Organizational behavior

"Organization Studies" redirects here. For the academic journal, see Organization Studies (journal).

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 can be divided into three levels.[2] The study of:

  1. individuals in organizations (micro-level),
  2. work groups (meso-level),
  3. how organizations behave (macro-level).


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]

Contributing disciplines

Relation to industrial and organizational psychology

Miner (2006) pointed out 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 much confusion as to the nature of differences between organizational behavior and organizational psychology.[6]


As a multi-disciplinary field, organizational behavior has been influenced by developments in a number of allied disciplines including sociology, psychology, economics, and engineering as well as by the experience of practitioners.

The Industrial Revolution is the period from approximately 1760 when new technologies resulted in the adoption of new manufacturing techniques, including increased mechanisation. The industrial revolution led to significant social and cultural change, including new forms of organization. Analysing these new organizational forms, sociologist Max Weber described bureaucracy as an ideal type of organization that rested on rational-legal principles and maximized technical efficiency.[7] However, Weber also raised concerns about the iron cage: that the efficiency of bureaucracy came at the cost of individuality.

A number of practitioners documented their ideas on management and organisation. Perhaps the best known today are Henri Fayol, Chester Barnard, and Mary Parker Follet. Each developed a theory of organization and management, drawn from their experience. These theories all include the idea that human behaviour and motivation are essential for understanding effectively managing organisations.[3][8][9]

One of the first management consultants, Frederick Taylor was an engineer and applied engineering principles to increase the efficiency of human work. Taylor advocated the scientific study of work tasks to identify the most efficient way of conducting the task – an approach known as scientific management in the late 19th century.[10] Lillian Gilbreth and Frank Gilbreth extended Taylor's ideas to develop the time and motion study to further improve worker efficiency.[11] In the early 20th century, Fordism – named for Henry Ford – relies on the standardisation of products and the use of assembly lines allowing unskilled workers to operate efficiently. While not explicitly based on either Weber's or Taylor's work, Fordism can be seen as the application of bureaucratic and scientific management principles to the entire manufacturing process. The success of both scientific management and Fordism in general led to the widespread adoption of assembly lines and the use of scientific methods to improve the productivity of workers.

In the 1920s, the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory, commissioned the first of what was to become known as the Hawthorne Studies. These studies began in the tradition of scientific management, investigating whether workers would be more productive with higher or lower lighting levels. The results showed that regardless of the lighting levels, the worker's productivity increased; when the studies ended, productivity declined. Further studies adjusted a range of environmental conditions, all of which resulted in a short-lived increase in productivity. The cause of the so-called Hawthorne Effect is widely debated, but the results led Elton Mayo to conclude that job performance was dependent on social relationships as well as job content.[12] The One consequence of the Hawthorne Studies was to focus on motivation in organisations. A range of theories of motivation in organisation emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, including theories of Frederick Herzberg, Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, Victor Vroom, and Douglas McGregor. These theories explored what motivated individuals to work in organizations and how to improve both their work performance and job satisfaction.[5]

Herbert Simon's Administrative Behavior introduced a number of important concepts to the study of organizational behaviour, most notably decision making. Simon - along with Chester Barnard - argued that people make decisions differently in organizations than outside of them. While classical economic theories assume that people are rational decision makers, Simon argued that limits on cognition mean that decision were made using bounded rationality where decision makers satisficed: by finding a solution that was acceptable, rather than optimal.[13] Simon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on organizational decision making.[14]

In the 1960s and 1970s, the field became more quantitative and produced such ideas as the informal organization, and resource dependence. Contingency theory, institutional theory, and organizational ecology also emerged.

Starting in the 1980s, cultural explanations of organizations and organizational change became areas of study. Informed by anthropology, psychology and sociology, qualitative research became more acceptable in OB.

Current state of the field

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

During the last 20 years, there have been additional developments in OB research and practice:

Methods used

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

Quantitative research

Main article: Quantitative research

Statistical methods[16][17] commonly used in OB research include:

Computer simulation

Computer simulation is a prominent method in organizational behavior.[18] 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[19] such as the thought processes and behaviors that make up teamwork.[20]

Qualitative research

Main article: Qualitative research

Qualitative research[16] 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

Counterproductive work behavior consists of behavior by employees that harm or intended to harm organizations and people in organizations.[22]


Main article: Decision-making

Employee mistreatment

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

Abusive supervision

Main article: Abusive supervision

Abusive supervision is the extent to which a supervisor engages in a pattern of behavior that harms subordinates.[23]


Main article: Workplace bullying

Although definitions of workplace bullying vary, it involves a repeated pattern of harmful behaviors directed towards an individual.[24] In order for a behavior to be termed bullying, the individual or individuals doing the harm have to have either singly or jointly more power than the victim.


Main article: Workplace incivility

Workplace incivility consists of low-intensity discourteous and rude behavior with ambiguous intent to harm that violates norms governing appropriate workplace behavior.[25]

Sexual harassment

Main article: Sexual harassment

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.[26]


Main article: Team

Job-related attitudes and emotions

Organizational behavior deals with employee attitudes and feelings.


Main article: Leadership

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:

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.[36]


Baron and Greenberg (2008)[37] 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.

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.[44]

Organizational citizenship behavior

Organizational citizenship behavior is behavior that goes beyond assigned tasks and contributes to the well-being of organizations.[45]

Organizational culture

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.[46] 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:

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 likely that these values or behaviors would be rejected.

Typologies of organizational culture identified specific organisational culture and related these cultures to performance[47] or effectiveness[48] of the organization.


Main article: Personality

Personality concerns consistent patterns of behavior, cognition, and emotion in individuals.[49] 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

Main article: 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.[50]


Main article: Work-family conflict

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.[51]

Organization theory

Main article: Organization theory

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.


Main article: Bureaucracy

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.[7] 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.[52]

Weber's principles of bureaucratic organization:

Economic theories of organization

Institutional theory

Main article: Institutional 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.

Organization structures and dynamics

Scientific management

Main article: 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.

Systems theory

Main article: Systems theory

The systems framework is also fundamental to organizational theory. Organizations are complex, goal-oriented entities.[54] 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 (see Ash 1992: 198-207). Niklas Luhmann, a sociologist, developed a sociological systems theory.


See also


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