Organizational behavior

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Organizational behavior (OB) is "the study of human behavior in organizational settings, the interface between human behavior and the organization, and the organization itself." (p.4) [1] OB can be divided into micro OB (the study of individuals in organizations), meso OB (the study of work groups), and macro OB (the study of how organizations behave).[2]According to Miner (2006) when organizational behavior began the overlap between the well established scientific field of organizational psychology was pronounced and there was even moves to try and incorporate industrial and organizational psychology into business schools in the United States[3]Although there are subtle differences, there is still a lot of confusion as to the difference between organizational behavior and organisational psychology as Jex and Britt (2008) point out.[4]


After the First World War, the focus of organizational behavior shifted to how psychological factors affected organizations, a transformation propelled by the identification of the Hawthorne Effect. Elton Mayo, 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. The Human Relations Movement focused on teams, motivation, and the actualization of the goals of individuals within organizations. When organizational behavior began there was very significant overlap with the well established field of industrial/organizational psychology.[5]

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. Influential work was done by Herbert Alexander Simon and James G. March and the so-called "Carnegie School" of organizational behavior. Prominent scholars included Chester Barnard, Henri Fayol, Frederick Herzberg, Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, and Victor Vroom.

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 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, and sociology.

Current state of the field[edit]

The study and teaching of organizational behavior can be found in organizational behavior departments and management departments that generally form part of business schools. Micro OB topics overlap with the field of industrial/organizational psychology, and are taught in psychology departments as well.

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 levels 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.
  • Aesthetics: Within the last decades a field emerged that focuses on the aesthetic sphere of our existence in organizations,[6] drawing on interdisciplinary theories and methods from the humanities and disciplines such as theatre studies, literature, music, visual studies and many more.

Methods used[edit]

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


Quantitative research involves the assigning of numbers to levels of variables of interest, generally using inferential statistics to analyze relationships among variables. Commonly used statistics include:

Computer simulation[edit]

Computer simulation is a prominent method in organizational behavior as well as strategic management.[7] While there are many uses for computer simulation (including the development of engineering systems inside high-technology firms), most academics in the fields of strategic management and organizational behavior 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 behvaior at a micro-level, focusing on individual and interpersonal cognition and behavior[8] such as team working.[9]


Qualitative research 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. Some common methods include:


Counterproductive work behavior[edit]

Counterproductive work behavior or CWB consists of behavior by employees that harm or intended to harm organizations and people in organizations.[10]

Decision making[edit]

  • Rational planning model
  • Normative (concentrates on how decision should be made)
  • Descriptive (concerned with how the thinker came up with their judgement)
  • Prescriptive (Aim to improve decision making)

Employee mistreatment[edit]

There are several types of mistreatment that employees endure in organizations.

Abusive supervision[edit]

Abusive supervision is the extent to which a supervisor engages in a pattern of behavior that harms subordinates.[11]


Although definitions of bullying vary, it involves a repeated pattern of harmful behaviors directed towards an individual.[12]


Incivility consists of low-intensity discourteous and rude behavior with ambiguous intent to harm that violates norms for appropriate behavior in the workplace.[13]

Sexual harassment[edit]

Sexual harassment is behavior that denigrates or mistreats an individual due to his or her gender, creates an offensive workplace, and interferes with an individual being able to do the job.[14]

Groups and Teams[edit]

Job attitudes and emotions[edit]

Organizational behavior deals with employee attitudes and feelings.


There have been a number of approaches and theories that concern leadership. Early theories focused on characteristics of leaders, while later theories focused on leader behavior, and conditions under which individuals can be effective. Some leadership approaches and theories include:

  • Contingency theory says that good leadership depends on characteristics of the leader and the situation.[18]
  • Ohio State Leadership Studies identified the dimensions of consideration (showing concern and respect for subordinates) and initiating structure (assigning tasks and setting performance goals).[20][21]
  • Path-goal theory is a contingency theory linking appropriate leader style to organizational conditions, and subordinate personality.[22]

Managerial roles[edit]

In the late 1960s Henry Mintzberg, a graduate student at MIT undertook a careful study of five executives to determine what those managers did on their jobs. On the basis of his observations, Mintzberg classifies managerial roles into three categories: interpersonal roles; decisional roles; and informational roles[24]


Motivation that forces either internal or external to a person that arouse enthusiasm and resistance to pursue a certain course of action. According to Baron and Greenberg (2008):[25] "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 applied to organizations such as:

National Culture[edit]

National culture can have effects on the behavior of employees in organizations. This is exemplified by Geert Hofstede's Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. In an ongoing research program, Hofstede has surveyed a large number of cultures and identified six dimensions of national culture that effect the behavior of individuals in organizations:[32]

  • Power Distance
  • Individualism
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Masculinity
  • Long Term Orientation

Organizational citizenship behavior[edit]

Organizational citizenship behavior or OCB is behavior that goes beyond assigned tasks and contributes to the well-being of organizations.[33]

Organizational culture[edit]

Organizational culture emphasizes the culture of the organization itself. This approach presumes that organizations can be characterized by cultural dimensions such as beliefs, values, rituals, symbols, and so forth.[34] Within this approach, the approaches generally consist of either developing models for understanding organizational culture or developing typologies of organizational culture. Edgar Schein developed a model for understanding organizational culture and identified three levels of organizational culture:

  • Artifacts and Behaviors
  • Espoused Values
  • Shared Basic Assumptions

Schein argued that if any of these three levels were divergent tension would result: if, for example, espoused values or desired behaviors were not consistent with the basic assumptions of an organisation it is unlikely that these values or behaviors would be rejected.

Typologies of organizational culture identified specific organisational culture and related these cultures to performance[35] or effectiveness[36] of the organization.


Personality has to do with individual differences among employees in behavior patterns, cognition and emotion.[37] The study of personality in organizations has generally focused on specific traits and their relationship to other variables. One of the most popular approaches to the study of personality is from the framework of Big Five personality traits or Five Factor Model that describes personality in five dimensions.


Occupational stress concerns the imbalance between the demands (aspects of the job that require mental or physical effort) and resources that help cope with demands.[38]


Chester Barnard recognized that individuals behave differently when acting in their organizational role than when acting separately from the organization.[39] Work-family conflict is when the demands of family and work are in some way incompatible so that doing one interferes with doing the other.[40]

Organization theory[edit]

Organization theory is concerned with explaining the organization as a whole or populations of organizations. The focus of organizational theory is to understand the structure and processes of organizations and how organizations interact with industries and societies. Within business schools, Organization Theory or OT is considered a separate specialization in Management from OB.


Bureaucracy is most commonly attributed to Max Weber. Weber argued that bureaucracy was the application of rational-legal authority to the organisation of work: through the application of rationality, bureaucracy was the most technically efficient form of organisation.[41] Charles Perrow has extended this work, showing the continuing application of bureaucratic concepts to the study of organisations. Perrow argues that all organizations can be understood in terms of bureaucracy and that organizational failures are more often a result of insufficient application of bureaucratic principals.[42]

Weber's principals of bureaucratic organisation:

  • A formal organizational hierarchy
  • Management by rules
  • Organization by functional speciality and 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
  • Purposefully impersonal to apply the same rules and structures to all people

Economic theories of organization[edit]

Institutional theory[edit]

Organizational ecology[edit]

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.

Organization structures and dynamics[edit]

Scientific management[edit]

Scientific management or Taylorism is an approach to management based on principles of engineering, focusing on incentives and other practices shown to work empirically.

Systems theory[edit]

The systems framework is also fundamental to organizational theory as organizations are complex dynamic goal-oriented processes.[44] 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. German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927 - 1998) developed a sociological system theory and describes organisations - alongside interactions and society - as one of three main entities.

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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Moorhead, G., & Griffin, R. W. (1995). Organizational behavior: Managing people and organizations (5th edition). Boston. Houghton Mifflin.
  2. ^ Wagner, J. A., & Hollenbeck, J. R. (2010). Organizational Behavior: Securing Competitive Advantage. New York City: Routledge.
  3. ^ Miner, J.(2006) Organizational behavior 3: Historical origins, theortetical foundanations and the future. Wiley.
  4. ^ Jex, S. & Britt, T. (2008). Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. 2nd Edition.
  5. ^ Miner, J.(2006) Organizational behavior 3: Historical origins, theoretical foundations and the future. Wiley.
  6. ^ Taylor, S. & Hansen, H. (2005) ‘Finding form: looking at the field of organizational aesthetics’ Journal of Management Studies 42 (6): 1211–1231
  7. ^ Harrison, Lin, Carroll, & Carley, 2007
  8. ^ Hughes, H. P. N., Clegg, C. W., Robinson, M. A., & Crowder, R. M. (2012). "Agent-based modelling and simulation: The potential contribution to organizational psychology". Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85(3), 487–502.
  9. ^ Crowder, R. M., Robinson, M. A., Hughes, H. P. N., & Sim, Y. W. (2012). The development of an agent-based modeling framework for simulating engineering team work. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics – Part A: Systems and Humans, 42(6), 1425–1439.
  10. ^ Spector, P. E., & Fox, S. (2005). The Stressor-Emotion Model of Counterproductive Work Behavior Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets (pp. 151-174). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; US.
  11. ^ Tepper, B. J. (2000). "Consequences of abusive supervision". Academy of Management Journal, 43(2), 178-190. doi:
  12. ^ Rayner, C., & Keashly, L. (2005). Bullying at Work: A Perspective From Britain and North America. In S. Fox & P. E. Spector (Eds.), Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets. (pp. 271-296). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
  13. ^ Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). "Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace". Academy of Management Review, 74, 452-471.
  14. ^ Rospenda, K. M., & Richman, J. A. (2005). Harassment and discrimination. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 149-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  15. ^ Balzer, W. K. & Gillespie, J. Z. (2007). Job satisfaction. In Rogelberg, S. G. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology Vol. 1 (pp. 406-413). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  16. ^ Allen, N. J. Organizational commitment. In Rogelberg, S. G. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology Vol. 2 (pp. 548-551). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  17. ^ Ashkanasy, N. M., Härtel, C. E. J., & Daus, C. S. (2002). "Diversity and emotion: The new frontiers in organizational behavior research". Journal of Management, 28(3), 307-338.
  18. ^ Fiedler, F. E. (1978). The contingency model and the dynamics of the leadership process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (pp. 59-112). New York: Academic Press.
  19. ^ Graen, G. B., Novak, M. A., & Sommerkamp, P. (1982). "The effects of leader-member exchange and job design on productivity and satisfaction: Testing a dual attachment model". Organizational Behavior & Human Performance, 30(1), 109-131. doi:
  20. ^ Fleishman, E. A., & Harris, E. F. (1962). Patterns of leadership behavior related to employee grievances and turnover. Personnel Psychology, 15, 43-56.
  21. ^ Levy, P. E. (2006). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  22. ^ House, R. J., & Mitchell, T. R. (1974). Path-goal theory of leadership. Contemporary business, 3, 81-98.
  23. ^ Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J., & Atwater, L. E. (1996). The transformational and transactional leadership of men and women. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 45, 5-34.
  24. ^ Robbins, S. P. (2009). Organizational behaviour. Cape Town, Pearson.
  25. ^ Baron, Robert A., and Greenberg, Jerald. Behavior in organizations – 9th edition. Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey: 2008. p.248
  26. ^ Adams, J. S. (1965). Inequity in social exchange. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (pp. 276-299). New York: Academic Press.
  27. ^ Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: John Wiley.
  28. ^ Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
  29. ^ Greenberg, J. (1987). A taxonomy of organizational justice theories. Academy of Management Review, 12, 9–22.
  30. ^ Herzberg, F. (1968, January/February). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review, 52-62.
  31. ^ McGregor, D. M. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  32. ^ Hofstede, Geert, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov.Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010
  33. ^ Organ, D. W. (1988). Organizational citizenship behavior: The good soldier syndrome. Lexington, MA, England: Lexington Books/D C Heath and Com.f
  34. ^ Shein, Edgar (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership: A Dynamic View. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  35. ^ Kotter, John and Heskett, James L. (1992) Corporate Culture and Performance, Free Press; ISBN 0-02-918467-3
  36. ^ Denison, Daniel R. (1990) Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness, Wiley.
  37. ^ Michel, W., Shoda, Y., & Smith, R. E. (2004). Introduction to personality: Toward an integration. New York: John Wiley
  38. ^ Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 499-512. doi:
  39. ^ Barnard, C.I. (1938), The Functions of the Executive, Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  40. ^ Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources and conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10(1), 76-88.
  41. ^ Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1947.
  42. ^ Perrow, Charles (1972). Complex Organizations: A Criticial Essay. (Third edition, 1986). McGraw-Hill Publishers.
  43. ^ French, J. R. P., Jr., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp. 150-167). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Ash, M.G. (1992). "Cultural Contexts and Scientific Change in Psychology: Kurt Lewin in Iowa." American Psychologist, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 198–207.
  • Hatch, M.J. (2006), "Organization Theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives." 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-926021-4.
  • Jones, Ishmael (2008), The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. New York: Encounter Books ISBN 978-1-59403-382-7.
  • Richmond, Lewis (2000), Work as a Spiritual Practice: A Practical Buddhist Approach to Inner Growth and Satisfaction on the Job, Broadway
  • Robbins, Stephen P. (2004) Organizational Behavior - Concepts, Controversies, Applications. 4th Ed. Prentice Hall ISBN 0-13-170901-1.
  • Robbins, S. P. (2003). Organisational behaviour: global and Southern African perspectives. Cape Town, Pearson Education South Africa.
  • Scott, W. Richard (2007). Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural, and Open Systems Perspectives. Pearson Prentice Hall ISBN 0-13-195893-3.
  • Weick, Karl E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing 2nd Ed. McGraw Hill ISBN 0-07-554808-9.
  • Simon, Herbert A. (1997) Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organizations, 4th ed., The Free Press.
  • Tompkins, Jonathan R. (2005) "Organization Theory and Public Management".Thompson Wadsworth ISBN 978-0-534-17468-2
  • Kanigel, R. (1997). The One Best Way, Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. London: Brown and Co.
  • Morgan, Gareth (1986) Images of Organization Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications