Organizational behavior (OB) is the academic study of the ways people act within groups. Its principles are applied primarily in attempts to make businesses operate more effectively.
The study of organizational behavior includes areas of research dedicated to improving job performance, increasing job satisfaction, promoting innovation, and encouraging leadership. Each has its own recommended actions, such as reorganizing groups, modifying compensation structures, or changing methods of performance evaluation.
The study of organizational behavior has its roots in the late 1920s, when the Western Electric Company launched a now-famous series of studies of the behavior of workers at its Hawthorne Works plant in Cicero, Illinois.
Researchers there set out to determine whether workers could be made to be more productive if their environment was upgraded with better lighting and other design improvements. To their surprise, the researchers found that the environment was less important than social factors. It was more important, for example, that people got along with their co-workers and felt their bosses appreciated them.
Those initial findings inspired a series of wide-ranging studies between 1924 and 1933. They included the effects on productivity of work breaks, isolation, and lighting, among many other factors.
The best known of the results is called the Hawthorne Effect, which describes the way test subjects’ behavior may change when they know they are being observed. Researchers are taught to consider whether and to what degree the Hawthorne Effect is skewing their findings on human behavior.
Organizational behavior was not fully recognized by the American Psychological Association as a field of academic study until the 1970s. However, the Hawthorne research is credited for validating organizational behavior as a legitimate field of study, and it’s the foundation of the human resources profession as we now know it.
Goals of Organizational Behavior Study
The leaders of the Hawthorne study had a couple of radical notions. They thought they could use the techniques of scientific observation to increase an employee’s amount and quality of work. And, they did not look at workers as interchangeable resources. Workers, they thought, were unique in terms of their psychology and potential fit within a company.
Over the following years, the concept of organizational behavior widened. Beginning with World War II, researchers began focusing on logistics and management science. Studies by the Carnegie School of Home Economics in the 1950s and 1960s solidified these rationalist approaches to decision-making.
Today, those and other studies have evolved into modern theories of business structure and decision-making.
The new frontiers of organizational behavior are the cultural components of organizations, such as how race, class, and gender roles affect group building and productivity. These studies take into account the ways in which identity and background inform decision-making.
- Organizational behavior is the study of how people behave within groups.
- Early studies determined the importance of group dynamics in business productivity.
- The study of organizational behavior is a foundation of corporate human resources.