Organizational Behaviour: Personal and Individual Differences

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 11
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Study level: PhD


Employees are not merely performers of job responsibilities; they are also personalities. The subject of personal and individual differences has been extensively explored in organizational studies within recent years, and it has been confirmed that organizational managers should pay attention to such differences in order to achieve a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency of operation. A particular perspective from which such differences can be addressed is the organizational behavior perspective, i.e. the study of human behaviors in the context of organizational actions and interactions. Specifically, it should be explored how personality and individual differences affect employee motivation. Many influential theorists have addressed the issues of motivation and their connection to personality differences; major contributions were made by Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg. For the purpose of exploring the issues outlined above, personality and individual differences should be defined, organizational behavior should be defined, motivational theories should be examined, and the concept of organizational diversity should be analysed.

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Defining Differences

The recognition that all human beings are equal in terms of dignity and right and should, therefore, have equal opportunities is one of the most meaningful achievements of the human civilisation; however, being equal in terms of dignity and rights does not mean being equal in terms of everything else. It cannot be argued that people are different in terms of what they may be interested in, how they respond to circumstances, and what they can do. There are various aspects of personal differences, including demographical characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and individual abilities; but how can it be applied to organizational management? Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) pose the question: why study personality? The general answer suggests that personal differences, in fact, can be classified and categorised, and the typology developed as a result of categorisation can be used as a tool for managing individuals’ performance in organizations with increased effectiveness.

To develop a typology, it is primarily necessary to define what factors should be taken into consideration, i.e. what the personal differences of interest are. Since the goal is to ultimately link the typology to organizational behavior and provide recommendations in the context of organizational management, the first difference to be considered is the difference among types of motivation (He, Zhu & Zheng 2014). The main idea is that different people can be motivated differently; for some, incentives, including financial, maybe the most important; for others, the fear of punishment, e.g. fines, can be more effective; there are also individuals who engage in their work more actively if they see positive and meaningful results of their job that comply with their ethical principles, and this engagement is more active than it would be if such people were provided with financial incentives only. It does not mean that only one type of increasing motivation will be effective for one particular person; different types can apply to the person, but the typology is based on the recognition that one type will be the most effective for a given individual. This type of differences can depend on the cultural background; however, different types can be observed in groups of the same culture, which is why the difference is defined as individual.

To further address the issues of interest, it is necessary to turn to previous theoretical achievements; particularly, in terms of understanding the concept of personality. Personality can be defined as a person’s internally based characteristics and ways of acting and thinking. A major theorist Raymond Cattell understood personality as a combination of traits, and exploring the traits, according to him, could help predict behaviors (Schmieder 2016). Cattell further proposed the five most important factors in personality assessment known as the Big Five: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeable, and neuroticism. A person with all scores in all five factors is an uncreative, negligent, suspicious, and unemotional loner; a person with high scores in all five factors is a creative, conscientious, trusting, and emotional joiner. A major 20th-century psychology theorist Carl Jung emphasized the extroversion/introversion aspect of personality and divided personality types into two major groups: extrovert personality is characterized by directing attention outward, while introvert personality is characterized by focusing attention inward (Jung 2014). Based on this vision, the Briggs Myers personality typology was developed, in which such trait categories are included as sensation and intuition, feeling and thinking, and judging and perceiving.

As it was mentioned, personal differences can be associated with demographical characteristics; an example of such a characteristic is age. Various scholarly studies have regarded age as a factor in organizational behavior (Profili, Sammarra & Innocenti 2016); however, taking this factor into consideration in this context would mean that there are common characteristics of all employees of the same age, and their performance can be assessed based on age as one of the criteria or contributors. This approach is questionable because it has also been confirmed that age-related stereotypes do not contribute to improving organizational management (von Hippel, Kalokerinos & Henry 2013). Motivation-related differences discussed above, on the contrary, are individual and can be found in people with the same demographical characteristics. The presented research will rely more heavily on such individual differences relevant to organizational behavior than on age-, gender-, race-, or religion-based classifications.

Defining organizational behavior

Organizational behavior can be generally defined as human behavior in the context of organizational interactions and performance (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010). A crucial aspect of studying organizational behavior is that it is different from functional behavior; the latter is constituted by actions and interactions that individuals perform in the workplace as part of their jobs according to their job requirements. The primary interest of the organizational behavior field is the way individuals respond to changing circumstances; for example, according to Brown and Daus (2015), in a crisis situation, some people may be more inclined to act impulsively, while others may be more inclined to perform analysis and act rationally.

To understand what types of organizational behavior exist and how they can be managed, theorists and practitioners have created organizational behavior analysis tools (Smith 2016). The main purpose of such tools is behavior change, i.e. it is important not only to understand human actions and interactions in the organizational context but also to gain insight into how such actions and interactions can be modified successfully, e.g. for achieving a higher level of effectiveness of the operation. The very idea that organizational behavior should be studied as an area of academic and business research comes from the recognition that behaviors cannot be controlled directly. For instance, an organization’s management identifies a problem in a certain area of operation and proposes to change a particular established procedure or process. The management issues and distributes guidelines on how the process should be performed, but it turns out in a while that there has been no improvement. Possible reasons include the lack of understanding of how exactly the process should be carried out according to the new instructions or the employees’ unwillingness to adopt the new procedure. Additional measures should be taken to enable improvements, and this is the moment at which the field of organizational behavior can supply effective recommendations.

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Two major areas of organizational behavior are motivation and leadership (Ghanbarpour & Najmolhoda 2013). Motivation can be defined as the driving force that causes individuals to want to work (Prebensen et al. 2013); increased motivation is associated with increased quality of work, and motivation can go beyond expected performance (e.g. a job description) into additional contributions to the achievement of organizational goals or the identification of new goals; this is why motivation is important for innovation. Leadership refers to two dimensions; the organizational dimension is connected to the organizations’ leadership practices, i.e. how their decision-maker lead them to the strategic goals; the employee dimension is connected to leadership practices in the workplace adopted by individuals who may not be decision-makers of the organizational level but still use the benefits of leadership approaches in their work.

Motivational Theories

In their pursuits of defining what may make people want to work, comply properly with their responsibilities, and make additional contributions to their work, theorists have proposed a wide variety of motivational theories and models. They are based on social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as business studies and organizational research. Robbins defined motivation as the ‘willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organizational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual need’ (Allam 2017, p. 117). In accordance with this understanding, some theorists (e.g. Rollinson) suggested that insight into what motivates people can be used to control those people’s work and performance so that better results can be achieved. Four major types that will be discussed and critiqued in the presented research are rational, incentive-based, behaviorist, and sociocultural. Rational theories suggest that, in whatever he or she does, a person pursues the largest possible benefits because it is rational behavior. However, these theories immediately face counterarguments from real-life practice. For example, an employee does not properly comply with the responsibilities and is subsequently dismissed; after this, he or she faces financial problems, and it was known to the person before the dismissal that such problems would be faced. This behavior is technically irrational, but this happens quite often.

Another example of major complications with the rational theories of motivation is the concept of justice (Misra, Jain & Sood 2013). This concept behind organizational motivation has been specifically explored by the equity theory of motivation; according to the theory, employees tend to compare their contributions to their work and performance and the outcomes of their work to those of other employees in the same working environments, and the result is employees’ pursuit of the elimination of perceived injustice. In other words, a reward received for work (it may be monetary or non-monetary) is not evaluated by the receiver in absolute terms but rather in comparison with the rewards received by others. The theory suggests that perceived inequity can create tension, and the way to reduce it in an organization is to change inputs, modify outputs (e.g. by providing additional rewards), choose a different frame of reference (so that comparison does not result in perceived injustice), and mentally distort inputs and outputs. It is recognized that motivation in such cases does not depend on the actual equity situation but rather on employees’ perceptions, which is why it is the perception that organizational behavior managers should pursue to change.

One more category of theories is incentive-based. According to these theories, motivations can be divided into two groups: intrinsic and extrinsic (Legault 2016). Intrinsic, or internal, incentives are associated with a person’s interests and emotions; they are linked to motivation that comes from inside. For example, a person can be motivated to learn something new, to have an unusual experience, or to feel pleasure. Extrinsic, on external, incentives, on the contrary, are associated with external goals. Such motivations are goal-centered and linked to achieving desired outcomes or attaining something that is currently out of reach. organizational managers can use both groups; for example, it can be attempted to increase employee motivation by explaining personal benefits of performed work, such as professional development and gaining experience that can be used in the employees’ future careers (intrinsic incentive), and by ensuring benefits, possibly including financial benefits, for those who demonstrate better performance. However, the employees may still experience low motivation despite recognizing that their professional growth can be enhanced, and financial incentives are not always effective. In fact, according to Promberger and Marteau (2013), financial incentives can reduce intrinsic motivation, which means that the two approaches (internal and external motivation) can conflict if applied simultaneously.

Further, the behaviorist motivational theories are derived from psychology and suggest that human behavior can be modified with a system of properly applied stimuli. The main idea of behaviorism is that behavior is the function of its consequences (Luthans, Luthans & Luthans 2015). The basic model from behaviorist theories suggests that, if a person is awarded for certain behaviors, he or she will repeat them, and if the person is punished for certain other behaviors, he or she will avoid them. These theories imply the application of both incentives and penalties as instruments for raising employee motivation. However, a possible counterargument is that penalties may not only prevent employees from unfavorable or undesirable behaviors but also reduce their willingness to do their jobs in general; the reason for that is that a penalized employee will feel that his or her work is not appreciated enough. As psychology was developing throughout the 20th century, behaviorism has become more complicated, and it is now recognized that human behavior cannot be conditioned directly by the application of positive and negative stimuli only because there are other factors, and behavior in a general sense is more complicated than merely responding to external stimuli.

The fourth category is comprised of sociocultural theories, which emphasize the role of social interactions in motivation. To understand these theories, it is primarily necessary to understand that humans are fundamentally motivated to act in a way that brings them social recognition and approval; this is an evolutionary mechanism that does not apply to all the cases of human behavior but applies to behavior in general. In this regard, specific theorists need to be addressed. For example, an influential psychology theorist Abraham Maslow suggested that human behavior is driven by innate needs, and he arranged the needs hierarchically from basic (physiological, such as eating and sleeping; related to safety, such as shelter; related to belonging, such as friendship and intimacy; and related to esteem and self-esteem) to ‘advanced’ growth needs, such as self-actualization, perfection, and accomplishment (Lester 2013). This suggests that a person can experience growth needs only if his or her basic needs are satisfied. On the other hand, another influential theorist Frederick Herzberg suggested that satisfaction and dissatisfaction (e.g. with one’s job) are not caused by the same factors or an extent of the same impacts (Smith & Shields 2013). The two-factor theory proposed by him states that there are motivators that can lead to either satisfaction or no satisfaction, and there are hygiene factors that can lead to either dissatisfaction or no dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors, also known as dissatisfiers, include salary, job security, working conditions, quality of supervision, policy and administration, and interpersonal relations in the workplace.

Also, researchers have paid attention to how much individuals are willing to do—even for free—if their actions receive approval. For example, the users of social networking services spend a lot of time and effort creating and editing pictures or videos with the sole purpose to receive more “likes” and positive comments. Those users may not be paid for this, but social approval is perceived by them as a sufficient reward (Scholz 2012). From this perspective, organizations can stimulate their employees to engage incorporate activities that will bring peer approval to those employees; this way, motivation can be significantly raised.

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All four categories of motivational theories have strengths and weaknesses. It can be concluded that adopting just one approach to increasing motivation is unlikely to be effective in a given organization. Instead, organizations should consider different factors that contribute to employee motivation, including rational, irrational, incentive-based, behaviorist, and sociocultural, and should consider personal and individual differences among employees.


It has been established that individual differences can affect organizational behavior, and it has also been shown that organizational strategies aimed at raising motivation should consider such differences because there are no universally effective motivational models. Further, it is necessary to identify how organizations should approach managing differences. On the one hand, it may appear rational to create a workforce that fits into a simple typology in terms of personal and individual differences. For example, according to Northouse (2015), it can be explored during the hiring process what motivation approaches will be most effective for each applicant, and those applicants have subsequently hired whose motivational types are similar. By applying this strategy, an organization can build its motivation-boosting techniques based on a specific classification of its workforce. As it has been shown in the previous sections, personality traits shape the ways in which a person is best motivated and knowing how to motivate individuals based on their specific characteristics enables more successful organizational behavior management. From this perspective, having a homogeneous workforce may appear to be beneficial; if the motivation of all employees can be increased with the same technique, the process of increasing motivation will be more efficient; therefore, the organization will be able to achieve all the benefits associated with higher employee motivation.

However, organizational behavior management should not be based on this conclusion; it is true that a homogeneous workforce is easier to manage, but it is also true that such a workforce is ineffective. If the employees of an organization are all (or mostly) of the same type in terms of individual and personal differences, it means that, if a problem occurs which employees of this type cannot resolve efficiently, the problem will not be resolved. This idea implies that, for organizations, it is more beneficial to have diverse employees. With a variety of skills, knowledge, and backgrounds, different employees can make uniquely valuable contributions to the problem-solving process. As Simon (1993, p. 394) notes, ‘[s]olutions aren’t handed to us’ and ‘[a]lternatives themselves have to be invented;’ this suggests that, without a list of possible solutions in place, organizations need to engage in designing such solutions, and having a wide range of opinions and suggestions is therefore beneficial. In their organizational behavior management efforts, organizations should strive not for homogenizing the workforce (which might make management easier) but for diversifying it because a diverse workforce is ultimately more beneficial.


organizations should incorporate considerations related to personality and individual differences into their management and governance practices. Apart from functional characteristics, employees also have personal differences that affect those employees’ organizational behaviors. To increase employee motivation—the positive outcomes of increased motivation include improved operation and innovation—organizations should learn from various motivational theories and models to develop approaches that can increase motivation in a particular organization with specifically different employees. Particularly, employee needs should be understood, arranged hierarchically, and properly addressed, which will increase their motivation. On the other hand, organizations may adopt an alternative approach and separate the efforts aimed at increasing satisfiers and decreasing dissatisfiers. At the same time, organizations should not strive for homogenizing their workforce so that the efficiency of managerial strategies is increased; instead, diversity should be pursued because it positively affects the decision-making and problem-solving processes.

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