Employee Behavior in Organizations. on the Current State of Research**

By von Rosenstiel, Lutz | Management Revue, October 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Employee Behavior in Organizations. on the Current State of Research**


von Rosenstiel, Lutz, Management Revue


The article gives an overview about scientific research on individual behavior in organizations. A number of reasons are discussed why it is difficult to obtain a coherent body of knowledge about this topic, some of them meta-theoretical and methodological, others political, organizational and ideological, e.g. the existence of different schools of psychology, one-sided and interest-laden views, the dominance of survey methodology, measurement problems, the submission of researchers to dominant styles of publishing. The article further reports on main insights about the effects of stable and variable personal traits, and of situational conditions on employee behavior and about practical consequences. The conclusion is that there is a lot of well-founded knowledge, especially about the aptitudes of employees, but on the other hand one finds remarkable ignorance on behaviour which has no direct relation to performance and on the impacts of specific work and organizational conditions.

Key words: organizational behavior, organizational psychology, performance, leadership, personal traits (JEL: J23, J24, J28, M12, M54)

People's behavior is analyzed by a number of sciences. Countless monographies, anthologies, essays and journal articles focus on it, whereby the perspectives of the individual disciplines sometimes differ significantly. The view of psychology is, of course, of particular importance - a subject which defines people's experience and behavior as its object. The available evidence from this field holds in principle certainly also true for employee behavior in organizations. As any behavior is always a function of person and situation, general findings are one-sided and lacking context. They do not consider the specific conditions which this article deals with: those of an organization.

With such a limiting perspective, human behavior is also and specifically considered as a function of those conditions which exist within organizations. It is mainly work and organizational psychology, industrial sociology and the behavioral approach in business studies that deal with it, but also a number of other subjects such as labor and commercial institutional law, industrial science, ergonomics, occupational medicine, etc. When looking at the research findings of these disciplines - of organizational psychology in particular - it becomes obvious that there is considerable one-sidedness with regard to both content and methodology, while some sub- topics are researched intensively and others nearly completely neglected.

Personal determinants of work and performance behavior were analyzed in particular detail, whereby the relatively stable characteristics of the person form the basis for personnel assessment and selection in practice, while the variable and alterable characteristics frequently become the subject of personnel development. The varying general conditions of the particular job and the surrounding organization were also analyzed, whereby results were - among other things - incorporated into concepts of industrial engineering, and team or organizational development with the aim of behavioral control.

1. Human behavior: subject of many sciences

Considering that scientific thinking is traditionally characterized by aspect specialization (v. Rosenstiel, 1977), which is also reflected in the structure of faculties at universities, it is not surprising that a research subject as complex and multifaceted as human behavior is viewed from very different perspectives and prevailing cultures in various knowledge disciplines. Theology, ethics, jurisprudence, and pedagogy have a rather normative orientation, various cultural studies have a rather interpreting view, but also history, specific fields coming from the scientific perspective such as medicine but also ethology or behavioral biology as well as sociology, political science, communication science and particularly psychology with their accentuated empiric-positivistic view, which - as previously mentioned - often makes human experience and behavior its subject. …

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