Organizational Behavior Disciplines
Dave Carlson - March 1, 2009
Organizational Behavior is an applied behavioral science built on concepts contributed by a number of related behavioral disciplines. The most influential members of the Organizational Behavior team are psychology, social psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Study of these four disciplines helps one understand the underlying principles that build the overall science of Organizational Behavior. A simple composite definition of Organizational Behavior could be a science that studies the behavior, influence, relationship, and activity within groups. The discipline of Organizational Behavior helps one apply the knowledge and understanding gained from the study of groups to manipulate the activities of the group to achieve specific goals.
Organizational Behavior Disciplines
It frequently requires a team to accomplish a task. Each member of a well-balanced team contributes a meaningful part of the entire effort to complete the task successfully. This team concept can be applied to the study of Organizational Behavior.
Organizational Behavior is an applied behavioral science built on concepts contributed by a number of related behavioral disciplines (Robins & Judge, 2009). The most influential members of the Organizational Behavior team are psychology, social psychology, sociology, and anthropology (see Appendix). Study of these four disciplines helps one understand the underlying principles that build the overall science of Organizational Behavior.
Psychology is a science that tries to “measure, explain, and sometimes change the behavior of humans and other animals” (Robins & Judge, 2009, p. 13). Ramamoorti (2008) distills the definition of psychology into “the science of human behavior” (p. 523). This paper will consider why people do what they do. Obviously, no human can ever be 100% confident of knowing why other humans do what they do, but psychology offers some insight into making an educated mostly-right guess. Additionally, psychology can provide insight into determining what might motivate a person to take a particular action or demonstrate a specific behavior.
Callahan (2008) wrote about how individual responses to various emotional events can influence an organization. When people are extremely sad or happy, their emotions can affect their productivity. Positive emotions, such as joy, affection, and happiness help an individual form and maintain positive attitudes about their organization. Hellriegel and Slocum (2009) observed that negative emotions are incongruent with what most managers are striving to achieve, while positive emotions encourage people to “think more creatively, seek out new information and experiences, behave more flexibly, have greater confidence in their competencies, and be more persistent” (p. 58). Hellriegel and Slocum (2009) also pointed out that negative emotion, unfortunately, tends to produce “larger, more long-lasting effects than positive emotions” (p. 58). Negative feelings stay with a person longer than positive feelings.
“Personal incentives and perceived pressure drive human behavior” (Ramamoorti, 2008, p. 525). Understanding what motivates a person to take a particular action, as well as recognizing internal perceived pressures, will help a manager better understand why a person does what she does. Additionally, this understanding can guide a manager toward selecting the most effective motivational techniques to encourage workers to accomplish specific objectives.
Social psychology, a branch of psychology that blends concepts from both psychology and sociology, “focuses on peoples’ influence on one another” (Robins & Judge, 2009, p. 14). Many things people do can influence the actions of another. Callahan (2008) argued that “communication activities are among the most emotional [activities] in organizations” (p. 36).
Examples of how communication among a group of people within an organization can influence the behavior of others are: the possibility of triggering jealousies among co-workers, fears about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, excitement about the anticipation of collaborating with a colleague, and anticipation about learning new tasks (Callahan, 2008). When someone does not like working with a co-worker, a project may suffer because of the subtle silent conflict raging between the two individuals. “Leaders who express positive emotions encourage employees to feel positive emotions” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009, p. 58).
Thompson (2003) suggested that individual behavior can be perceived as organizational action or policy. When an individual decision maker responds to a customer’s request for refund with the statement, “the company has a policy of no refunds,” that statement may truly be just an individual not wanting to fill out the paperwork required to process a refund. If the customer accepts the no-refund statement without argument, in that customer’s mind, the no-refund policy is perceived as a fact about the company. “Organizational actions can therefore be individual behavior under the cloak of a larger, more impersonal entity” (Thompson, 2003, p. 12).
Thompson (2003) cited several studies that showed a frequent direct correlation between the personality of key leaders and the actions of an organization. “Psychological research can be applied to these individuals in order to explain organizational actions” (Thompson, 2003, p. 16). Thompson (2003) recounted that some organizational behaviorists categorize this group of influential individuals as the dominant coalition, thus “depersonalizing them into a sociological entity” (p. 16). While the influence of this dominant coalition may be good for an organization, Thompson (2003) cautioned that “due to a need to justify prior behavior, a decision maker may increase his commitment in the face of negative consequences, and this higher level of commitment may, in turn, lead to further negative consequences” (p. 52).
Sociology can be thought of as an expanded version of psychology. Sociology “studies people in relation to their social environment or culture” (Robins & Judge, 2009, p. 15). People, and thus business organizations, often adopt the actions and attitudes of the other members of an industry. The study of the culture of a particular industry many offer meaningful insight into the expected actions of a specific firm within that industry.
Fligstein (2008) noted the work of Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell which explain that managers of large firms frequently adjust their company policies and actions to be similar to principle competitors, what they perceive to be successful organizations, what experts suggest are best practices, and what regulators tell them to do. Many times the way an organization operates within a particular industry is not directed by the competitive process, “but, instead, may be the outcome of isomorphic pressures to look like other firms, regardless of whether or not the adopted course is efficient” (Fligstein, 2008, p. 247).
Many large corporations wield a significant amount of power which can affect general society, as witnessed by the recent U.S. Government bail-out of the U.S. auto industry (Baker, 2008). Many people may have interpreted the successful defense of the bail-out plan to have been motivated by a desire to help the many workers and products which would have been adversely affected if the auto industry failed. However, “when we open up the firm, we discover real people engaging not in pragmatic economic actions to bring products to market at the cheapest price, but in politics, contestation, and compromise” (Fligstein, 2008, p. 250). Individuals and the societies in which they function have a significant impact on each other.
“Anthropology is the study of societies to learn about human beings and their activities” (Robins & Judge, 2009, p. 15). Throughout history, work has had a significant impact on the lives of the people who work. Some occupations shortened the lives of workers, some occupations helped workers build personal wealth, and some occupations gave workers a great deal of inner satisfaction. Most occupations forced workers to choose how to spend their time. Darrah (2007) observed that “since the early 1990s scholars have paid increasing attention to the often competing demands of work and family in the United States” (p. 261).
Darrah (2007) emphasized the importance of anthropology in the study of business. He argued that “research on the relationship between work and family is the starting point for any discussion of busyness [sic]” (p. 262). Even for workers without families, one can consider Darrah’s arguments in any circumstance where work demands compete with other demands of life bounded by a finite and inflexible time limit. There are a set number of hours in which to allocate all spheres of life.
For many people, work and family are “irreducible building blocks of everyday life” (Darrah, 2007, p. 269). The in-dissolvable relationship between these two domains helps to shape both work and family in many situations. An example of how family life affects work is the efforts many businesses put in place to offer day care and flex-time solutions. Work can affect family life by dictating vacation times and sharing business time management techniques that can be applied to family life.
Organizational Behavior draws from the disciplines of psychology, social psychology, sociology, and anthropology. A simple composite definition of Organizational Behavior could be an applied science that studies the behavior, influence, relationship, and activity within groups. The discipline of Organizational Behavior helps a manager apply the knowledge and understanding gained from the study of groups to manipulate the activities of the group to achieve specific goals.
Baker, D. (October 2008). Progressive conditions for a bailout. Real-world Economics Review, 47, 243-249. Retrieved February 6, 2009 from http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue47/whole47.pdf#page=80
Callahan, J. L. (Summer 2008). The four C’s of emotion: A framework for managing emotions in organizations. Organizational Development Journal, 26(2), 33-38.
Darrah, C. N. (Fall 2007). The anthropology of busyness. Human Organization, 66(3), 261-269.
Fligstein, N. (Summer 2008). Chandler and the Sociology of Organizations. Business History Review, 82(2), 241-251.
Ramamoorti, S. (November 2008). The psychology and sociology of fraud: Integrating the behavioral sciences component into fraud and forensic accounting curricula. Issues in Accounting Education, 23(4), 521-533.
Robins, S. P, and Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pretence Hall.
Hellriegel, D. and Slocum, J. W. (2009). Organizational behavior (12th ed.). Florence, KY: South-Western Cengage.
Thompson, L. L. (Ed.). (2003). The social psychology of organizational behavior. New York: Psychology Press.