Ask a manager of 35, 25 or even 15 years ago what their Organization’s Behavioral patterns were or how their employees felt about certain issues and you would probably be met with blank stares. Organizational Behavior (OB) was not a part of the business world in those days. The idea that a manager need only deal with the technical skills of it’s employees while disregarding their own listening skills, communication skills and interaction skills was the common mode of thought. A recent study on employee burnout by Northwestern National Life Insurance shows that at least one out of every four employees views their job as the biggest stressor in their lives (Work, stress and health conference, 1999).
Clearly it is time to reevaluate our thinking on the business concepts of the past and focus our attention on our organization with a more humanistic approach. What worked in the past is not necessarily going to work today. As the world changes so too does our environment change. We need to change with it or be left behind. Organizational Behavior is one of those vehicles being used for change. The past 10-15 years has shown an increase in Organizational Behavior studies. OB has become an important tool for businesses striving to meet the needs of its employees while understanding the impact of the individual on an organization’s behavior.
The generational gap between people is apparent. The values, thoughts and dreams of our parents are probably much different than ours of today just like their values were differed from your grandparents. The attitudes and beliefs of a generation are a big part of the make-up of a person’s personality and work ethic. Stephen P. Robbins notes in his text that the previous 3 generations, while similar in some respects, held distinct differences in their values (p.130-2). Organizational behavior is a byproduct of the times. The workers adapted to their organization and grew with it (1940’s and 50’s). As time went on a shift towards quality of life, non-conforming, autonomy and loyalty to one’s own values became prevalent (1960’s and 70’s). Another shift occurred in the mid 70’s.
The value system moved towards ambition, loyalty to career, hardworking, and the desire for success and achievement. This period lasted till about the mid 80’s when another shift moved us towards the value system commonly held today of flexibility, value to relationships, desire for leisure time and overall job satisfaction. Robbins classified these four stages as follows: Protestant work ethic, Existential, Pragmatic, and Generation X (p.131). We can see that what worked in the 50’s in terms of how an organization operated is probably not going to be as effective in today’s organizations. Whether it’s the Protestant work ethic of the 1940’s and 50’s or it’s Generation X of today, the picture should be clear. We need to know what our workers value, how they feel and change with them so as to keep our organization on the cutting edge of productivity and profitability.
In order to highlight the need for OB studies we need to know what OB gives us, how it relates to our employees and what that overall impact is on the organization. OB is a field of study that investigates the impacts that individuals, groups, and structure have on behavior within organizations for the purpose of applying such knowledge towards improving an organization’s effectiveness (Robbins, 2001, p.16). Simply put, OB allows us the chance to learn what individuals are thinking, how their though processes work, what motivates them to do certain things, and how their choices relate to an organization. What do workers want? What are their concerns? The answers are not always the same and the methods of discovery are varied as well but some key responses that seem to be constantly mentioned are job security, a balanced work and family life, and a competitive salary (Cohen, 2002, para.5).
Another survey, from Watson Wyatt Worldwide, showed that employees listed the desire for trust in their senior leaders as their number one want when considering what would make them committed to their employers (Johnson, 2001, para.10). Almost half (45%) of the 7500 people in that survey said they were not committed to their employers. Another interesting note from one professional is that managers too often try to manage the stress in employees’ lives rather than trying to avoid it (Johnson, 2001, para.11). Why should we be concerned with these surveys and studies? Quite simply, because other companies are using this information and if we don’t we will eventually be left behind.
Scott Gellar, a psychologist, noted a list of companies/organizations that are investing considerable time, money and manpower into addressing the broad cultural issues of their organizations. Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to work for in America” topped the list of those being proactive (Johnson, 2001, para.19). In 1984 only one of the top 100 companies offered onsite daycare. In 2000, 24 offered it. More than 50 offered onsite university courses and more than 90 offered tuition reimbursement (Johnson, 2001, para.21). The signs are there. We just need to be watching for them and always keeping abreast of the situation.
So now that we have some ideas about what OB studies can provide for us the next question is why do we NEED to investigate it further? Is it of that vital importance that we should alter the way we have been doing things for so long? Procedures have worked in the past why won’t they work in the future? I think it is important to say that just because something has worked in the past does not guarantee you success in the future. As the research above shows, the top companies are adapting and doing what it takes to gain an edge. It is working for them. You may stay in business doing what you have always done, you may even have a modicum of success, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get the most out of your business? Let your business maximize its potential.
It was once said that a good company researches what it is selling and is always learning. Why should we treat our employees any differently than we do our product or our target consumers? Employees tell us what we need to know. We just need to listen and be able to interpret the results. We need to become proactive and not reactive in the future. The study of OB is vehicle we can use to interpret what we learn from individuals. The method is there. Why not use it to instigate change in our organizations? The results of our studies will become more and more useful as time goes on. We are always changing, learning and adapting to different situations. OB will allow our organizations to change right along with the people that make it up.
Cohen, A. (2002). Survey says workers want balance. Sales and Marketing Management, 154(9), 13. Retrieved December 9, 2002 from EBSC Ohost database.
Johnson, D. (2001). Climate control. Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, 35(9), 1-4. Retrieved December 9, 2002 from EBSC Ohost database.
Robbins, S.P. (2001). Organizational behavior (Custom electronic text, University of Phoenix). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.