symbolic, and postmodern. Another traditional distinction, present especially in American academia, is between the study of "micro" organizational behavior -- which refers to individual and group dynamics in an organizational setting -- and "macro" organizational theory which studies whole organizations, how they adapt, and the strategies and structures that guide them. To this distinction, some scholars have added an interest in "meso" -- primarily interested in power, culture, and the networks of individuals and units in organizations -- and "field" level analysis which study how whole populations of organizations interact. In Europe these distinctions do exist as well, but are more rarely reflected in departmental divisions.

Whenever people interact in organizations, many factors come into play. Modern organizational studies attempt to understand and model these factors. Like all modernist social sciences, organizational studies seek to control, predict, and explain. There is some controversy over the ethics of controlling workers' behaviour. As such, organizational behaviour or OB (and its cousin, Industrial psychology) have at times been accused of being the scientific tool of the powerful.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Those accusations notwithstanding, OB can play a major role in organizational development and success.

One of the main goals of organizational theorists is, according to Simms (1994) "to revitalize organizational theory and develop a better conceptualization of organizational life."[2] An organizational theorist should carefully consider levels assumptions being made in theory[3], and is concerned to help managers and administrators.[4]

History Edit

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the essence of leadership. Aristotle addressed the topic of persuasive communication. The writings of 16th century Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli laid the foundation for contemporary work on organizational power and politics. In 1776, Adam Smith advocated a new form of organizational structure based on the division of labour. One hundred years later, German sociologist Max Weber wrote about rational organizations and initiated discussion of charismatic leadership. Soon after, Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the systematic use of goal setting and rewards to motivate employees. In the 1920s, Australian-born Harvard professor Elton Mayo and his colleagues conducted productivity studies at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant in the United States.

Though it traces its roots back to Max Weber and earlier, organizational studies is generally considered to have begun as an academic discipline with the advent of scientific management in the 1890s, with Taylorism representing the peak of this movement. Proponents of scientific management held that rationalizing the organization with precise sets of instructions and time-motion studies would lead to increased productivity. Studies of different compensation systems were carried out.

After the First World War, the focus of organizational studies shifted to analysis of how human factors and psychology affected organizations, a transformation propelled by the identification of the Hawthorne Effect. This Human Relations Movement focused on teams, motivation, and the actualization of the goals of individuals within organizations.

Prominent early scholars included Chester Barnard, Henri Fayol, Frederick Herzberg, Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, and Victor Vroom.

The Second World War further shifted the field, as the invention of large-scale logistics and operations research led to a renewed interest in rationalist approaches to the study of organizations. Interest grew in theory and methods native to the sciences, including systems theory, the study of organizations with a complexity theory perspective and complexity strategy. Influential work was done by Herbert Alexander Simon and James G. March and the so-called "Carnegie School" of organizational behavior.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the field was strongly influenced by social psychology and the emphasis in academic study was on quantitative research. An explosion of theorizing, much of it at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon, produced Bounded Rationality, Informal Organization, Contingency Theory, Resource Dependence, Institutional Theory, and Organizational Ecology theories, among many others.

Starting in the 1980s, cultural explanations of organizations and change became an important part of study. Qualitative methods of study became more acceptable, informed by anthropology, psychology and sociology. A leading scholar was Karl Weick.

Specific Contributions Edit

Frederick Winslow Taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) was the first person who attempted to study human behavior at work using a systematic approach. Taylor studied human characteristics, social environment, task, physical environment, capacity, speed, durability, cost and their interaction with each other. His overall objective was to reduce and/or remove human variability. Taylor worked to achieve his goal of making work behaviors stable and predictable so that maximum output could be achieved. He relied strongly upon monetary incentive systems, believing that humans are primarily motivated by money. He faced some strong criticism, including being accused of telling managers to treat workers as machines without minds, but his work was very productive and laid many foundation principles for modern management studies. An enlightening book about the life of Pratik Bang and his studies is that by Kanigel (1997)[5].

Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo, an Australian national, headed the Hawthorne Studies at Harvard. In his classic writing in 1931, Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization, he advised managers to deal with emotional needs of employees at work.

Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follett was a pioneer management consultant in the industrial world. As a writer, she provided analyses on workers as having complex combinations of attitude, beliefs, and needs. She told managers to motivate employees on their job performance, a "pull" rather than a "push" strategy.

Douglas McGregor

Douglas McGregor proposed two theories/assumptions, which are very nearly the opposite of each other, about human nature based on his experience as a management consultant. His first theory was “Theory X”, which is pessimistic and negative; and according to McGregor it is how managers traditionally perceive their workers. Then, in order to help managers replace that theory/assumption, he gave “Theory Y” which takes a more modern and positive approach. He believed that managers could achieve more if they start perceiving their employees as self-energized, committed, responsible and creative beings. By means of his Theory Y, he in fact challenged the traditional theorists to adopt a developmental approach to their employees. He also wrote a book, The Human Side of Enterprise, in 1960; this book has become a foundation for the modern view of employees at work.

Current state of the field Edit

Organizational behaviour is currently a growing field. Organizational studies departments generally form part of business schools, although many universities also have industrial psychology and industrial economics programs.

The field is highly influential in the business world with practitioners like Peter Drucker and Peter Senge, who turned the academic research into business practices. Organizational behaviour is becoming more important in the global economy as people with diverse backgrounds and cultural values have to work together effectively and efficiently. It is also under increasing criticism as a field for its ethnocentric and pro-capitalist assumptions (see Critical Management Studies).

During the last 20 years organizational behavior study and practice has developed and expanded through creating integrations with other domains:

  • Anthropology became an interesting prism to understanding firms as communities, by introducing concepts like Organizational culture, 'organizational rituals' and 'symbolic acts' enabling new ways to understand organizations as communities.
  • Leadership Understanding: the crucial role of leadership at various level of an organization in the process of change management.
  • Ethics and their importance as pillars of any vision and one of the most important driving forces in an organization.

Methods used in organizational studies Edit

A variety of methods are used in organizational studies. They include quantitative methods found in other social sciences such as multiple regression, non-parametric statistics, time dependent analysis, and ANOVA. In addition, computer simulation in organizational studies has a long history in organizational studies. Qualitative methods are also used, such as ethnography, which involves direct participant observation, single and multiple case analysis, and other historical methods. In the last fifteen years or so, there has been greater focus on language, metaphors, and organizational storytelling.

Systems framework Edit

File:Kurt Lewin.jpg

The systems framework is also fundamental to organizational theory as organizations are complex dynamic goal-oriented processes. One of the early thinkers in the field was Alexander Bogdanov, who developed his Tectology, a theory widely considered a precursor of Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory, aiming to model and design human organizations. Kurt Lewin was particularly influential in developing the systems perspective within organizational theory and coined the term "systems of ideology", from his frustration with behavioural psychologies that became an obstacle to sustainable work in psychology (see Ash 1992: 198-207). The complexity theory perspective on organizations is another systems view of organizations.

The systems approach to organizations relies heavily upon achieving negative entropy through openness and feedback. A systemic view on organizations is transdisciplinary and integrative. In other words, it transcends the perspectives of individual disciplines, integrating them on the basis of a common "code", or more exactly, on the basis of the formal apparatus provided by systems theory. The systems approach gives primacy to the interrelationships, not to the elements of the system. It is from these dynamic interrelationships that new properties of the system emerge. In recent years, systems thinking has been developed to provide techniques for studying systems in holistic ways to supplement traditional reductionistic methods. In this more recent tradition, systems theory in organizational studies is considered by some as a humanistic extension of the natural sciences.

Theories and models of organizational studies Edit

Decision making
Organization structures and dynamics
Personality traits theories
Control and stress modelling
Motivation in organizations

Motivation the forces either internal or external to a person that arouse enthusiasm and resistance to pursue a certain course of action. According to Baron et al. (2008)[6]: "Although motivation is a broad and complex concept, organizational scientists have agreed on its basic characteristics. Drawing from various social sciences, we define motivation as the set of processes that arouse, direct, and maintain human behavior toward attaining some goal"

There are many different motivation theories such as:

Organization-focused journals Edit

Primary organization-focused journals
Other journals

See alsoEdit


  1. Hatch, M. & Cunliffe, A., 2006
  2. Lillian Margaret Simms, Sylvia Anderson Price, Naomi E. Ervin (1994). The professional practice of nursing administration‎. p.121.
  3. Fredric M. Jablin, Linda Putnam (2000). The new handbook of organizational communication: advances in theory. p.146.
  4. Michael I. Reed (1985). Redirections in organizational analysis. p.108.
  6. Baron, Robert A., and Greenberg, Jerald. Behavior in organizations – 9th edition. Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey: 2008. p.248
  7. [1]
  8. Management Communication Quarterly
  9. Journal of Management Studies
  10. Strategic Management Journal
  11. Strategic Organization - SO
  12. International Journal of Knowledge Culture and Change Management
  13. Journal of Organizational Change Management
  14. European Management Review
  15. Anthropology of Work Review
  16. Research in Organizational behaviour
  17. Organizational behaviour and Human Decision Processes
  18. Journal of Management Development
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