Organizational Behavior

Organizational Behavior Definition

Organizational behavior (OB) can be defined as the study of human behavior in the workplace. More specifically, investigators employ the principles of the scientific method to help them understand, predict, and manage employee behavior. The knowledge that follows rigorous, systematic study is used to enhance the productivity of organizations and the quality of work life for its employees.

History of Organizational Behavior

The field of organizational behavior can trace its roots back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when many industrial efficiency experts were attempting to discover how to get people to do more work in less time. These investigations in the workplace, conducted by management forerunners such as Frederick Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, Henri Fayol, and Max Weber, to name a few, focused mainly on the hierarchical structure of the organization, division of labor, and the management functions of planning and controlling. Then in 1924 Elton Mayo led the human relations movement by focusing on the importance of human social processes in work settings. He and his colleagues helped conduct the landmark Hawthorne Studies at the Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works just outside of Chicago. The Hawthorne Studies investigated such issues as the effects of illumination, length of workday, rest breaks, method of payment, and group dynamics on employee behavior. Despite methodological flaws present in the Hawthorne Studies, an important implication of these studies followed. That is, paying special attention to the human component of an organization can affect employee behavior. Because of this focus on the social side of human behavior in the organization (i.e., rather than just investigating the physical side as was seen in the earlier efficiency studies mentioned), it is generally recognized that the Hawthorne Studies served as the catalyst to propel OB as a modern field of study.

The Subfields of Organizational Behavior

The investigation of human behavior can occur at three levels of analysis within the organization: the individual, groups and teams of individuals, and the organization itself as a whole. As a result, there have been a plethora of diverse contributors to the academic discipline of OB. The original goal of researchers in this newly created field was to construct a uniform comprehensive body of organizational research. However, because of the different perspectives held by the contributors from the various areas of the social sciences (e.g., psychology, economics, sociology, political science, communication, and anthropology), the result was three somewhat distinct subfields of OB. These subfields mirrored the three levels of analysis of human behavior. Micro-OB mainly concerns itself with investigating the behavior of individuals within the organization. Meso-OB focuses on the behavior of groups and teams in the workplace. Finally, researchers in Macro-OB conduct investigations at the organizational level of analysis.

Current Topics of Interest in Organizational Behavior

Some research topics of interest within the Micro-OB subfield deal with selecting and training employees, employee motivation, evaluating performance of individual employees, decision making, and employee satisfaction and stress. Areas of investigation within Meso-OB include group dynamics, team effectiveness, job design, and leadership, to name a few. Some main areas of investigation at the Macro-OB level are organizational culture and climate, organizational change and development, employee socialization, power and politics within the organization, conflict management and negotiation, and the interaction of the organization with its environment.


  1. Fayol, H. (1949). General and Industrial management. London: Pittman.
  2. Mayo, E. (1933). The human problems of an industrial civilization. London: Macmillan.
  3. Taylor, F. W. (1947). Scientific management. New York: Harper & Row.
  4. Weber, M. (1921). Theory of social and economic organization (A. M. Henderson & T. Parsons, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.