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Updated: May 5

q Personality By Richard Pettinger

Individual personality may be defined as 'the total pattern of traits and characteristics, of thoughts, emotions, attitudes, values, behaviour and beliefs, and attributes and qualities, and their interactions'. Since the strength, presence and interaction of these varies between individuals, each individual is unique. " The concept of personality also embraces perception, motivation, aspiration, learning and development. It is therefore necessary to recognise at the outset r. that human personality is highly complex and that steps must be taken by organisations to understand the characteristics, interactions and complexities exhibited by their people (and those who are potentially their people) if an effective working relationship is to be produced. Some useful distinctions may be made at the outset.

q Traits and characteristics

From an organisational behaviour point of view, the purpose is to identify those traits and characteristics necessary to produce effective activity and harmony of relationship and to seek these among the individuals who come (or who would like to come) to work. The important traits are:

(a) strong, dominant and frequently exhibited;

(b) weak and less frequently exhibited;

(c) overriding, often based on emotional response to particular situations (for example, aggression, shyness, anger, temperament);

(d) positive/negative, often related to general disposition, attitude to work, approach to problems.

q Influences on personality

These clearly start at birth and include the formation and internalisation of attitudes, values and beliefs, skills, knowledge, qualities and attributes. The sources of influence include family, school, peer groups, social groups (for example, guides, scouts), location and environment; and also any particular political, religious and ethical factors that may be present. Strong personalities -for example head teachers, priests, guiders and scouters, as well as managers - may also have effects and influences on individuals and as individuals.

The organisational behaviour interest lies in the extent to which these influences are compatible with the requirements and demands that are to be placed on the individual during the course of his work. There is also the interaction between the individual, other members of staff and the personality of the organization to be considered.

q The two-sided, self

This is the combination of how individuals see and perceive themselves with how they are seen and perceived by others. Dissonance occurs where the two are seriously at variance, or where one strong characteristic is perceived to be positive by the individual and negative by others: for example, where temperamental extremes are considered to be integral to creativity by the individual and boorish by those who observe them.

Personality and Generalisation

'People will behave in the future as they have behaved in the past.' (Farnsworth) 'People who are unpunctual are likely to be bad time keepers.' (Huczynski and Buchanan)

'I am a complex personality. You cannot have a great footballer without the temperament.' (Eric Cantona)

q Emotions

In organisational behaviour terms, emotions are important in relationship to the rest of the personality, especially where these are strong, distinctive and overriding traits. In some situations and for some jobs and roles, emotional involvement is very important. In others, it is necessary that emotions are submerged in the pursuit of occupational excellence and quality. Otherwise extreme emotional outbursts and signs of loss of control have to be seen in the context of whether these can be accommodated in the given job or role.

q Defence and offence mechanisms


Defence mechanisms are developed by individuals in response to the unknown and where they are going into unfamiliar or threatening situations. The individual exhibits characteristics that are her response to the need for information, to be able to assess the situation and to reduce any inherent threat.

Examples of this are formality (when dealing with strangers), rejection (when dealing with change), and aggression (when dealing with threats or defending an untenable position). In general, defence mechanisms are responsive.


Offence mechanisms are apparent when an individual has problems and issues to address and for which he must take the initiative. These include planning and organising, investigation, and confrontation, and are based on dealing with issues and problems which are known and understood (or at least believed to be so). In general, offence mechanisms are dynamic.

q Qualities, talents and attributes

These are the physical and mental capabilities of the individual. All people bring some of their capabilities into all situations. It is the relationship between those that are demanded in the given situation in relation to the range offered by the individual that is important here. For example, a qualified airline pilot who can also cook and make tea and coffee is clearly qualified to be a catering assistant, but whether she would want to be one would need careful consideration on the part of both the individual and also any organisation which might be thinking of offering her a job as a catering assistant.

Identification of Qualities, Talents and Attributes by Organisations

This is the basis on which person specifications are drawn up. It is the identification of qualities, talents and attributes, which are deemed necessary to carry out particular sets of activities effectively. This then becomes the basis on which job selection is based.

The process is most likely to be successful when those qualities, talents and attributes are easily observable and identifiable, and can be proven or tested. It is less likely to be successful if they have to be inferred or based on a short conversation or part of an interview,

The initial concern is therefore to recognise the presence and interaction of each of these aspects. Some are complementary, others contradictory. Some are positive, others negative; some may "be regarded as positive in one situation and negative in others. This complexity requires that those responsible for the design and staffing of organisations and for dividing and allocating work are able to recognise the key and critical elements of each aspect when it comes to assessing qualities and behavioral requirements in order to fill job positions and to have a harmonious and productive workforce.

Personality and the Work of H. J. Eysenck (born 1916)

The work of Eysenck has produced a distinctive approach to the assessment of personality.

Clusters and sets of traits

The argument is based on the assessment that possession of one particular trait is likely to mean that a further discernible set is also present. Everyone possess a discernible and identifiable number of traits. Where trait 1 is present, then traits 2 and 3 are likely to be present also; where trait 1 is not present, then traits 2 and 3 may not be present either, or may be weaker.

Hierarchies of traits

This develops the argument a stage further. Where one trait is strong or dominant then others may be expected or inferred. Where one trait is weak, then others may be expected.

The result of this is the identification and formulation of personality types based around the clusters and hierarchies.

The extroversion-introversion dimension

Extroversion, spontaneity, sociability: extroverts are strong and tough-minded. They need constant arousal and stimulation. They are sociable, need and enjoy the company of others, do not enjoy their own company and have a wide circle of acquaintances. They seek excitement and uncertainty, take risks, act impulsively and display their emotions. They are optimistic, carefree and active. They can be aggressive and quick tempered. Eysenck identifies a cluster of seven traits that contribute to extroversion:

§ active

§ irresponsible

§ practical

§ social

§ risk-taking

§ impulsive

§ expansive

Introversion, inhibitation, unsociability: introverts are tender-minded. They experience deep feelings and strong emotions. They do not need the regularity or intensity of stimulation. They tend to be quiet, retiring and withdrawn. They are happy with their own company. They plan, organise and order their lives. They are pessimistic. They suppress their strong emotions.

Eysenck identifies a cluster of seven traits that contribute to introversion:

§ inactive

§ restrained

§ careful

§ responsible controlled reflective

§ unsocial

The neuroticism-stability dimension Neuroticism/instability: neurotics are emotional and anxious. They tend to have a low opinion of themselves. They tend to be disappointed, pessimistic and depressed. They worry about things that may never happen. They are easily upset and angered. They are obsessive and conscientious. They have a high degree of self-discipline. They have a high propensity to accept the authority and discipline of others. They are orderly and upset by disorder and uncertainty. They seek to blame others for the shortcomings of the world. They blame themselves for their own shortcomings. They have active (often overactive) consciences.

Eysenck identifies seven traits that cluster to form neuroticism:

§ low self-esteem

§ lack of autonomy anxiety guilt

§ obsessive unhappy

§ hypochondria


Stable individuals are self-confident, self-reliant, assertive and optimistic. They resist and overcome fear. They are realistic. They solve problems as and when they arise. They look to the future rather than the past. Eysenck identifies traits that cluster to form stability:

§ high self-esteem

§ calm

§ freedom from guilt

§ casual

§ healthy

§ happy

§ self-contained

Eysenck believes that personality is largely inherited and that the effects and interactions of others, and of the environment, are therefore limited. One can thus identify personality type early in life.

From an organisational behaviour point of view, personality type can be identified early in working life. Assessment of the match of personalities that are and were effective in certain occupations can be made with those present or with those who are coming in to work in the organisation.

q The desire for achievement

Desire for achievement is a basic human drive in most societies. The problem lies in the definition of achievement which means something different to each individual: for example, money, status, power, helping others, a large house, invention and creativity, excellence in a chosen field (social or occupational). For organisations, the problem lies in what they mean by achievement, where the contribution of individuals to that lies and in attracting the right types of individual to ensure that this happens.

Individual desire for achievement is based on:

§ economic pressures, the need to support a continuity and quality of life; social pressures, exerted by peers, friends, family and relations;

§ esteem and value, what the individual regards as important, and what is regarded as important by others;

§ status afforded by both self and others to particular achievements; association, with particular organisations, groups, expertise and activities; individual pressures, the need to live up to (or down to) particular expectations from different parts of society.

§ The desire for achievement in work situations is based on:

§ the nature of the work itself, variety, routines, technical expertise;

§ the value of the work to self, the organisation, peers, customers, clients and the community;

§ the relative need for development, new opportunities and horizons;

§ the need of the individual to demonstrate a range of abilities and qualities; .the need to be seen as excellent, to be highly thought of in a range of areas; .the need to complete that which has been commenced; dislike of leaving things unfinished;

§ the need for working relationships to be operationally productive and effective as well as friendly;

§ time, the need to get things done as quickly as possible; to avoid things being dragged out.

The Need for Achievement

People with a low need for achievement are concerned more with security and status than with personal fulfillment. They are preoccupied with their own ideas and feelings. They worry more about their self-presentation than their performance.

People with a high need for achievement tend to have the following characteristics:

§ they prefer tasks in which they have to achieve a standard of excellence, rather than simply carrying out routine activities;

§ they prefer jobs in which they get frequent and clear feedback on how well they are doing to help them perform better;

§ they prefer activities that involve moderate risks of failure (high-risk activities lead to failure, low-risk activities do not often challenge or an opportunity to demonstrate ability);

§ they have a good memory for unfinished tasks and do not like to leave things incomplete;

§ they can be unfriendly and unsociable when they do not want others to get in the way of their performance;

$ they have a sense of urgency, appear to be in a hurry, to be working against the clock and have an inability to relax.

In general, the higher the desire for work achievement, the more likely it is that the individual will use those items in the second list to meet the pressures indicated in the first. Their desire for achievement is based on task achievement personal development, excitement and challenge. The rewards accrue as the result of knowing that organisation, peers, customers and clients have been well served.

The lower the desire for achievement at work, the greater the likelihood that individuals are concerned with security, status, the regard and esteem in which they are held by others, social pressures and the pressures of association. Their desire for achievement is based on their own preoccupations and feelings and the presentation of self to the rest of the world.

q Roles

In simple terms roles are combinations of behaviour and activities that are undertaken by individuals in given situations (see Figure 6.1). This is in turn set against a backcloth of the variety of expectations that go with each role. The source of these expectations is overwhelmingly a product of the particular community and society in which the individual lives and works.

Individual roles

q Role sets

People have a great range and variety of roles. Some of these are dominant, some subordinate. Some of these are constant; some are continuous; some are intermittent; some are short term, others long term. The total number of roles adopted by the individual constitutes the role set.

It is useful to compartmentalise roles in this way in order to establish a basis for the understanding of the ways in which people behave in the different situations indicated. Often this behaviour is contradictory -the bullying manager for example may also be a loving parent -and it is necessary to be able to understand and explain the reasons (or a set of reasons) for this.

A further glance at Figure 6.1 indicates the great variety, complexity and sophistication of this. The promotion of effective general organisational behaviour can only be achieved if steps are taken to harmonise and reconcile these complexities and the inherent stresses and strains.

q Role definition.

It is useful to indicate the source of this at the outset. A few roles are universal. Titles such as President, King or Emperor have different meanings in different parts of the world. The main sources of definition are social and occupational.

The social indicates those such as parent, son and daughter in which the particular obligations and activities implicit and explicit are defined by the particular society in which those concerned are living and which are precisely associated with the role titles. Occupational roles give definitions within particular organisations. The actual role, however, varies between organisations. Titles such as manager and technician are universally applied but subject to specific interpretation.

They are in turn subject to interpretation by the society in which these managers and technicians also live.

The Mikado

Ko-Ko: It seems that the festivities in connection with my approaching marriage must last a week. I should like to do it handsomely and I want to consult you as to the amount I ought to spend on them.

Pooh-Bah: Certainly, in which of my capacities? As First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chamberlain, Attorney General, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Privy Purse, Private Secretary or First Commissioner of the Police?

Ko-Ko: Suppose we say as Private Secretary.

Pooh-Bah: Speaking as your Private Secretary, I should say that as the City will have to pay for it, don't stint yourself.

Ko-Ko: Exactly, as the City will have to pay for it. That is your advice.

Pooh-Bah: As Private Secretary. Of course, you will understand that as Chancellor of the Exchequer I am bound to see that due economy is observed.

Ko-Ko: Oh! But you said just now, don't stint yourself, do it well. Pooh-Bah: As Private Secretary.

Ko-Ko: And now you say that due economy must be observed.

Pooh-Bah: As Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ko-Ko: I see. Come over here where the Chancellor can't hear us. Now, as my solicitor, how do you advise me to deal with this difficulty?

Pooh-Bah: Oh, as your solicitor, I should have no hesitation in saying chance it.

Ko-Ko: Thank you. I will.

Pooh-Bah: If it were not that, as Lord Chief Justice, I am bound to see that the law isn't violated.

Ko-Ko: I see. Come over here where the Chief Justice can't hear us. Now then, as First Lord of the Treasury?

Pooh-Bah: Of course, as First Lord of the Treasury, I could propose a special vote that would cover all expenses if it were not that, as Leader of the Opposition, it would be my duty to resist it tooth and nail. Or, as Paymaster General, I could so cook the accounts that, as Lord High Auditor, I should never discover the fraud. But then, as Archbishop, it would be my duty to denounce my dishonesty and I give myself into my own custody as First Commissioner of Police.

Ko-Ko: That's extremely awkward.

(From W. S. Gilbert, The Mikado.)

The role is therefore a combination of:

§ who you are;

§ what you know;

§ what you can do;

§ what you want to do;

§ what is important and of value to you;

§ economic factors;

§ social factors;

§ who you work for;

§ who works for you;

§ whom you associate with;

§ who associates with you;

§ what is expected of you and by whom;

§ what you expect of yourself and why;

§ prospects and progress;

§ situational factors;

§ ethical factors;

§ specific constraints (for example, legal).

Roles differentiate between people, activities, social segments and sectors. Roles vary between work, family, social and community situations.

q Background

The following elements are also to be considered. They provide useful general supportive information. They also identify points of inquiry and assessment when trying to establish why the adoption of some roles is successful and why others are rejected.

Comfort This is a combination of the capability of the individual to carry out the role with the levels of esteem, reward and satisfaction placed upon it. This includes material rewards. It also includes general levels of respect and regard.

Expectations This is where particular roles are adopted or sought in the expectation of the comfort indicated above. These include again material rewards, respect and regard. The individual experiences disappointment if these rewards are either not forthcoming or else do not carry these expected benefits. Role titles indicate expectations and reinforce them. They also indicate benchmarks of assessment (she is an excellent captain; he is not a good manager).

Harmonisation The individual requires the ability to harmonise the work, family, social and community elements indicated. It is incumbent upon organisations to understand this.

Organisations must further understand that if they place heavy demands on their staff, especially in terms of long working hours or working away from home, those involved will start to form social relationships at the place of work.

Clashes occur when conflicting demands are placed by each of the four areas. For example, the parent who is under pressure from both children and job, who is also a local counselor and sports club captain, is likely to experience role clash at some point. Individuals devise their own means of reducing the levels of stress and strain.

Reconciliation This is required by those who interact with the same people in each of the four areas. It occurs, for example, where the work subordinate is the captain of the sports team in which the work- place senior also plays (this is compounded where one or both of these relationships is adversarial).

Progression and growth There is the need to recognise that some roles grow and develop and others wither and die. There are implications for this. Individuals may outgrow the job, the organisation and possibly also the marriage and family. Conversely they may not be able to keep pace with the growth of these. In each case the role, relationship and interaction changes causing stresses and strains.

Knowledge The packaging of activity and behaviour into roles enables quick assumptions about someone to be made. The knowledge that someone is a teacher, doctor, railway porter or bar tender enables a quick summary. This is the basis both for understanding and misunderstanding.

Status Roles indicate status and relative worth in a particular context. This is both occupational and social. Status may also be progressive: junior manager, for example, indicates a point on a promotion or progression ladder that in time leads to middle, and top manager.

Status may also be acquired as the result of behaviour. This applies especially to the informal aspects of roles (where, for example, the junior wins an argument with the senior).

q Roles within roles

Each role identified carries other elements. For example, Handy identifies the roles of the manager as:

§ executive planner, policy-maker, expert, controller of rewards and punishments, arbitrator, exemplar, representative of the group, scapegoat, counsellor, friend and teacher.

This list may be extended to include:

§ guardian, teacher, disciplinarian, friend, leader, cook, first-aider, arbitrator, exemplar, general resource, fountain of authority and wisdom.

In some cases this may also include:

§ energiser, personality, teacher, idol, advertisement, star, trend and fashion-setter. The same breakdown can be carried out on all main roles. ,

Roles diverge, conflict with, and contradict each other, as well as being complementary. They require reconciliation and prioritising. At different times one will take precedence over the others. Some role elements are a continuous part of ~ main role, while others are present for parts of the time only.

q Limiting factors

At the workplace each role is limited and constrained by the culture, structure, organisational and operational features of a particular situation. Thus, for example, the role of finance officer differs between a hospital, a car company, a legal practice and a charity even though the title may be the same.

There is also the interaction between the working and non-working roles of the individual in question to be taken into account, and the relevant importance placed on each. Societies place particular values on the different roles that take place within them and accord different measures of esteem, status and value to those carrying them out.

There are also more general and global influences to be considered. These include the extent and value of any expertise specific to the role in question and the skill, knowledge, aptitudes and technology that go with it. There are also ethical and moral (sometimes religious) aspects to be taken into account" together with any specific and distinctive social values.

Roles may usefully be clarified under the following headings.

General categories.

Family: mother, father, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, grandparent, niece, nephew cousin, taxi, cook, teenager, child, consumer, customer, servant, and adult.

Work: defined by job title, profession, training, location, hours of work, freedom or otherwise to operate, autonomy/direction, creativity/regimentation.

Social: neighbor, friend, sportsman/sportswoman, gardener, dog walker, taxi (again), organiser, servant, consumer.

Community: American, Japanese, school governor, customer, pillar of community, counselor, elder, organizer.

Formal: by any of the titles indicated above.

Informal: on an ad hoc basis and normally behavioral in orientation.

Behavioural aspects

Workplace examples are as follows.

The bully: either physical or psychological; with particular categories of staff (especially junior); threatening and menacing; abusive and harassing.

The braggart: normally a self-publicist; if boasting on the organisation's behalf braggarts normally put themselves in the spotlight also.

The barrack room lawyer: leader of the informal organisation and sometimes also an influential figure in the formal, especially if the management involved is weak or insecure.

The clown or comedian: a useful safety valve for the group in which they exist. Clowns attract attention and stories about themselves. The role may be hard to shake off. Clowns are often regarded both as irritant by the organisation and also with measures of envy and jealousy.

The devil's advocate: questions and queries everything and is constantly looking for flaws; it is a useful, valuable, even essential role but it is also a major irritant to top managers and those trying to get pet schemes and projects off the ground.

The film star: looks, acts, sounds, plays the part; is always immaculately dressed; has all the relevant trappings; problems arise only when asked to be the part.

The eccentric: eccentrics are accommodated because of qualities and expertise that they also bring; eccentricity is also the means by which a reputation or distinction may be achieved (provided that it is at least perceived to be attached also to results); it is rationalised as being colourful or larger than life.

Scoutmaster/scout mistress: develops the next generation of talent for the organisation; is accommodated as long as this does not threaten the current equilibrium, modus operandi or vested interest.

The advocate/lobbyist: a chaser of causes, some lost and others not; may also be a whiner and whinger; has strong moral and ethical principles, often at variance with those of the organisation.

The peacemaker: has a rich supply of oil to pour on troubled waters and consequently often adds pollution to the problems that already exist. The worst form of this is the person who sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil.

The scapegoat: attracts blame for everything that goes wrong in the given situation; may go out of his way to do this in order to gain identity (however corrupted or toxic this may be).


Dress: designer labels; colour coordinates; prestige labels (for example, Armani and Gucci); fashion labels (for example, Reebok, Nike); dress imitation (of the top management, for example); cheap, expensive, or special clothing (for example, tuxedo).

Possessions: make, model and year of car; domestic hardware and technology (see also below); may also include spouse, children, mistress, lover, friends, and associates.

Fashions and fads: appearance; self-presentation; job title; also includes dress and possessions and may include spouse, children, mistress, lover; belonging to the right clubs and associations and groups; taking part in the right activities.

Technology: car (again); hobbies and interests, make and model of kitchen appliances, television, audio and video, home computer.

The elements of title, behaviour and trappings thus combine to indicate the particular role set. They also give off particular perceptions and expectations to those with whom they interact. This is part of the wider perceptual process.

Above all, however, it indicates the complexities, issues, inconsistencies and uncertainties that are key and continuous features of human behaviour (and therefore clearly of organisation behaviour).

q Role Signs

Role signs make clear what the individual's role is at a given time. The main signs used are:


The most universal and widely used 'form of role signs is the uniform. In particular, these identify both the wider role and also the place in the hierarchy of the individual. They furthermore give an impression of comfort, confidence, knowledge and capability. They give legitimacy to the range of activities with which the role is concerned. They are also a general point of reference: anyone wearing a uniform is assumed to have a general range of capabilities. By donning the uniform, responsibilities and expectations are then required of the individual in question.

Other dress elements

These indicate and reinforce the other roles carried out. The dress of the holidaymaker, the student, the wedding guest and the stockbroker reinforces the role and identity in each case.

There is also present in this a combination of quality, status and esteem. The wearing of the colours of sports clubs (Barcelona, Toronto Blue Jays), designer labels (Reebok, Nike), or manufacturers' labels (St Michael) all reflect this.

There is also the highly functional: the overalls of the motor mechanic, the safety helmet and shoes of the builder. There is finally the dress element of the traditional: the garb of the cleric, the purdah of the Muslim women, the wig of the UK judge.


These are to be regarded in similar ways. Titles are a combination of situational factors, the relative importance placed on the role by the society in question and a measure of progress and status of the individual to which reference has already been made. Elements are therefore a combination of status, esteem, function and tradition. This is illustrated in Box 6.6.


Social: Mr., Mrs., Dr, Reverend.

Specific: Your Excellency, Your Grace, Mr. President.

Traditional: Hon. Sec., Hon. Treasurer, Club Captain.

Organizational/functional: Chief Executive, Officer, Assistant Manager, Sales- man.

A different way of looking at this is as follows.

§ Shirley Jones, for example, is known as:

§ Shirley, to the fellow directors of the company of which she is a director;

§ Mrs Jones, to the teacher of her two children at the school to which they go;

§ Shirl and SJ, to the hockey club for which she plays;

§ Sally, to the Samaritans for whom she works on a voluntary basis;

§ Dr Jones, at the surgery where she works as a part-time locum three week- ends a year covering for ex-colleagues who are on holiday;

Shirley J, to distinguish her from Shirley Martin and Shirley Young at the amateur dramatics society to which they all belong.


People behave differently according to the place, location and environment in which they find themselves. Away from the place of work, the Chief Executive Officer has no formal authority over those who work for her. Such a person may indeed, for example, accept authority from one of her work subordinates who is the captain of the local sports team to which they both belong (see J above).

Location is worth an additional mention here. Two main manifestations of these are at places of work, whereby one's office location is an indication of relative status; and one's home address which is also liable to connotations of class, opulence and status.


The phrase 'status symbol' is used throughout the Western world. The symbols in question are specially reinforced status and esteem aspects of particular roles. In work situations this includes the make and model of the company car; clothing; the size, appearance and location of the office; the furnishings used in the office; even the personal staff employed (secretary, personal assistants); all these exude status, reflect importance and outward measures of regard, and (sometimes) achievement. Where these are not present this reflection is, or can be, adverse.

Away from work other symbols include: the name of the school to which the children are sent; places visited on holiday; possession of property; shows, plays and films visited; sports and leisure achievements and clubs.


Some rituals are role signs; or, more precisely, they reflect and underline moves by the individual from one role to another.

This may happen on a regular basis: the person who changes from working clothes to leisure wear when they return home each day signifies that he has finished his work and is now a domestic animal.

It may signal a major transformation. For example, the wedding ceremony clearly identifies the change of role for the two persons concerned.

This also applies in working situations. A clear and useful by-product of organisational selection and promotion processes is the behavioural transition through which those involved pass as a result. This indicates again, a move from the previous role, a past role to the future.


A major role sign is its duration. Reference was made in passing to this above. Some roles gain legitimacy or authority through longevity -'She has been Chair for 20 years' or 'He has 20 years' experience.' The converse may also be applied: 'She is new to the job; give her a chance.' The distinction may again be drawn between working and non-working situations. In the former roles are deemed to have degree of permanence, stability and continuity. Away from work, there are those such as holiday-maker which are easily assumed and regular; and those such as husband, wife, son or daughter and so on which are taken on for life.


The role signs must be recognised and therefore be capable of recognition. Their major requirement is clearly to be easily identifiable in whatever form they come. Each group of signs indicated above must be distinctive if it is to be successful.

The converse is also worth stating. For example, receptionists who treat the important guest at the workplace with indifference invariably do so because they have not recognised him, because the signs and symbols exuded by the visitor were not clear. Lack of distinction and lack of recognition tend to lead to confusion, disappointment and even embarrassment and anger.

The coverage also indicates their general value and usefulness. Role signs are universally required as part of the wider perception processes as well as for specific situations. Roles that are not clearly signed are the source of confusion and dissonance.

It is clear from this that there are strong complex and conflicting influences present. The major lesson is in the understanding of this. People adopt and aspire to work roles as part of their wider role sets and as a reflection of what is important to them. The effective and successful creation of work roles must both reflect and accommodate this.

It is also clear from this that roles give identity. Again, if this is to be successful, this identity must be positive. People need roles of which they can be proud and with which they can be happy and confident. These roles, after all, are a critical part of the process by which those holding them are to be placed, mapped and identified by the rest of the world at large and the particular society in which they live.

Further, the different roles feed each other and feed off each other. They constantly interact. Satisfaction as a parent, for example, is enhanced by feelings of well-being as the holder of a particular job and diminished if the job is considered or perceived to be bad or negative. Total well-being only arises when there is harmony across the entire role set, or at least as much of it as possible.

It is also necessary to draw attention to misunderstanding, misconception and complacency. This arises most often where the organisation is completely certain and confident of its own well-being and ceases to pay attention to the needs of those working within it. This form of neglect may be purely benign; in all events it requires constant positive and active attention.

It is also necessary, finally, to recognise the fluid, ever-changing and ever- developing nature of all roles, both inside and outside work, and their constant and sophisticated interactions and interrelations. Roles may not therefore be precisely defined or designed. They must be set in the broader framework indicated. Mechanisms must be established by organisations for coping with the inevitable resultant ambiguities, stresses, strains, dysfunctions and conflicts.

q Role uncertainties and ambiguities

These arise when there is a lack of clarity as the precise nature of the role or roles at any given point. They relate to:

§ uncertainty about aims and objectives, resulting in uncertainty/lack of clarity as to what constitutes successful and effective performance;

§ uncertainty about job/task/occupational boundaries in terms of extent, range and depth of coverage, quality of performance (especially where this is not easily or precisely measured);

§ uncertainty about the nature of commitment expected/anticipated/required, including areas of responsibility, authority and accountability;

§ uncertainty of expectations arising from misconceptions at the outset; expectations placed on the role by the individual which are not met in the ways anticipated; expectations of others;

§ uncertainty of relationships within the group, between groups and across the whole organisation;

§ uncertainty of prospects, development, enhancement and advancement; uncertainty of stability, continuity and confidence.

Each contributes to a lack of clarity of relationship and expectations, and is a source of potential stress and conflict. They may also give rise to clashes, anger, lack of confidence and respect.

Uncertainties may also arise where an individual has a complex and often conflicting role to perform. Managers and supervisors are invariably subject to this as they carry out (and must reconcile) roles of leader, direction, organiser, planner of work; confidante, friend, recruiter, developer, promoter, disciplinarian and dismisser to and of the staff. Integrity of relationship is called into question where the pursuit of one role leads to effects on the others. For example, if the manager has disciplined a member of staff for some reason, should this affect subsequent opportunities for development and advancement; should weaknesses identified at performance appraisal lead to disciplinary measures? If it is not clear where each role begins and ends, those affected may not act in appropriate ways -and individual may always see their manager or supervisor as ready to discipline them, even when the latter is supposed to be carrying out the role of friend or confidante.

q Incompatibility

Incompatibility arises when an individual is unable to carry out the role. This is normally either because she lacks the capability or because she is unable to perform it in the ways required.

The first is exemplified by the 'Peter Principle' -promotion to the level of incompetence -whereby someone is given a job or task for which he has no aptitude or capability.

The second is to be found for example, where a supervisor is required by her superior to run a highly structured operation and where the staff prefer and are used to a more relaxed and less formal style.

Incompatibility is also to be found where values and beliefs are called into question. A supervisor may be required to discipline or dismiss a member of staff and find himself unable to do so because he believes it to be wrong. If the rest of the group also believe that it is wrong, this will adversely affect the supervisor s future relationships with the other group members.

q Overload

This occurs where the individual is required to take on:

§ too much work, too many tasks;

§ too much responsibility, authority and accountability;

§ too much pressure, stress and strain; incompatibility, as above.

The result is either that all of the work is unsatisfactory; or that some of the work is effective at the expense of the rest; or that some aspects are not covered at all.

Overload can only be sustained in the short to medium term (while the organisation is getting through a crisis for example). Continued overload normally leads to loss of performance, loss of achievement, and damage to the health of the individual.

q Underload

Underload occurs where there is not enough in the role to keep the individual happy and satisfied. This is normally related to feelings of:

§ undervalue, including where the individual feels that she is being underpaid and under rewarded; and also where her contribution is not being fully recognised;

§ underperformance, where the individual feels that he could be going on to better and higher things;

§ not being needed, a lack of confidence in the quality, worth and contribution of the work itself;

§ lack of feeling on the part of the organisation for the well-being of the staff, or on the part of superiors for subordinates;

§ loss of self-respect, self-esteem and the esteem and regard of others;

§ external and internal pressure, a consciousness on the part of the individual that she is capable of doing far better and of achieving much more; this is compounded when peers, friends, family and acquaintances all believe the same thing.

This may clearly have nothing to do with absolute volumes of work. Indeed, it is most likely to hinge on the individual's perceptions of his own capabilities and potential. People are much more likely to put up with something that does not meet their expectations if they feel that it is means to an end, a stepping stone on the path of progress. Frustration sets in where these prospects are not present or not apparent.

q Stresses and strains

Stresses and strains become apparent where the problems caused by ambiguity, uncertainty, overload and underload become irreconcilable (see Figure 6.2). The symptoms are:

§ poor communications, in terms of both volume and quality; lack of accessibility and visibility;

§ over attention to trivia and detail at the expense of the broader picture, aims and objectives;

§ over attention to and overuse of procedures and rules at the expense of issue resolution and problem-solving;

§ polarisation of approach: everything is either very good or very bad;

§ poor interpersonal relationships, the presence of tension, friction and irritability; withdrawal, including absenteeism and sickness;

§ the presence of blame, the search for scapegoats; loss of volume and quality of performance.

If allowed to go unchecked, the effects of stress and strain invariably include loss of general performance, motivation and morale, and the decline of general working relationships. Individuals within the department withdraw themselves, seeking to ensure that they carry out their tasks satisfactorily; at the same time, they will tend to seek opportunities elsewhere to remove themselves from the current situation. They pursue their own objectives at the expense of, rather than in harmony with, those of the organisation.

Situations leading to stress and strain

The following organisation situations are likely to create stresses and strains for individuals.

1. Responsibility and accountability for the work of others, especially where the manager or supervisor has no direct control over what is done and the ways in which it is carried out. This is exacerbated if she also does not have full confidence in the capabilities of her subordinates.

2. Innovation and pioneering, especially where changes and developments are at variance or in direct conflict with vested interests, centres of power and influence based on the status quo.

3. Crises, especially where there is a history of crisis management and emphasis on confrontation, often supported by an aggressive and adversarial management style and negative approaches to employee representation and industrial relations.

4. Coordinating, harmonising and controlling interactions, especially where there are strong and conflicting sub-objectives.

5. Acting as change agent, leading to becoming a focus for anger and dissatisfaction; and including also the need to reconcile and assuage the fears, uncertainties and anxieties of those who are to be affected by change.

6. Engaging in cross-functional, departmental and divisional activities and initiatives, especially where those affected have different sets of priorities and objectives, and also where resource and time constraints may be an issue in some of the particular groups.

7. The placing of people in stressful jobs and situations who have no strength or capability for stress toleration.

8. Insufficient attention to organisation, department, divisional and individual role design, creating uncertain boundaries between roles and functions and also leaving gaps that have to be filled.

9. Refusal or inability to recognise the interrelationship between workplace roles and the others that individuals perform, especially social and family.

Figure 6.2 and 6.3 - Stress: sources, causes, symptoms

The potential for the existence of stress and strain is inherent in all organisations. Some roles carry a greater likelihood of this, especially those with too much responsibility or too few prospects for the future. The issue is therefore for organisations for recognise and understand the harmful potential of role dysfunction and produce structures, cultures and jobs that recognise this and avoid the problems as far as possible.

q Application

Interaction with and between individuals is a continuous feature of all organisations. The main lesson, therefore, lies in understanding the complexities of the perception, personality and roles that individuals bring with them to all situations and the pressures that arise.

Recognition of this means that organisations can then establish the key characteristics and traits that are required, rather than trying (and invariably failing) to cope with the whole individual. For this to be successful, information must be gathered systematically to ensure that as wide and complete a picture is built up about and around the individual in relation to the organisation's requirements. This is also the context for effective work design and division; creation of structures and cultures; and organisational progress, development and change.

In turn, the effectiveness of all of this is dependent upon the nature of individuals brought into the organisation in the first place. The onus is therefore placed on making the recruitment and selection activities as accurate and informative as possible. This is to ensure as effective and harmonious a match as possible between individual and organisation. This is the context in which all recruitment and selection activities should be seen. The purpose is to find someone who can do the job, who will fit into the organisation {both the particular niche and the wider internal environment} and who brings potential for the future. This is the basis of an effective, continuous and harmonious working relationship.

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