Organizational Psychology: The Social Dimension of Work


Each company and organization has an organizational culture. Organizational culture encompasses the values, visions, hierarchies, norms, and interactions among its employees. It is how an organization is run, how it operates, and how it makes decisions—the industry in which the organization participates may have an influence. Different departments within one company can develop their own subculture within the organization’s culture. Ostroff, Kinicki, and Tamkins (2003) identify three layers in organizational culture: observable artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions. Observable artifacts are the symbols, language (jargon, slang, and humor), narratives (stories and legends), and practices (rituals) that represent the underlying cultural assumptions. Espoused values are concepts or beliefs that the management or the entire organization endorses. They are the rules that allow employees to know which actions they should take in different situations and which information they should adhere to. These basic assumptions generally are unobservable and unquestioned. Researchers have developed survey instruments to measure organizational culture.

With the workforce being a global marketplace, your company may have a supplier in Korea and another in Honduras and have employees in the United States, China, and South Africa. You may have coworkers of different religious, ethnic, or racial backgrounds than yourself. Your coworkers may be from different places around the globe. Many workplaces offer diversity training to help everyone involved bridge and understand cultural differences. Diversity training educates participants about cultural differences with the goal of improving teamwork. There is always the potential for prejudice between members of two groups, but the evidence suggests that simply working together, particularly if the conditions of work are set carefully that such prejudice can be reduced or eliminated. Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) conducted a meta-analysis to examine the question of whether contact between groups reduced prejudice between those groups. They found that there was a moderate but significant effect. They also found that, as previously theorized, the effect was enhanced when the two groups met under conditions in which they have equal standing, common goals, cooperation between the groups, and especially support on the part of the institution or authorities for the contact.

Managing Generational Differences

An important consideration in managing employees is age. Workers’ expectations and attitudes are developed in part by experience in particular cultural time periods. Generational constructs are somewhat arbitrary, yet they may be helpful in setting broad directions to organizational management as one generation leaves the workforce and another enters it. The baby boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) is in the process of leaving the workforce and will continue to depart it for a decade or more. Generation X (born between the early 1960s and the 1980s) are now in the middle of their careers. Millennials (born from 1979 to the early 1994) began to come of age at the turn of the century, and are early in their careers.

Today, as these three different generations work side by side in the workplace, employers and managers need to be able to identify their unique characteristics. Each generation has distinctive expectations, habits, attitudes, and motivations (Elmore, 2010). One of the major differences among these generations is knowledge of the use of technology in the workplace. Millennials are technologically sophisticated and believe their use of technology sets them apart from other generations. They have also been characterized as self-centered and overly self-confident. Their attitudinal differences have raised concerns for managers about maintaining their motivation as employees and their ability to integrate into organizational culture created by baby boomers (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010). For example, millennials may expect to hear that they need to pay their dues in their jobs from baby boomers who believe they paid their dues in their time. Yet millennials may resist doing so because they value life outside of work to a greater degree (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010). Meister & Willyerd (2010) suggest alternative approaches to training and mentoring that will engage millennials and adapt to their need for feedback from supervisors: reverse mentoring, in which a younger employee educates a senior employee in social media or other digital resources. The senior employee then has the opportunity to provide useful guidance within a less demanding role.

Recruiting and retaining millennials and Generation X employees poses challenges that did not exist in previous generations. The concept of building a career with the company is not relatable to most Generation X employees, who do not expect to stay with one employer for their career. This expectation arises from of a reduced sense of loyalty because they do not expect their employer to be loyal to them (Gibson, Greenwood, & Murphy, 2009). Retaining Generation X workers thus relies on motivating them by making their work meaningful (Gibson, Greenwood, & Murphy, 2009). Since millennials lack an inherent loyalty to the company, retaining them also requires effort in the form of nurturing through frequent rewards, praise, and feedback.

Millennials are also interested in having many choices, including options in work scheduling, choice of job duties, and so on. They also expect more training and education from their employers. Companies that offer the best benefit package and brand attract millennials (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010).

One well-recognized negative aspect of organizational culture is a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment. Most organizations of any size have developed sexual harassment policies that define sexual harassment (or harassment in general) and the procedures the organization has set in place to prevent and address it when it does occur. Thus, in most jobs you have held, you were probably made aware of the company’s sexual harassment policy and procedures, and may have received training related to the policy. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (n.d.) provides the following description of sexual harassment:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. (par. 2)

One form of sexual harassment is called quid pro quo. Quid pro quo means you give something to get something, and it refers to a situation in which organizational rewards are offered in exchange for sexual favors. Quid pro quo harassment is often between an employee and a person with greater power in the organization. For example, a supervisor might request an action, such as a kiss or a touch, in exchange for a promotion, a positive performance review, or a pay raise. Another form of sexual harassment is the threat of withholding a reward if a sexual request is refused. Hostile environment sexual harassment is another type of workplace harassment. In this situation, an employee experiences conditions in the workplace that are considered hostile or intimidating. For example, a work environment that allows offensive language or jokes or displays sexually explicit images. Isolated occurrences of these events do not constitute harassment, but a pattern of repeated occurrences does. In addition to violating organizational policies against sexual harassment, these forms of harassment are illegal.

Harassment does not have to be sexual; it may be related to any of the protected classes in the statutes regulated by the EEOC: race, national origin, religion, or age.