Age and the Perception of Psychological Climate Only the Literature Review chapter

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Psychological Climate

The notion of the individual's environment as a direct determinant of one's behavior has been a cornerstone of learning theorists such as Skinner (1953) and Lewin's field theory (B = f [P, E]; Lewin, 1951). While Skinner concentrated on how environmental contingencies and reinforcement shaped behavior, Lewin's original conceptualization consisted of both dispositional characteristics of individual that include both genetic and the chacterological variables (P; the Person) and the psychological environment (E; the psychological environment). As attempts to explain the totality of influences on a person's behavior as developed by Lewin the notion of psychological environment was expanded to include the social, situational, and organizational influences that contribute to behavior (Forehand & Von Haller, 1964; Glick, 1985). The term "organizational climate" has been used to identify these different types of environmental influences that exist within organizations; however, as Glick (1985) discusses this term has not been well defined in the research.

The issues regarding the measurement of environmental variation and measuring the organizational climate were previously discussed by Forehand and Von Haller (1964) who identified that variation in environments and how these affect individual behavior could be readily studied in organizational research. They noted that the management research at the time drew analogies between the climate of an organization and the personality of the individual as a method of describing organizational climates. Such an analogy was responsible for the notion that organizational change might be realized by changing the organizational environment in the same way that changing dispositions could affect behavioral change in individuals. However, what types of attributes that made up the "organizational climate" was not clear. Forehand and Von Haller (1964) suggested that researchers identify measurements that were consistent with the organizational/person analogy relationship, refine the notion of an organizational climate such that it is reliable and its dimensions are applicable to all subunits within an organization, make sure that this notion is stable, and identify how the specific identified dimensions best describe a particular organization.

Glick (1985) also examined the difficulties associated with how the research on organizational climate and psychological climate vaguely operationalized their variables. Such vague definitions were viewed by Glick as leading to a reduction in the research investigating how organizational climate affects both group and individual behavior within an organization. Glick (1985) proposed that researchers should define organizational climate as a more generic term that describes a broad class of organizational variables as opposed to concentrating on individual psychological variables. Glick (1985) stressed that researchers can separate individual psychological attributes from the aspects of the organizational variables that contribute to behavior. Following this line of reasoning researchers began to operationalize the notion of organizational climate to account for both these organizational and individual variables/descriptors.

For example, Repetti (1987) attempted to investigate the influence of the organizational or social environment at work on a person's psychological well -- being. The social environment variable was divided into two versions: (1) a common social environment, defined as the social climate shared by employees who work in the same work setting (organizational climate) and; (2) an individual social environment defined as the social space surrounding a particular person in the work setting. In this context the common social environment is defined by work -- setting variables that include the style of the managers, the number of people, location, etc., whereas the individual social environment are defined as such variables as personality traits of the individual and occupational variables that influence a person's interactions. Repetti (1987) hypothesized that both the common and individual social environments would be significantly related to the psychological well-being of employees; however, an individual's psychological well-being would be more related to the stability (or lack of) individual's social environment than the common social environment. Using participants from several bank branches in a correlational design Repetti (1971) found that the distinction between common social environment and an individual social environment was indeed supported; however, the quality of the individual social environment was significantly related to the psychological well-being of the employees, whereas the common social environment had less of an effect on the measures of psychological well-being.

Nonetheless, researchers continued to refine the measurements regarding both organizational climate and individual psychological climate. Koys and DeCotoiis (1991) reviewed the literature and attempt to refine and identify empirical measures of individual psychological climate. Starting with over 80 dimensions of psychological climate the researchers illuminated dimensions that related to organizational structure and measures that were redundant. Forty-five remaining dimensions four categories in the eight concepts and subjected to factor analysis over two different samples. The initial factor analysis produced and eight factor model accounting for 60% of the variance. These eight factors were termed Autonomy, Cohesion, Trust, Pressure, Support, Recognition, Fairness, and Innovation. A validation factor performed on a second sample accounted for 71% of the variance. While the rank order of the factors differ slightly between the original sample and validation sample in general the eight factor model was supported. However, there were several issues. The Pressure, Innovation, and Fairness factors were noted to have items loaded on more than one factor indicating that these scales needed to be refined. In addition, some factors had only a few descriptors indicating that these factors were somewhat vague. There was also a potential problem with the criteria used to interpret the factors. The researchers used a loading of 0.30 as a cutoff criterion for items considered to load on a particular factor. As the authors themselves point out this cutoff criterion is problematic in that it can lead to spurious interpretations and most researchers recommend using a higher criterion of 0.40 (for a more compete discussion of recommended loadings for factor analytical studies see also Schumacher & Lomax, 2004). Despite these potential issues the study did produce results consistent with the literature on the composition of attributes that compose the psychological climate and offered suggestions on how researchers may measure these specific attributes.

The study of the organizational climate also offers practical information regarding such issues as job satisfaction, motivation, and environmental stress. For example, Bowers (1983) discussed organizational environmental issues that led to the August 3, 1981, air traffic controller strike where 11,500 people abruptly walked off their jobs. This particular strike was startling in that the strike was considered to be unprecedented and illegal, the majority of strikers had no alternative occupation or support from the federal government regarding their walkout, by nearly every standard the strikers were already very well compensated for their work, the management was fully backed by a very popular and supportive president, and legal action had been promised against anyone worker who participated in the strike. Nonetheless the majority of air traffic controllers went on strike. Bowers (1983) surveyed the striking air traffic controllers and found that striking air traffic controllers reported twice as many stress -- related events over the previous year related to the managerial style of their superiors than did non-striking air traffic controllers. The most common of these stressful events included such things as having more planes to deal with than can be handled by a single individual, momentarily forgetting about an aircraft that one was monitoring, having several near collisions occur, or having actual collisions occur. Bowers found that a significant percentage of the striking air traffic controllers would be classified as being psychologically "burned out" and suffered from a total lack of confidence regarding their ability to perform their duties. Thus, the organizational climate can certainly affect both an individual's psychological well-being, the individual's performance on the job, the overall attitude of the members of any specific organization, and the organization's ability to function as a cohesive unit and achieve its organizational goals.

One particular attribute that is not often studied but that may be related to both the organizational climate and individual or psychological climate is chronological age of the particular person or mean age of a particular group of people in an organization. For instance, it is strongly believed in the clinical psychology literature that a person's viewpoint or particular motivation will vary depending on their age and that this represents a normal process of maturity (e.g., Erikson, 1950).

There is also empirical evidence investigating how susceptible attitudes are to change as individuals age. There are generally two different hypotheses regarding age and susceptibility to a change of attitudes (Krosnick & Alwin, 1989):

1. The impressionable years hypothesis proposes that people are more susceptible to attitude change during late adolescence and early adulthood.

2. The increasing persistence hypothesis proposes that people become gradually more resistant to changing their attitudes as they age. Thus, more elderly individuals would be more set in their ways so to speak.

Krosnick and Alwin (1989) investigated both of these hypotheses using structural equation modeling and longitudinal data from several National Election Panel Studies to test the idea that adolescents and young adults were more susceptible to attitude change (impressionable years hypothesis) and that older adults were more resistant to changing their attitudes (increasing persistence hypothesis). Their results…

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