XIII. Human Behavior in the Workplace

A. Introduction- Managers are interested in human behavior because they desire to predict behaviors at work. By knowing how people react, managers can mold the behaviors that concern them such as absenteeism, productivity and turnover.

Human behavior at work (also known as organizational behavior) can be viewed on either an individual or group level. Individual characteristics include attitudes, personality, perception, learning and motivation. Group characteristics include norms, roles, team building and conflict. Group behaviors will be addressed in a later topic; this topic will examine the behavior of individuals at work.

B. Attitudes- An attitude is how an individual evaluates an object, person or event. Attitudes are often expressed in evaluative statements such as "I hate broccoli" or "I love the Beatles." There are three components to an attitude, the cognitive aspect (what a person believes about the subject), the affective aspect (how that person feels about the belief) and the behavioral aspect (how they act based on the first two aspects). Most of the time however, when discussing attitudes in general managers are only concerned with the affective (or emotional) aspect.

Managers view employee's attitudes through the manager's perception of the employee's behavior. Managers see the behaviors and mentally translate those actions into what they believe the underlying attitudes to be. There are three levels of job-related perceived attitudes that concern managers: job satisfaction, job involvement and organizational commitment. Job satisfaction is the general attitude expressed about the task. Job involvement is the degree an employee identifies with his or her job, that is, ties job satisfaction into their self-satisfaction. Organizational commitment is the loyalty expressed for the organization itself.

Managers should be cautioned on attributing attitudes to employees based solely on behavior. An employee experiencing a bitter divorce and custody battle will be very emotional and stressful. This worker may "lash out" at the world by saying negative things about the job and organization. A manager who does not ask questions of the employee will act on the assumption that the worker has a bad work attitude and give poor evaluations or reassignments to less popular tasks. This managerial action becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the already stressed worker will see these actions as an undeserved punishment. The intelligent manager would ask questions of the employee to determine the underlying cause of the behavior and offer professional stress counseling, thus retaining a productive worker.

People try to act with consistency. That is, they try to match their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in daily life. Cognitive dissonance occurs when this match up doesn't happen, or when two beliefs or attitudes conflict internally. Workers will actively try to reduce their amount of dissonance by modifying their behavior, attitudes or situation.

Managers should realize that actions directed at simply "making workers happy" in order to increase productivity are not effective. Managers should instead attempt to remove sources of negative attitudes (such as working conditions) and help workers become more productive through other techniques. Increased productivity leads to job satisfaction, not the reverse!

C. Personality -A personality is the combination of psychological traits that describe a person. These traits have been grouped in a number of types for easier study. The two typing methods described here are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Big-Five Model of Personality. Managers should realize that there are many more tests and models for personality and interests, these two are simply the best known.

    1. Myers-Briggs is a personality test that ranks people on four scales. The composite of the four scales is the personality type. The scales are social interaction (Extrovert or Introvert), preference for gathering data (Sensing or intuitive), preference for decision making (Feeling or Thinking) and style of decision making (Perceptive or Judgmental). These scales are then combined into types, for instance an extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive person would be classified as ENFP. Managers use this indicator to aid in selecting effective teams and leaders based on this personality indicator!

    2. Big-Five model measures five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience. This model (and test) has been used very successfully to match personality traits with strong job performance. It can be used very successfully as a selection tool.

        a. There are five specific traits that are of concern to managers for explaining individual behavior.

            1. Locus of control is the degree to which individuals believe that they are in control of their own destiny. Internal locus people think they do have control, external locus individuals believe something outside them (organization, fate, luck, or a deity) has the control. Motivation is difficult for external locus people.

            2. High Machiavellian people are very pragmatic, emotionally distant and are more concerned with the ends than the means to gain those ends. These people have to be closely watched as their ethical standards may allow actions that others may find offensive or immoral. Low Machiavellians are the opposite and require less supervision.

            3. A worker with high self-esteem likes his or her own person. Low self-esteem people dislike themselves. The high self- esteem is easier to work with and motivate so long as the self- esteem doesn't blossom into egotism. The low esteem individual will need more managerial support to increase their self-image (and hence esteem).

            4. Self-monitoring is the ability to adjust behavior to suite the external situation. People high in this trait are very flexible in work situations but may suffer from cognitive dissonance. Those low in this trait have high behavioral consistency, but have difficulty in adapting to a kinetic environment.

            5. Risk-taking can be either high or low and should be matched to the work situation.

D. Perception

Perception is how people create meaning out of the world around them. They organize and interpret sensory impression into their picture of reality. The important thing for a manager to realize is that for most people, their perception IS their reality. This is true even if the perception is faulty. They will still react as if their impressions are unshakeable reality.

Perception depends on the person observing the event, the target of the event (people tend to see the most beautiful or the ugliest objects first) and the context in which the event is perceived. A striking woman standing atop a rubbish heap is seen differently than the same woman standing in line of a beauty pageant.

    1. Attribution Theory builds from perception. In a nutshell, this theory states people judge others based on the meaning attributed to their behavior. One aspect of this theory that affects managers is that subordinates tend to attribute organizational performance to the characteristics of the manager. When an organization does well, people give credit to the manager's ability, however when the same organization does poorly, the manager's ability is called into question: even if the performance difference is due to external economic factors. This tendency is called "fundamental attribution error" but that does not lessen its impact on managers.

Another attribution aspect that affects management is a self-serving bias. This bias shows up often in performance evaluations or when delegating an unpleasant task. Employees tend to tune out or modify information they do not wish to hear. Poor performance information is marginalized while positive comments are amplified. This bias is one type of perceptive selectivity. Selectivity is the ability to screen out much sensory data that doesn't fit into the person's view of reality.

Two other perception effects that a manager should be aware of are stereotyping and the halo effect. Stereotyping is judging all people who share a common characteristic (such as race or gender) by the attributes of a few samples. This is a form of prejudice (literally, "judging before") and can be detrimental to the organization. Halo effects are related to perception selectivity, once a person is identified as a valued person by the organization, all future events that person is involved with become viewed as positive, even if a neutral observer would say they were not. This is a form of perceptive blindness: the good behaviors are selected for perception while negative events are not selected.

E. Learning Behaviors

Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience. Managers often control the experiences a worker is exposed to and can use them to modify behavior.

    1. Social learning is when people learn by observation and other forms of direct experience. Social learning is the theory behind such techniques as On-the-Job Training (OJT) and mentoring programs. Managers should ensure that the behaviors the trainee is observing are the behaviors they want learned. Having the least productive worker in charge of training because he is the one the manager can afford to "lose" for a few hours for training is not wise. This manager will end up creating an entire generation of less productive workers!

    2. Operant conditioning is the polite term for the learning method first demonstrated with Pavlov's dog and B. F. Skinner's rats in a maze. This method does not really deal with a whole person who is capable of thought. Instead it is a series of reactions to demonstrated behaviors that attempts to extinguish unwanted behavior and increase desired behavior. Although effective as a training technique, it is perceived as being manipulative and could backfire on a manager if not done very subtly.

    3. A variant of operant conditioning is behavior shaping. In this technique, a desired behavior is achieved by slowly and systematically rewarding and reinforcing any behavior changes that move an individual from current to desired behavior. This process requires a great deal of conditioning skill to be effective.


Copyright Information
Title: Human Behavior In The Workplace (Lecture Notes)
Author: John Anderson  (Instructor)
University: National University
Course: MGT 409C- Principles of Management and Organization
Date: June 1, 2002 (Received)

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