Office comportment

The Psychology of Behaviour at Work
April 3, 1998

Adrian Furnham's latest offering in the field of psychology and organisational behaviour (OB) purports to be "critical, up-to-date, balanced and comprehensive". This text certainly tries to be comprehensive. At more than 700 pages, it is not a short book. The author bewails the fact that his bookshelves groan under the weight of similar texts; he may need a new shelf to hold his contribution.

What does it cover? The chapter headings give a good insight. A lengthy introduction is followed by a chapter on the history of organisational psychology and the study of OB. We then have topics including vocational choice, organisational selection and socialisation; personality differences; work-related attitudes; motivation and satisfaction; stress; cooperation, power and ethical behaviour; learning at work; group dynamics; decision-making; leadership; corporate culture; organisational structure and change; and the future of work.

It is in many ways a conventional OB textbook, covering work-related behavioural issues from a mostly psychological perspective. Overall, it is well written and up to date, and some classic issues such as motivation get a fresh treatment that is comprehensive and critical. Furnham does a good job of pointing out the frailties of research while managing to salvage helpful insights for the student and practical assistance for the manager.

The chapter on culture gives a reasonable summary of a complex and expanding field. The concept is rightly treated as problematic, and the author avoids glib statements about how culture may be "managed" in organisational settings. This section also has a discussion of "climate", a welcome addition, but it would have been more helpful to relate it to the foregoing rather than treat it almost entirely separately.

The chapter "Cooperation, power and ethical behaviour in organisations" is less interesting than expected. In particular, the piece on ethics, arguably the biggest omission from similar texts, is so cursory as to be almost unseemly: it is dealt with in less than five pages.

The book's promising innovation is the intention to assist a potentially diverse readership by having three sections at the end of each chapter: a research perspective (for students?); a human resources perspective (for practitioners?) and a cross-cultural perspective (for whom?). This does not work: it is not clear which selection processes were used, and what gets into these sections is an odd mixture.

In the human resources slot at the end of the motivation chapter we simply have a reproduction of Henry Mintzberg's questionnaire asking managers about their roles. What this has to do with motivation is unclear. Similarly, the discussion of problems at EuroDisney may be relevant to the cross-cultural perspective section, but the reasons for attaching it to the chapter "Vocational choice, organisational selection and socialisation" are less obvious.

The research perspective suffers similarly. Why is some "research" relegated to the end box while the rest is discussed in the core of the chapter? The most disappointing example must surely be the research perspective that appears at the end of the chapter "The future of work". Where one might expect to find something stimulating, even provocative, such as thoughts on the operation of virtual organisations, we get a short reprise of Douglas McGregor's 30-year-old "Theory X and Y". In most cases it would have been better to have incorporated these sections into the main text.

The inordinate number of editing errors is irritating. In one example, the research perspective on management gurus has three misspelled names. Perhaps the most worrying, however, is the insistence at the beginning that this book is intended for several rather "desperate" groups of people. One sincerely hopes there is a misplaced "e" here.

One does not have to be desperate to use this text, for it does present a balanced critique. It is accessible to a relatively wide audience, from undergraduates to postgraduates. It may also be of interest to practitioners, but it may be too comprehensive in this regard to appeal to all but the really desperate.

Susan Miller is senior lecturer in strategic decision-making, Durham University Business School.

The Psychology of Behaviour at Work: The Individual in the Organization

Author - Adrian Furnham
ISBN - 0 86377 493 8 and 494 6
Publisher - Psychology Press
Price - £54.95 and £17.50
Pages - 722

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