Human behavior, in general, is complex and famously unpredictable. That said, there are two ways to anticipate it. One is that certain situations tend to produce some behaviors more often than other situations do, as well as produce those behaviors more often than other behaviors. This allows managers in organizations to predict with a certain degree of confidence what the psychological effects of a given change in an organization will be. Additionally, there are personality aspects of each individual that make it possible to predict with some degree of accuracy how that person will react to a given situation.
People react to situations according to two basic mental constructs: attitudes and values. Of the two, values are more constant, as they are the fundamental tools with which a person tries to bring order and meaning into life. These can include religious values, educational values, and negative values such as prejudices or cognitive biases. Attitudes, on the other hand, are more changeable and situation-driven. This means that managers, even being familiar with employees’ general outlook, must account for the situation when gauging and/or predicting their reactions. In fact, failing to take the situation into account when evaluating the actions of others is in itself a common cognitive bias called the “fundamental attribution error,” a bias that leads to misinterpretation of another person’s observed actions and reactions.
Attitude has three basic components: cognitive, affective, and behavioral (Vandeveer & Menifee Ch.2). Cognitive refers to a person’s general outlook on a “rational” basis, that term including the sum of that person’s cognitive biases. It is the person’s “thinking” regard for a situation before emotion comes into play. Affective refers to emotional affect: how a person’s emotions at the moment affect his attitude (obviously, this can change almost instantly). Behavioral refers to the expression of cognitive and affective thinking: what the outside observer sees. Naturally, behavior is not a perfect or complete expression of those components; people will suppress, modify, or exaggerate certain aspects of their cognition and affection in their behaviors.
An example of this would be an employee reacting to the news that she will have to produce a weekly report, which will take about an hour to complete. Her cognitive reaction to this increase in her workload could range from “I can fit this into my schedule” to “This will be a significant additional burden.” Her affective reaction could range from “He just piles more and more work on me like I’m some kind of donkey!!” to “I’m flattered that he thinks I can handle this additional responsibility.” Her behavioral reaction will be from some combination of these factors, modulated by whatever behavioral constraints are built into her situational planning (she’d like to hit her boss with a chair, but she realizes that might be unwise, so she settles for a “Yes, sir” and maybe a little grumbling afterward).
Motivational theories include the opposing “Theory X” (McGregor 166) and “Theory Y” (McGregor 169) developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s. Theory X, in a nutshell, is that “employees are inherently lazy, dislike work”, and must be galvanized to produce with a combination of coercion and threats (McGregor 166-167). Theory Y states that employees are inherently attracted to work and are best motivated with incentives, rewards, and validation (McGregor 169). The weaknesses of Theory X are that it can lead to abuse of employees and that its practice will destroy the employee motivation of any actual “Theory Y” people that do exist in the organization. The weaknesses of Theory Y are that not all employees are or even can be motivated and that some cynical employees will view the validation exercises as just a phony way to coerce more production out of them.
Employee stress is a major drag on productivity. The locus-of-control theory is that a perceived lack or loss of control adds to stress. Therefore, to minimize employee stress, managers should make employees feel that they are part of the decision-making process and have a say in the changes made by the company. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the time, management is going to do what it wants to do regardless of what the rank-and-file want; their minds have been made up long before they call the big employee meeting to announce a policy change, and all the suggestion cards wind up in the circular file, usually unread. But that doesn’t matter if the illusion of control is created. Employees will feel less stressed if they feel that they have some control over their fates, even if such control doesn’t actually exist.
McGregor, Douglas. "The human side of enterprise." New York 21 (1960).
Vandeveer, R.C. & Menefee, M.L. Human Behavior in Organizations. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 2010. Print.