Organizational Behavior

Organizational behavior, commonly called OB, is an interdisciplinary  field dedicated to the study of human attitudes, behavior, and performance in organizations. OB draws concepts from many disciplines, including  psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, industrial  engineering,  economics, ethics, and vocational  counseling, as well as the disci- pline of management. The concepts and principles of organizational  behavior are impor- tant to managers because in every organization, human beings ultimately  make the deci- sions that control how the organization  acquires and uses resources. Those people may cooperate with, compete with, support, or undermine one another. Their beliefs and feel- ings about themselves, their co-workers, and the organization shape what they do and how well they do it. People can distract the organization from its strategy by engaging in con- flict and misunderstandings, or they can pool their diverse talents and perspectives to accomplish much more as a group  than  they could  ever do as individuals.

By understanding what causes people  to behave as they do, managers  can exercise lead- ership to achieve positive outcomes. By creating a positive environment, for example, man- agers can foster organizational citizenship, which refers to the tendency of people to help one another and put in extra effort  that goes beyond job requirements to contribute to the organization’s success.

An employee demonstrates organizational citizenship by being helpful to co-workers and customers,  doing  extra work  when necessary, and looking for ways to improve products and procedures. These behaviors enhance the organization’s performance and help to build social capital,  as described  in Chapter 9.1 Organizational citizenship contributes to positive relationships both within the organization and with customers, leading to a high level of social capital and smooth organizational functioning. Managers can encourage organiza- tional citizenship by applying their knowledge of human behavior, such as selecting people with positive attitudes and personalities, helping them see how they can contribute,  and enabling them to learn from and cope with workplace challenges.


Most students have probably heard the expression that someone “has an attitude  problem,” which means some consistent quality about the person affects his or her behavior in a negative way. An employee with an attitude problem might be hard to get along with, might constantly  gripe  and cause problems,  and might persistently resist new ideas. We all seem to know intuitively what an attitude is, but we do not consciously think about how strongly attitudes affect our behavior. Defined formally, an attitude is an evaluation—either positive or negative—that predisposes  a per- son to act in a certain way. Understanding  employee attitudes is im- portant to managers because attitudes  determine  how people per- ceive the work environment, interact with others, and behave on the job. Emerging research is revealing the importance of positive atti- tudes to both individual and organizational success. For example, studies have found that the characteristic most common to top exec- utives is an optimistic attitude.  People rise to the top because they have the ability to see opportunities  where others see problems and can instill in others  a sense of hope and possibility for the future.2

Good managers strive to develop and reinforce positive attitudes among all employees because happy,  positive  people are healthier, more effective, and more productive.3   A person who has the atti- tude “I love my work; it’s challenging and fun” will typically tackle work-related problems cheerfully, whereas one who comes to work with the attitude “I hate my job” is not likely to show much enthu- siasm or commitment to solving problems. Some companies, such as David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest bridal-store  chain, are apply- ing scientific research to improve  employee attitudes—and   sales performance.

As the example at David’s Bridal shows, sometimes  negative attitudes can result from characteristics of the job, such  as a high stress level, but managers can find ways to help people have more positive attitudes. Managers should pay attention  to negative atti- tudes because they can be both  the result of underlying problems in the workplace as well  as a contributor to forthcoming problems.4

Components  of  Attitudes. One important step for managers  is recognizing  and understanding  the components  of attitudes, which is particularly important when attempting to change attitudes.

Behavioral scientists consider attitudes  to have three compo- nents: cognitions (thoughts), affect (feelings), and behavior.5  The cognitive component of an attitude includes the beliefs, opinions, and information the person has about  the object of the attitude, such as knowledge of what a job entails and opinions  about personal abilities. The affective component is the person’s emotions or feelings about the object of the attitude, such as en- joying or hating a job. The behavioral component of an attitude  is the person’s intention to behave toward  the object of the attitude in a certain way. Exhibit 10.1 illustrates the three components of a positive attitude  toward one’s job. The cognitive element is the conscious thought that “my job is interesting and challenging.” The affective element is the feeling that “I love this job.” These elements, in turn, are related to the behavioral component—an employee might arrive at work  early because he or she is happy with the job.

Often, when we think about attitudes, we focus on the cognitive component. However, it is important for managers to remember the other components  as well. The emotional (affective) component is often the stronger factor in affecting behavior. When people feel strongly about something, the affective component may influence them to act in a certain way no matter what someone  does to change their thoughts or opinions.  Recall the discussion of idea champions in Chapter 8. When  someone is passionate about a new idea, he or she may go to great lengths to implement it, even when colleagues and superiors say the idea is stupid. Another example is an employee who is furious about being asked to work overtime on his birthday. The supervisor might present clear, rational reasons for the need to put in extra hours, but the employee might still act based on his anger—by failing to cooperate, lashing out at co-workers, or even quitting. In cases such  as these, effective leadership includes addressing the emotions  associated with the attitude. Are employees so excited that their judgment may be clouded or so discouraged  that they have given up try- ing? If nothing else, the manager probably  needs to be aware of situations that involve strong emotions and give employees a chance to vent their feelings appropriately.

As a general rule, changing just one component—cognitions,  affect, or behavior—can contribute to an overall change in attitude. Suppose a manager concludes that some em- ployees have the attitude that the manager should make all the decisions affecting the department,  but the manager  prefers  that employees  assume  more decision-making responsibility. To change the underlying  attitude,  the manager would consider whether to educate employees about the areas in which they can make good decisions (changing the cognitive component), build enthusiasm with pep talks about the satisfaction of employee empowerment (changing the affective component), or simply insist that employees make their own decisions (behavioral component) with the expectation that, after they experi- ence the advantages of decision-making authority, they will begin to like it.

High-Performance  Work Attitudes. The attitudes of most interest to managers are those related to work, especially attitudes that influence how well employees perform. To lead employees effectively,  managers logically  seek to cultivate the kinds of attitudes that are associated with high performance. Two attitudes that might relate to high performance are satisfaction with one’s job and commitment to the organization.

Job Satisfaction. A positive attitude  toward one’s job is called job satisfaction. In general, people experience this attitude when their work matches their needs and inter- ests, when working  conditions  and rewards (such as pay) are satisfactory, when they like their co-workers, and when they havepositive relationships with supervisors. You can take the quiz in Exhibit 10.2 to better understand  some of the factors that contribute to job satisfaction.

Many managers believe  job satisfac- tion is important because they think sat- isfied employees will do better work. In fact, research shows that the link between satisfaction and performance is generally small and is influenced by other factors.7

For example, the importance of satisfac- tion varies according  to the amount of control the employee  has; employees doing routine tasks may produce about the same output  no matter how they feel about the job. However, one internal study at Sears found  a clear link between employee satisfaction, customer satisfac-tion, and revenue. In particular, employ- ees’ attitudes  about whether  their work- loads were manageable  and well orga- nized ranked among the top 10 indicators of company performance.8

Managers of  today’s knowledge workers often rely on job satisfaction to keep motivation  and enthusiasm for the organization high. Organizations don’t want to lose talented,  highly skilled workers. In addition,  most managers care about their employees and simply want them to feel good about their work—and  almost everyone prefers being around people who have positive attitudes.   Regrettably,   a survey by International Survey  Research found that Gen X employees, those who are carrying the weight of much of today’s knowledge work, are the least satisfied of all demographic  groups.9  Managers play an important role in whether employees have positive or negative attitudes toward their jobs.10


Organizational commitment refers to an employee’s loyalty to and engagement with the organization. An employee with a high degree of organizational commitment is likely to say we when talking about the company. Such a person likes being a part of the organiza- tion and tries to contribute to its success. This attitude is illustrated by an incident at the A. W. Chesterton  Company,  a Massachusetts manufacturer  of mechanical  seals and pumps. When two Chesterton pumps that supply water on Navy ship USS John F. Kennedy failed on a Saturday  night just before the ship’s scheduled departure, Todd Robinson, the leader of the team that  produces the seals, swung into action. He and his fiancée, who also works for Chesterton, worked through the night to make new seals and deliver  them  to be installed before the ship left port.11

Most managers want to enjoy the benefits of loyal, committed employees, including low turnover and willingness to do more than the job’s basic requirements. In addition, results of a survey of more than 650,000 employees in global organizations suggest that companies with committed  employees perform  better. The study found that companies with highly committed employees outperformed  the industry average  over a  12-month period by 6 percent,  whereas those with low levels of commitment  underperformed the average by 9 percent.12   Alarmingly, levels of commitment in the United States are significantly lower than those in half of the world’s other large economies, as illustrated in Exhibit 10.3. U.S. employees are less committed  than those in Brazil, Spain, Germany, Canada, and Italy. This low level of organizational commitment puts U.S. firms at a serious  disadvan- tage in the global marketplace.13

The high motivation  and engagement that comes with organizational commitment is essential to the success of organizations that depend on employees’ ideas and creativity. Trust in management’s decisions and integrity is an important component of organiza- tional commitment.14  Unfortunately, in recent years, many employees have lost that trust, resulting in a decline  in commitment. Just 28 percent of employees surveyed by Fast Com- pany magazine said they think the CEO of their company has integrity. Another recent survey by Ajilon Professional Staffing found that only 29 percent of employees believe their boss truly cares about them  and looks out for their interests.15

Managers can promote organizational commitment  by keeping employees informed, giving them a say in decisions, providing the necessary training and other  resources that enable them to succeed, treating them fairly, and offering rewards they value. For example, recent studies suggest that employee commitment  in today’s workplace is strongly corre- lated with initiatives and benefits that help people balance their work and personal lives.16

Conflicts Among Attitudes. Sometimes people discover that their attitudes conflict with one another or are not reflected in behavior. For example, a person’s high level of organizational commitment might conflict with a commitment  to family members. If employees routinely  work evenings and weekends, their long hours and dedication to the job might conflict with their belief that family ties are important. This conflict  can create a state of cognitive  dissonance, a psychological discomfort that occurs when individuals recognize inconsistencies in their own attitudes and behaviors.17  The theory of cognitive dissonance, developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s,  says that people want to behave in accordance with their attitudes and usually will take corrective action to alleviate the dissonance and achieve balance.

In the case of working overtime, people who can control their hours might restructure responsibilities  so that they have time for both work and family. In contrast, those who are unable to restructure workloads might develop an unfavorable attitude toward the em- ployer, reducing their organizational commitment. They might resolve their dissonance by saying they would like to spend more time with their kids but their unreasonable employer demands that they work too many hours.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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