“Behavior is a mirror in which every one displays his own image” (Goethe). Behavior of the human being has been analyzed and discussed as early as the stone ages. As the quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe shows, humans are influenced by their surroundings and will act accordingly. One can therefore say that human behavior is learned based on the social framework of a person. This claim can also be seen in the area of organizational behavior if one examines the behavior of employees in accordance to their life situation, their attitudes and their satisfaction within the employed job.
Nevertheless, researches have shown that not all human behavior is learned and that we act based on instinct, intuition and emotions which are innate within the human being. This essay will examine to what extend innate and learned human behavior influence the area of organizational behavior. Learning can be defined as “a relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience” (Weiss, 1990, pp. 172-173). Every person has encountered a good or bad experience in their lifetime and changed his/her behavior accordingly.
One can say that every experience influences the action of a person; nevertheless, some experiences are stronger and cause a greater change in behavior. If a little boy with an age of four touches a hot plate, then he will experience pain and will learn not to repeat such an action. The change in behavior however does not influence others and is caused by a specific event; one acts passively once learned (Robbins & Judge, 2009). This phenomenon is called classical conditioning and can also be seen in the area of organizational behavior.
If the CEO plans a visit to a subsidiary office, most employees will try to clean the office and get everything done before the CEO arrives. Such behavior results from the motivation of the human being to respond to a specific situation. These motivations, however, have to be satisfied or have to result in a positive experience in order for the employee to repeat it. This was also discovered by B. F. Skinner in 1935 and called operant conditioning (Gabbi, 2001). The behavior can be maintained as the positive experience or contingency is reinforced.
If the CEO will thank the employees of the subsidiary for doing their work properly and on time, the path will be strengthened and the employee will be more likely to repeat the action. Therefore, the managerial level of a company has the responsibility to take actions that will result in a positive reaction of the employee and will favor the company, for example a greater compatibility, greater profits or even a greater capital expenditure. A downside to this phenomenon, however, would be that employees start to become stationary within their conditioning.
Employees might start to become complacent. In the 1990’s the concept of organizational learning was developed in order to cope the stationary conditioning of the employee (Yeung, Lai, & Yee, 2007). The CEO of Harley-Davidson used the concept of learning to further improve the attention and the energy of his employees, when he saw that they were becoming complacent over the success of Harley-Davidson in the late 1980’s. He insisted on having workshops and special training to further increase the performance of his employees.
The Japanese business expert Ikujiro Nonaka says: “In an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge. ” (Yeung, Ulrich, Nason & Glinow, 1999, p. 4). Therefore, one can say that the learned behavior of an employee in connection with his job has to be continuous in order for the company to stay competitive within the market and increase performance. Learned behavior does not always have to come from direct experience but from observations. As children most people modeled their teacher, parents, friends or the media.
Learning by observations is called social learning and shows the importance of perception within learned behavior. It has been shown that most people will observe models that are attractive, show similar attributes and that are available repeatedly (Robbins & Judge, 2009). If the managerial level of a company pays attention to the needs of the employee, shows respect, understanding and shows credibility towards the work of the employee, the employee will more likely adapt such actions and will act similar towards colleagues.
Therefore, the working atmosphere becomes productive and the performance of the company will be enhanced. The great problem that arises with learned and conditioned behavior is the unpredictable behavior of human beings: innate behavior. Feelings, emotions and intuition cause actions that will, most of the time, oppose the learned behavior. If one takes the example with the CEO visiting his subsidiary office, then one can see a problem.
If one employee has to sacrifice her/his daughter’s birthday party, because he/she has to work late in order to get her/his work done before the CEO arrives the next morning, then the employee will be caught within a greater cognitive process than just following the path with the best reward. The employee would have to weight which event would be more beneficial not only for his/her job situation, but also for his/her family. The human being will use feelings, emotions and intuition to judge such a situation.
Therefore, the learned or conditioned behavior will not always be chosen by the employee, which could be seen as a great disadvantage. This fact is very important for a managerial level to keep in mind, when considering new strategies to enhance employee’s performance (Maclay, 2003). The human being’s actions will always be influenced by his innate behavior, since the human being is the only creature on earth that has the ability to make decisions based on his free will.
In conclusion one can say that the behavior of the human being is equally influenced by the surrounding but also by emotions, intuition and instinct of the employee. For managers to understand employees it is important to be aware of this fact, in order to use it as an advantage for the company: to enhance the performance of the employee and in return the performance of the company among competitors. The disadvantages of conditioned behavior as well as innate behavior should always be kept in mind, not only to increase production but also to create a successful and likable workplace- atmosphere.