Attitudes, Perception and Personality

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[1]Since organisations involve working with people, an understanding of individual behaviour is important. The goals of studying individual behaviour in the context of organisations is being able to explain, predict and influence behaviour so that in turn, organisations can be managed better.

This article is a topic within the subject Managing Organisations and People.

Contents

Required Reading

Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012), pp. 153-180 (chapter 5) and 316 - 348 (Chapter 9).

Six Important Employee Behaviours

[2]In order to understand what influences employees to engage in certain behaviours, an understanding of the most common (and important) behaviours is needed. In essence, we want to know what influences employees to engage or disengage from:

  1. Being productive (includes both efficient and effective)
  2. Being at work, or absenteeism, which is also related to
  3. Turnover, or how often employees are changed in the organisation
  4. Organisational citizenship behaviour (behaviour that is not a job requirement but promotes an effective workplace, like supporting another employee's work
  5. Workplace misbehaviour and
  6. Having job satisfaction. (Even though this is more of an attitude than it is a behaviour its still a very important as it influences behaviour)

Research has shown that these behaviours are affected by attitudes, personality, perception and learning. Further explanation of these factors follows.

Attitudes

[3]An attitude is a person's disposition or feeling about a person or object that is usually expressed in a person's behaviour. It is made up of the following three components[4]:

  1. Cognitive Component- the knowledge, belief or opinion a person has towards something
  2. Affective Component- the emotion or feeling a person has towards something
  3. Behavioural Component- the intention to behave in a certain way towards something

Note: when we refer to "attitudes" we usually refer to the affective component.'

In the organisational context, managers are usually only concerened with job related attitudes, the most important of which are job satisfaction, job involvement, organisational commitment and employee engagement.

Job Satisfaction

[5]Job satisfaction is an employee's general attitude towards their job. It is very closely related to the worker's productivity, turnover, absenteeism as well as customer satisfaction. In general, high job satisfaction translates into more effective and efficient workers, lower turnover, absenteeism and workplace misbehaviour, and high customer satisfaction and citizenship behaviour.

Job Involvement and Organisational Commitment

[6]Job involvement is the degree to which employees actively participate in the job while organisational commitment refers to the degree to which employees identify with an organisation's goals and want to maintain their membership with it. Organisational commitment is split into three categories:

  1. Affective Commitment- the emotional commitment to the organisation
  2. Continuance Commitment- the commitment that stems from high costs in changing to another organisation (financial or social)
  3. Normative Commitment- the commitment that stems from persons feeling that they should stay (for example staying because they "owe" it to their employer who has been responsible for their wellbeing)

Quite intuitively, high job satisfaction usually means high job involvement and commitment.

Note: In order to increase productivity, managers can choose to increase any of these attitudes, but research shows that increasing organisational commitment has the most success.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

[7]Unfortunately, knowing an employees attitudes does not necessarily translate into being able to predict their actions accurately. This can partly be explained by the cognitive dissonance theory. The theory essentially says that individuals do not like internal conflicts between their attitudes and behaviour or between two attitudes. The theory suggests that depending on the conflict, stress levels increase and as a result individuals try to decrease these conflicts by changing the attitudes or behaviours. The pressure, or need to decrease this imbalance is based on:

  1. The importance of the factors creating the imbalance
  2. The influence individuals have on these factors and
  3. Th rewards they get from correcting the imbalance

The importance of the theory is that it helps predict how likely it is that employees will change their attitudes or behaviours to suit a situation.

Personality

[8]Personality is the unique combination of emotional, thought and behavioural patterns a person holds. Describing a personality in terms of aggression, introvertness, ambition, loyalty etc is categorising based on personality traits. These traits are classified in many personality theories, most notably the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and The Big Five Model.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

[9]The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an approach to classifying personality traits which consists of more than a hundred questions, the answers to which help classify individuals under four main categories which are:

  1. Social Interaction- Introvert or Extrovert: A measure of how much a person is outgoing.
  2. Preference for Gathering Data- Sensing or Intuitive: A measure of how much a person like new problems or prefer ones that have an established way of solving them
  3. Preference for Decision Making- Feeling or Thinking: A measure of how much a person uses their emotions or intellect in day to day life.
  4. Style of Making Decisions- Perceptive or Judgemental: A measure of a person's curiosity, spontaneity, flexibility, adaptability or tolerance.

Combining these four personality preferences together yields descriptions of sixteen different possible personality types. Understanding these types enables clearer understanding of individuals' preferences and by extension predicting their behaviour. Having said that though, the MBTI lacks the ability to predict whether an employee will be effective or not.

The Big Five Model

[10]The Big Five Model explains that there are five basic personality dimensions that underlie all others. These personality traits are:

  1. Extroversion- The degree to which a person is sociable, talkative, assertive and comfortable in relationships
  2. Agreeableness- The degree to which a person is good-natured, cooperative and trusting
  3. Conscientiousness- The degree to which a person is responsible, dependable, persistent and achievement orientated
  4. Emotional Stability- The degree to which a person is calm, enthusiastic and secure, nervous, depressed and insecure
  5. Openness to Experience- The degree to which a person has a wide range of interests, is imaginative, fascinated with novelty and intellectual

Research has shown that specific combinations of these personality traits are highly linked to achievement in specific jobs.

Additional Personality Dimensions

[11]Other important personality dimensions that are not included in the MBTI and Big Five Model are:

  • Locus of Control- The degree to which a person believes that what happens to them is out of their control
  • Machiavelianism- The extent to which a person maintains emotional distance and is able to manipulate power
  • Self Esteem- The degree to which people like themselves
  • Self Monitoring- The ability to adjust ones behaviour to suit external situations
  • Risk Taking- The extent to which a person is willing to take chances

Like the Big Five Model, these personality dimensions often give a good indication of whether a person will achieve in a specific job.

Perception

[12]Perception is a process by which individuals interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. In other words, people might see the same thing but interpret it differently. This interpretation is due to their individual perception. There are many reasons as to why this happens, but in general perceptions differ due to the observer's individual personality and context, the target being observed and the situation in which the perception takes place.

On an organisational level, managers are interested in why people perceive different people the way they do. This has led to the emergence of attribution theory.

Attribution Theory

[13]Attribution theory tries to explain why individuals perceive others the way they do. The theory suggests that these perceptions are based on the meaning individuals give to others' actions. The theory suggests that the meaning given is in turn based on the nature of the action. Actions can be classified in terms of their:

  1. Distinctiveness- is the behaviour unusual for that person?
  2. Consistency- Does it happen often?
  3. Consensus- Does the action deviate from other peoples' actions who are in the same position?

Shortcuts to Judgement

[14]In general, judgements are not specifically made by those categories mentioned above. Instead judgements are made through the following shortcuts:

  1. Assumed similarity- the assumption that everyone is similar to oneself and wants the same things
  2. Stereotyping- the assumption that a person follows an attribute or behaviour because they are part of a group
  3. Halo effect- an immediate impression of someone based on a single characteristic

Learning

[15]Learning is any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience. There are two basic theories as to how people learn. They are:

  1. Operant Conditioning- Argues that behaviour is a function of its consequences. That is people learn to behave in certain ways to gain something they want or to avoid something they don't want.
  2. Social Learning- Argues that people learn by observing (or listening) to what happens to others.

Implications to Managers

[16]By understanding personalities, managers can match the right people with the right job and as a result increase job satisfaction and by extension increase effectiveness and efficiency. [17]In addition managers need to recognise that employees react to perceptions, not reality. That is, employers need to understand that the perception of a good work environment and high wages is more important that actually having it recognised as the best by some industry standard. [18]Lastly, managers need to recognise that employees learn on the job. whether it is work related learning or learning how to get promoted makes no difference- they still learn and managers need to try get them to learn the right lessons.

End

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References

"Textbook" refers to Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012).

  1. Textbook p. 318
  2. Textbok p.319
  3. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/attitude
  4. Textbook p.320
  5. Textbook p. 320
  6. Textbook p. 324
  7. Textbook p. 325
  8. Textbook p. 330
  9. Textbook p. 330
  10. Textbook p. 331
  11. Textbook p. 332
  12. Textbok p. 338
  13. Textbook p. 339
  14. Textbook p. 340
  15. Textbook p. 341
  16. Textbook p. 336
  17. Textbook p. 340
  18. Textbook p. 344
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