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Human behavior in the workplace

Understanding Human Behaviour

Human behaviour is complex. Relationships between individuals are complex because each individual responds to stimuli according to unique perceptions associated with the spiritual, physical, and social dimensions of behaviour.

Transactions between people, whether harmonious or conflicting, can be called interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships take place in social settings, and as people develop personal business activities. Human relationships are primarily concerned with the way in which two or more people behave towards each other within the organizations for which they work.

Good communication

Good communication can be mentioned as the most important element with the development of good human relationships.

When we communicate we must:

  • make sure our messages are accurate. Incorrect information can shake the recipient’s confidence in the sender. Errors in facts or figures can also lead to other inaccuracies and conflicts.
  • Analy5se the characteristics of the recipients. We choose words that the recipient can understand.
  • avoid using complicated Often, simple messages are misinterpreted because the sender tries to impress with his vocabulary. We choose exact words that the recipient can perceive.
  • communicate in a timely manner


Before the Industrial Revolution, in the late 18th century, the working regime was characterized by long hours, low wages and precarious working conditions. In some cases, workers were remunerated a certain amount per unit (wage per piece) for all production that was accepted.  Unfortunately, if the result of their work was not acceptable, they were released. In the late 1920s, Elton Mayo and other researchers at Harvard University began what later became known as Howthorne Studies, at the Howthorne facility of the Western Electric Company near Chicago. The purpose of the research was to discover the relationship between changing physical working conditions and employee productivity.

In particular, the researchers focused on the effect of different lighting intensities on labour production. During one experiment, a group of six workers worked with adequate lighting. Later, the light intensity decreased significantly, and instead of decreasing productivity, as expected, it actually increased.  The researchers explained that employees who take part in scientific studies can become more productive due to the attention they receive from researchers. This leads to the conclusion that employees, when they feel that they are important and that their work is recognized, show a greater desire to stand out in their work activities. But until 1930, arbitrary methods, based more on the judgement of an individual than on logic, and authoritarian methods that required workers to submit to the demands of those individuals, dominated the relationship between owners-managers and employees.

With the onset of the Great Depression of 1939, the importance of human relationships within organizations began to be recognized. In the early years of the 19th century, some employers believed that if they could improve the health and morale of employees, then they could produce more. Paternalism, as applied during this time period, has placed employers in a position of power to try to control the behavior of employees, like parents trying to control the behavior of their children. At the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick Taylor, Frank & Lillian Gilbreth & Henry L. Gantt were the people who tried to improve, through the scientific organization, the efficiency of each employee individually. This means that they sought every job task to be defined and limited to its most basic function.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published a theory of motivation, in which he argued that employee behavior is determined by a wide variety of needs. According to this Theory, motivation occurs when a person feels a need that he wants to satisfy it. The individual sets a goal, the achievement of which will reduce this need, or relieve it. Maslow prioritized the needs he identified and pointed out that the lower level needs must be met, at least in part, before the individual begins to recognize and strive to meet the needs of the higher levels. The five levels of needs, as presented by Maslow, from the lowest to the highest, include the following:

  • biological needs – the basic needs for food, shelter and clothing
  • safety needs – work safety, protection from personal injury and avoidance of the unexpected
  • social needs – acceptance by others, and offering and receiving love
  • needs of self-esteem – a sense of success, achievement and respect from others
  • needs of self-realization – personal satisfaction, a human being to lead his/her life according to his abilities and, thus, to achieve the maximum satisfaction of his/her abilities

Frederick Herzberg

Frederick Herzberg, another psychologist, looked at sources of employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction. His research has led to the conclusion that job satisfaction factors that motivate employees are:

  • the achievement
  • the recognition
  • the work itself
  • the responsibility
  • the promotions
  • the evolution

He also observed that job satisfaction factors may have as the acquisition of high morale. However, the absence of satisfaction factors does not necessarily lead to dissatisfaction and insufficient performance of work tasks. On the contrary, it may mean that employees have no incentive to achieve more than they currently do.

What do we know today?

Today, we know that in order to maintain job satisfaction at the desired level, job retention factors must include company policy, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relationships, salary, benefits, and security.

High rate of employee replacement

A company is considered to have a high replacement rate when the number of employees hired to replace those who have left the organization, divided by the total number of employees is high. It is worth mentioning that, among the factors that can contribute to the high rate of employee replacement are exhausting work, anger, frustration, stress, impending job transfer, failure to make an expected promotion and insufficient guidance from supervisors.

Employee attitudes

Employee attitudes can affect the way employees work with their co-workers and management staff. Studying employee attitudes, Douglas McGregor, a Maslow student, made some key assumptions about them:

Theory X

Theory X includes the following basic assumptions:

  • the average person has an innate dislike for work and will avoid it, if possible.
  • because people do not like to work, they must be controlled, guided or threatened with punishment in order to make every effort to achieve the goals of the organization.
  • the average person prefers to be guided, to avoid responsibilities, also, has no ambitions and, above all, s/he wants security.

Managers who agree with the above assumptions usually behave in an authoritarian manner.

Theory Y

Recognizing that these hypotheses were contrary to what Maslow and other scientists had found to be the true attitude of most workers, he proceeded to formulate Theory Y which includes the following hypotheses:

  • people do not have an innate dislike for work. In fact, work is as natural as play or relaxation.
  • by providing a relative freedom, the average person will work alone towards achieving the goals of the organization without control or threats from the bosses.
  • the extent of the commitment of individuals, to the goals set by the organization, will depend on the reward based on their achievements.
  • the average employee learns under the right circumstances, not only to accept, but, also, to seek responsibility.
  • many people are capable of a high degree of ingenuity and creativity.
  • however, in the current working conditions, the spiritual potential of the average person is only partially utilized.

Theory Z

William Ouchi, a West Coast Business Administration academic, advocates a form of leadership that is listed as Theory Z. This approach combines the business practices of the United States and Japan in an organizational framework that emphasizes the following:

  • Moderate specialization
  • Individual responsibility
  • Group decision making
  • Relatively informal check
  • Long-term employment
  • Slow promotions
  • Interest in the employees

What happens when Theory Z is adopted

When Theory Ζ is adopted, new employees are informed about all aspects of the business, such as production, marketing, pricing and competitors. They are also presented with the short-term and long-term goals of the business, in order to form an image of the aims of the business. In this way, employees are encouraged to react openly to production objectives and techniques that, directly or indirectly, affect their work. Employees are encouraged to look for creative solutions on their own, when problems arise.

On the other hand, managers are encouraged to take into account the views of employees, and decisions are more a result group agreement and less order. Companies that adopt Theory G retain administrative staff, but employees are involved in decision-making and solving problems that have plagued managers in the past.

Quality of working life

The human relations movement proves, to a certain extent, how managers and supervisors tried to make human relations a modern tool in business administration. This is why workplace quality programs include approaches that are used to make work more enjoyable for employees.  Such programmes are based on the recognition that employees are unique individuals, able to contribute significantly to all phases of their work and workplaces.


Recognizing that low morale is often the cause of frequent unexcused absences from work and the high degree of employee turnover while, on the contrary, high morale is associated with high productivity and employee loyalty, modern business owners and managers agencies have adopted a number of new methods to improve employee morale. Some are described below:

Goal Management

Having established  that goal management is the basis for success, employers have generally embraced the process by which managers and employees discuss the  setting of  employee goals. The process usually involves the following:

  • each employee discusses with his/her supervisor/manager what his/her position/job entails.
  • managers and employees jointly set short-term performance goals.
  • regular meetings are scheduled during which the employee and the manager/supervisor discuss the progress made towards achieving the goals set.
  • upon the end of the agreed time period, the employee and the manager/supervisor jointly evaluate the employee’s work/efforts

Job rotation

Apart from setting goals, the job rotation method can also be applied. This is just a strategy to keep employees’ morale high by allowing them to move from one job to another, thus reducing boredom caused by tedious, repetitive work tasks.

Job diversification

Another method to pique employee interest is to diversify their duties instead of them facing each duty/task as a separate task. Employees usually find that their jobs are more satisfying as the number of tasks which they are asked to perform increases.

Job enrichment

A method which adds tasks assigned to a job and gives employees a larger capability for control and power. It is worth mentioning that this strategy was successfully implemented at AT&T where telephone system installation technicians worked together with their managers in determining the nature of their work.

The joint execution of work

The case where two people are assigned the same job. For example, one person can work from 8.00 am. until 12.30 p.m.  while the second person works from 12.30 p.m. until 5 p.m. Joint work gives both employees the opportunity to work while, at the same time, giving them time to honour other responsibilities, such as caring for their children. The employer benefits as it combines the skills of two people carrying out the same job.

Quality cycles

Small groups of employees (7-10 people) in the same workplace, who meet systematically to find solutions to quality and other related problems. This is a Japanese idea, implemented by an ever-increasing number of businesses and government agencies in the USA. Based on the philosophy that a company’s workforce is perhaps the most competent team to identify and solve work-related problems, employees may have high morale simply because they are considered capable of presenting issues and providing assistance to managers.

Human relationships take on special importance in Quality Circles as team members interact with each other. Quality circles hold regular meetings, usually once a week, and a supervisor or employee takes on the role of team leader to facilitate discussions and keep managers informed of team progress.

Development of good human relations

In closing, I would like to emphasize that it is very important for a person who develops good human relationships to be able to:

  • empathize with others
  • communicate effectively with others
  • motivate oneself and others
  • show a satisfactory degree of responsibility
  • successfully deal with problems in the workplace
  • display ethical and professional behavior

Written by Gabriella Philippou, Psychotherapist – Counsellor, Focusing Experiential Therapist, Experiential Workshop Facilitator, Trainer – Coach


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