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Social Perspective on Human Behavior at Work


Human behavior at work is an extremely vital issue to discuss. The matter is that the employees’ behavior has a direct influence on the organizational performance (Hoogervorst, Fier, & Koopman, 2004). This being the reason, the organizations subject their personnel to changes to improve the efficiency of the organizational process (Brunetto & Farr-Wharton, 2002). Hosking & Morley (1991) keep to the idea that “An entitative approach fails to represent what it means to be human, misrepresents the qualities of relational processes and, more generally, grossly distorts the relationships between person and organization” (p. ix). The main reason behind such criticism of the entitative approach to organizations lies in their viewing people as products with the relationships between people and context forming through changing oneself and changing the context; in this way, social psychological perspective differs from the traditional one for it considers people as members of a group and views their behavior as a product of their interaction with social environment.


What should be mentioned above all is that the entitative approach to organizations is indeed rather inaccurate for it views a person as a separate unit of society. Doing their job, people have to keep to certain rules, or laws, of behavior (Sunstein, 2001) and their actions with respect to these laws can be evaluated only in comparison with other employees’ behavior. The traditional approach to human behavior at work posits that these rules are individual and that each employee acts in a way beneficial for him/her only, thus contributing to the improvement of his/her own performance. Considering the behavior of a person in an organization from this perspective is incorrect for it is not always that an employee should be held responsible for misconduct or failure to reach the organizational goals. Judging from the traditional approach to organizations, the misbehavior of the employee is a result of his/her actions, rather than of the changing conditions in the environment (Desyllas & Vaughan, 1999). Taking this into account, it may be suggested that if an employee’s performance worsens with time, than this occurs due to his/her personal problems, rather than due to discouraging organizational environment, lack of incentives, low payment, or the like factors. This distorts the idea of relationships between a person and the working environment for it means that there is no connection between the psychological climate in the organization and job satisfaction, which is not true (Carless, 2004). Therefore, the main arguments underpinning Hosking & Morley’s criticism of the initial approach to organization are that an employee cannot be considered separately from the environment for there are always certain outer factors that influence his/her behavior at work and that viewing the employees’ behavior from this perspective does not give a real picture of their interaction with the organizational environment and relational processes within it.

In contrast, according to the social psychological perspective, a person is a member of a group whose behavior is influenced by the behavior of other group members. According to social identity theory, “individuals derive a portion of their identities from their memberships and interactions within and among groups” (Korte, 2007, p. 169). In frames of this theory, group identification takes place with the help of self-categorization (Hogg, 2001), a process in the course of which the social identity of an individual is developed. Self-categorization in the organizational environment is possible only through the interaction with other employees for “people derive part of their identity and sense of self from the organizations or work-groups to which they belong” (Hogg & Terry, 2000). In addition, being a member of the group, an employee is more oriented towards meeting the group-based needs, rather than the ones of his/her own (Haslam, Powell, & Turner, 2000). Social psychological perspective accounts namely for this behavior of the employees for it explores their intergroup relations, as well as intergroup bias and the like phenomena (Brown, 2000). This is how sociological perspective on human behavior provides distinctions between social and personal identities of an individual, as well as between interpersonal and group situations. In such group situations people strive to identify and maintain their positive social identity, which contributes to boosting their self-esteem (Brown, 2000). A positive social identity is formed as a result of a comparison between the behavior of a particular employee with those of other group members (Jackson, Sullivan, & Harnish, 1996). This means that social identity theory, unlike the traditional approach to organization, presents a truthful picture of the relationships between an employee and an organization because it views each individual as a member of a large group whose behavior greatly depends on how other members of this group behave.

Finally, sociological perspective regards human behavior at work as a product of the employees’ interaction with the organizational environment. This theory states that the behavior of the employees at the working place is often the result of the interaction of different organizational structures and processes, such as motivating structures, expected benefits, and reward systems (Salin, 2003). If these function incorrectly, the effect on the employees’ behavior can be traced through poor performance and low productivity. This takes place because organizational structure, environment, and performance are closely interrelated with organizations having to change when some modifications within their environments take place (Boeker & Goodstein, 1991). Concerning sociological perspective, the environment which is created within the organization can serve as the best motivation for proper employees’ performance (Amabile, Schatzel, & Moneta, 2006) for it is often the case that the employees’ productivity is high due to good communication between the personnel members (Clampitt, 1993). Good relations between personnel members result in work satisfaction and, correspondingly, better performance (Cheri, 1992). If the interaction with other members of the group is poor, an employee may develop a negative attitude towards his/her work, such as dissatisfaction and cynicism (Pate, Martin, & McGoldrick, 2003). In this way, the organizational climate has an effect on the employees’ behavior at work and their performance (Neal, Griffin, & Hart, 2000). Thus, another difference of the sociological perspective on human behavior at work from the traditional approach lies in this perspective considering the employees’ behavior in frames of their interaction with the organizational environment, which, as numerous studies have shown, is more accurate.


Concluding, it can be stated that Hosking & Morley fairly criticize the traditional approach to human behavior at work for being inhuman and failing to properly represent the relationships between a person and organization. In this sense, a sociological perspective on the same issue is more accurate because it takes into account the behavior of an employee in comparison with other team members and the effect of the organizational environment on the employees’ performance when considering the factors which may change the behavior of an employee and result in his/her lower productivity.

Reference List

Amabile, T.M., Schatzel, E.A., & Moneta, G. (2004). Leader behaviors and the work environment for creativity: Perceived leader support. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(1), 5-32.

Boeker, W. & Goodstein, J. (1991). Organizational Performance and Adaptation: Effects of Environment and Performance on Changes in Board Composition. The Academy of Management Journal, 34(4), 805-826.

Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems, and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 20, 745-778.

Brunetto, Y. & Farr-Wharton, R. (2002). Using social identity theory to explain the job satisfaction. The International Journal of Public Sector management, 15(7), 534-551.

Carless, S.A. (2004). Does Psychological Empowerment Mediate the Relationship Between Psychological Climate and Job Satisfaction? Journal of Business and Psychology, 18(4), 405-425.

Cheri, O. (1992). The relationship between satisfaction, attitudes, and performance: An organizational level analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(6), 963-974.

Clampitt, P.G. (1993). Employee Perceptions of the Relationship Between Communication and Productivity: A Field Study. Journal of Business Communication, 30(1), 5-28.

Desyllas, P.A. & Vaughan, L. (1999). The space of innovation: interaction and communication in the work environment. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 26(2),193-218.

Ellemers, N., Gilder, D., & Haslam, S.A. (2004). Motivating individuals and groups at work: A social identity perspective on leadership and group performance. Academy Managerial Review, 29(3), 459-478.

Haslam, S.A., Powel, C., & Turner, J. (2000). Social Identity, Self-categorization, and Work Motivation: Rethinking the Contribution of the Group to Positive and Sustainable Organisational Outcomes. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 49, 319-339.

Hogg, M.A. & Terry, D.J. (2000). Social Identity and Self-Categorization Processes in Organizational Contexts. The Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 121-140.

Hogg, M.A. (2001). A Social Identity Theory of Leadership. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(3), 184-200.

Hoogervorst, J., Flier, H., & Koopman, P. (2004). Implicit communication in organizations. Journal of managerial Psychology, 19(3), 288-311.

Hosking, D.M. & Morley, I.E. (1991). A social psychology of organizing people, processes, and contexts. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Jackson, L.A., Sullivan, L.A., & Harnish, R. (1996). Achieving positive social identity: Social mobility, social creativity, and permeability of group boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(2), 241-254.

Korte, R.F. (2007). A review of social identity theory with implications for training and development. Journal of European Industrial Training, 31(3), 166-180.

Neal, A., Griffin, M.A., & Hart, P.M. (2000). The impact of organizational climate on safety climate and individual behavior. Safely Science, 34(1-3), 99-109.

Pate, J., Martin, G., & McGoldrick, J. (2003). The impact of psychological contract violation on employee attitudes and behavior. Employee Relations, 25(6), 557-573.

Salin, D. (2003). Ways of Explaining Workplace Bullying: A Review of Enabling, Motivating and Precipitating Structures and Processes in the Work Environment. Human Relations, 56(10), 1213-1232.

Sunstein, C.R. (2001). Human Behavior and the Law of Work. Virginia Law Review, 87(2), 205-276.


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