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What are the uses of Psychology to People at Work? Essay

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Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes (Hilgard, 1996). An understanding of this can be a useful tool for many different groups of people in the work environment, who all have their own interests in what psychology has to offer. Such groups to benefit include managers, employees, Human Resources specialists and Trade Unions. An in depth understanding of human behavioural patterns can be applied positively in order to get the most out of people and increase productivity at work.

This is achieved by reducing factors that interfere with the efficiency of peoples’ work. This assignment will aim to focus on factors that are ongoing and socially aroused by the interaction between people and their environment, namely: dealing and coping with work stress; lowering the rate of bullying and harassment in the workplace; and maintaining a high level of motivation and effort both in demanding and tedious tasks.

Every type of person in an organisation is susceptible to suffering from worry and stress. Stress is a challenge to a person’s capacity to adapt to inner and outer demands, which may be physiologically arousing and emotionally taxing and call for cognitive and behavioural responses (Westen, 1999). Stress provokes physical and emotional disturbances, which have the ability to affect both one’s health and performance. It can lead to tension in the workplace and frequent absenteeism due to illegitimate claims of sickness, thus its prevention is beneficial to both employee and organisation.

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Managing stress can be achieved by the direct approaches of behavioural techniques and cognitive techniques, as opposed to the natural defence mechanisms for emotion-focused and problem-focused coping. However it is important to recognise the risk groups of people more vulnerable to suffering from stress, in order to apply the above-mentioned techniques more effectively. Typically, coronary-prone Type A people (Friedman & Rosenman, 1959) are perfectionists, always feeling a constant pressure to achieve and criticise their faults; have a need for control and competitiveness; depend on pleasing other people; and underestimate their level of competence. In contrast Type B behaviour is more relaxed and less easily aggravated. People may have borderline characteristics between Type A and B, and this is less easily identifiable.

True prevention of stress is achieved by the correct application of suitable diagnosis pinpointing the problem areas of a situation. The level of stress people are suffering from must be maintained at a reasonable level as according to psychologists Otway and Misenta (1980), too little or too much stress has been found to be detrimental to performance. Particular victims of stress in the work place are women, especially those in managerial positions: “Women in management are experiencing higher pressure levels stemming from stressors in the work, home/social and individual arenas, and more manifestations of psychosomatic symptoms and poorer work performance than are men managers” (Davidson & Cooper, 1983). Stress is often derived from harassment in the work place, a factor that Trade Unions have become increasingly concerned about.

The media have raised particular awareness of racial and sexual discrimination as a result of the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997, which prohibits such harassment. The Trade Unions Congress campaigned this subject in depth during 1998 and the Industrial Society followed this with a book in 1999 on dealing with the matter. Bullying in general in an organisation lowers the level of productivity due to its effects. A study by Niedl (1996) showed that victims of bullying in a sample of 368 Austrian Public hospital employees showed more negative well-being than non-victims. Such signs include anxiety, depression, irritation, psychosomatic complaints, loss of confidence, physical ailments and, as already discussed, stress.

As with stress, there are certain character traits that belong to people more likely to be a victim of bullying. Such people are submissive, non-controversial, prefer to avoid conflict, conscientious, traditional, dependable and can also be quiet, reserved, anxious, sensitive and find coping difficult (Einarsen, 1999). By using psychological studies and being aware of these character aspects, companies can protect likely targets of bullying before they become victims. Protection can be achieved by providing these people with guidance and perhaps setting up mentoring systems.

Motivation is a crucial factor to maintain in an organisation. It is the “internal psychological process of initiating, energizing, directing and maintaining goal-directed behaviour” (Buchanan & Huczynski, 1997, p68). Behaviour is influenced by motives and drives. Motives are learned and encourage ambition. They result from social values initiated by the environment. Drives are physiological and innate and are caused by deprivation. The organisational structure provides employees with job descriptions so they understand what is expected of them, and this drives their behaviour. Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation (1943) shows a hierarchy of human needs.

The five main human needs relevant to organisations are: physiological needs, including essentials such as food and good working conditions; safety needs, safeguarding from financial and positional threats; affiliation, encouraging teamwork and a sense of belongingness; esteem needs, maintaining an individual’s confidence and self-respect; and most importantly, self-actualisation needs, developing a will for challenge, promotion and pursuing new goals.

Managers must be aware of theories of motivation in order to develop techniques for stimulating employees to work productively and proactively. The emotional factors mentioned in Marlow’s theory are building blocks for long-term job satisfaction. People require confirmation that they are important and needed within a workforce. Some organisations choose the method of reward and punishment, whereby if management instructions are complied with, the person is rewarded either extrinsically with material benefits, or intrinsically with praise and acknowledgement leading to feelings of satisfaction and achievement.

Defiance of these instructions would lead to a lack of reward as opposed to direct punishment, which can often be counterproductive. Another useful method is the provision of helpful feedback (Ilgen, Paterson, Martin & Boeschen, 1981), which assesses the level of performance of an employee and explains how to improve it if at a poor level. Such knowledge can act as a building block for a person to want to improve and know more, thus leading them to set targets and goals for themselves. However the feedback system has to be approached in a suitable manner. It would be ineffective to give delayed feedback, as this is often too late to be acted upon. Concurrent feedback is much more useful, as procedure can be adapted as the job is being carried out.

Our level of motivation affects how much effort we put into our work. If effort exerted within an organisation is kept at a maximum, then the level of output achieved is higher than it would otherwise be. Variation in effort between team members is associated with feelings of unfairness, as concluded in a study by Wilke, Rutte, van Knippenberg and Ad (2000). In this study, the aversive role of a sucker was a team member with relatively high performance, who felt highly rewarded for their efforts. Results showed that financial rewards had no moderating effects on resentfulness, but high social rewards and low task rewards moderated feelings of unfairness for suckers. Therefore it is important for managers to pay attention to how much effort employees are showing, and how fairly tasks are distributed and then rewarded.

An organisation’s aim is to maximise efficiency and productivity in order to increase profit, doing so in a pleasant working environment. The initial appropriate selection of employees is advantageous. Recruitment managers should choose reliable and predictable people and provide them with consistent training. Through training, managers can apply psychological understanding to define the values of the individual regarding the company.

The issues mentioned in this assignment are all concerned with social factors, and human interaction, both between themselves and within their environment. Evidently, the effect of human behaviour on an organisation is considerable, thus the scientific understanding of it invaluable. Psychology is therefore hugely important to people at work, and if theories are applied, problems faced can be tackled appropriately to achieve high quality results.

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