Academic journal article Management Revue

The Future (and Past) of Work Psychology and Organizational Behaviour: A Personal View**

Academic journal article Management Revue

The Future (and Past) of Work Psychology and Organizational Behaviour: A Personal View**

Article excerpt

This paper offers a personal and perhaps "side-ways" view on the past and future of two closely related semi-disciplines: work psychology and organisational behaviour. The paper first addresses the terminological confusion in the area and discusses 10 terms often used inter-changably. It then considers whether work psychology has been, or can ever be, neutral or disinterested in the way it is researched and applied. Some time is spent on the issue of definitions at the heart of which is the idea that behaviour at work is shaped by behaviour out of the work place and vice versa. In this sense all behaviour is work behaviour. The central part of the paper offers six criticisms of past and present work psychology (Ethnocentric and parochial, a-theoretical, a-historical, neglecting salient issues, offering more simplification than clarification, and a tendency to relativism or absolutism). It also offers seven criticisms of organizational behaviour (political correctness, anecdotes not data, no powerful theories, derivative methodology, confused identity, marketing issues and the problems it attacks). Despite these critiques the paper ends on an "upbeat note" pointing to three examples where progress has been, and is being made.

Key words: Work Psychology, Organizational Behaviour, Critique, Future

1. Introduction

Most of us are born and die in organizations. We are educated and work in -organizations. We spend a great deal of our in leisure time playing and praying in organizations. We are shaped, nurtured, controlled, rewarded and punished by organizations all our lives. We are social animals who live in groups most of which might be called organizations. Most of our behaviour is, of necessity, organizational behaviour. Yet, I/O or organizational psychology remains often a very small part of an undergraduate degree course in psychology, as does Organisational Behaviour in an MBA course. Nevertheless research into behaviour at work has been going on for over 100 years and there are now many texts and courses that cover this area. This paper attempts a critical and possibly idiosyncratic review of the state-of-the-art in this field.

For most of the last century anthropologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists and sociologists have studied, from their own perspective, how organizations influence the individuals in them and vice versa. This paper will consider two closely related sub-disciplines: the one (work psychology), a branch of psychology and organizational behaviour, a branch of sociology. It is a personal critical overview of 10 - 20 text books in the area as well as how and why the topic is taught mainly in the English-speaking world. Readers may find the tone skeptical, but hopefully not jaundiced; but certainly idiosyncratic. It is not a grand or majesterial review of the state-of-the art but an attempt on the part of a practitioner/scientist or academic consultant to step back and view work in the area.

Because behaviour at work is studied by many disciplines and goes under many different - and for the outsider many confusing - tides these will first be addressed. Then some political issues will be briefly discussed. Next the area of work psychology will be considered because I am first and foremost a psychologist and take, of necessity, that perspective. The next section looks briefly at what is an organization and attempts some clarification. The sixth section offers perhaps a pessimistic and critical review of the limitations of both work psychology and organizational behaviour. This is where the authors personal view and approach are most noticeable. The penultimate section looks at how the world of work is changing and the challenges that brings to those studying it. Despite the negativity of the sixth section the overall conclusion is upbeat suggesting that recent development mean a bright future for work psychology and organizational behaviour.

2. Terminological differences

A newcomer to the study of management soon becomes confused by the myriad of English terms that have been used synonymously: applied, industrial, occupational, organizational, vocational and work-psychology all used interchangeably; as well as related terms such as organizational behaviour, I/O psychology, ergonomics, and so on. …

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