Contemporary Issues

What you’ll learn to do: Describe contemporary issues and topics in organizational behavior

Organizational behavior is constantly evolving. Modern issues and current events have an effect on organizational culture and behavior alike. Changes in society impact how organizations operate. While it is important to understand the history of organizational behavior, it is equally important to understand how contemporary issues affect organizational behavior. For the rest of this module will discuss current challenges within the workforce and how they impact organizations on an individual, group, and organizational level. Pay close attention as you will see some, if not all, of these issues in your own workplace!

Learning Outcomes

  • Analyze the benefits and complications of telecommuting
  • Examine the growing focus on green business practices and sustainability
  • Analyze the benefits and complications of outsourcing
  • Describe the different workforce generations and their impact on the workforce

Telecommuting

The Industrial Revolution was just that, revolutionary. Since then, technology innovation has accelerated and now plays a huge role in day-to-day life. Many would claim that technology makes life easier, allowing people access to information at the drop of a hat. Others, however, would disagree and argue that technology is detrimental to human interactions and negatively impacts relationships. Without a doubt, technology has changed the face of modern society and the organizations within it.

Since technology plays a prominent role in organizations, it impacts organizational behavior. Technology allows organizations to be in constant communication. With cell phones, emails, and video conferencing, people are readily available at any time of day or night. This can be beneficial for many people, providing them a continuous connection to their workplace or it could be damaging to work-life balance. New technology innovations have also made once time-consuming tasks much more efficient, allowing people to accomplish more in less time.

Two facing laptops with an arm emerging from each screen and shaking hands on a white backgroundWith all of the great things technology brings to the table, it also brings challenges. One contemporary issue facing organizations today is telecommuting. Telecommuting is a work arrangement which allows employees to work remotely, often from home, while completing their tasks. Telecommuting has many benefits and also presents a number of challenges. To better understand how telecommuting impacts organizational behavior, let’s learn more about how it works.

According to Global Workplace Analytics 2018 Telecommuting Trend Data, telecommuting numbers are on the rise. There are currently over 4.3 million employees that work from home, at least half of the time. In addition, the telecommuter population has grown 11.7% over the last year, which is the largest yearly growth since 2008. It is obvious that telecommuting is changing the way employees interact with their peers and supervisors. Let’s move on and discuss how telecommuting both challenges and improves organizational behavior.

First, let’s discuss the positive impact telecommuting has on organizational behavior. Telecommuting allows people to work from anywhere, anytime. This is appealing to many people because it allows them to better balance their work and personal life. People who telecommute are oftentimes self-motivated and efficient as they do not have the typical distractions of a traditional workplace environment. Telecommuters are often happier in their jobs and are therefore more motivated to perform on a higher level. This in turn benefits the organization and ensures better employee retention. In addition, telecommuting allows companies to hire from a larger pool of candidates which gives them the ability to be more selective in the skill sets and personalities of their employees. Telecommuting can also save companies a lot of money by limiting the amount of office space and supplies needed to operate their business.

Photograph of a man sitting on a couch, working on his laptop.So far, telecommuting sounds great! However, there are some challenges to managing telecommuters. Being self-motivated is a huge key to success for telecommuters. If they cannot find a productive place to work, telecommuters may become easily distracted and not meet their deadlines. This becomes a challenge because organizations need to rethink how they will manage telecommuters. Since the managers and employees are not housed in the same building, managers cannot stop by their office to see first-hand how they are doing. Instead, they need to rely on other electronic methods to ensure their team is meeting deadlines. Telecommuting also cuts back on daily interactions with other employees. While conference calls and video conferencing is common practice today, some telecommuters may feel isolated and struggle with the lack of face-to-face communication. This can have an impact on morale.

Finally, another popular practice in today’s organizations is having employees that telecommute only part-time. This can create an organization where some employees telecommute all the time, others telecommute part of the time, and the remainder work from the office all the time. A 2010 study of the effects telecommuting had on non-telecommuters revealed some interesting findings. First, non-telecommuters were frustrated with telecommuters. Some even grew to be envious towards the telecommuters’ working arrangement. This has the potential to create a toxic work environment and have a negative impact on productivity. There are, however, some key things organizations can do to help limit these issues. It is extremely important for organizations that offer telecommuting to establish clear and concise policies and procedures for their telecommuters. These policies and procedures need to include accessibility expectations, communication requirements, mandatory technology capabilities, etc.

Practice Question

As you can see, with forethought and a clearly defined and executed plan, telecommuting can be extremely beneficial to organizations. Let’s move on to learn about other contemporary issues in organizational behavior!

Green Business Practices

Engraving of Manchester England during the industrial revolution. The sky is filled with smoke and pollution coming from several buildings.Close your eyes and try to picture yourself walking around during the Industrial Revolution. What do you see? Maybe rows and rows of employees with their heads down, working away on the task at hand. Maybe you see an assembly line, quickly working a product down the row. You may picture managers in early 1900s clothing, observing their employees from an observation deck as they work. Or maybe you picture the outside of a factory, with smoke billowing out of smokestacks, evidence of the production occurring within the building.

Let’s focus on those smoke stacks for a minute. Do you think that companies during the Industrial Revolution cared about their carbon footprint? Do you think they even knew that their business could have a negative impact on our environment? If they did, do you think they would care enough to change their practices? Do you think their customers and local citizens would demand better environmental practices if they knew the impact of pollution? While these may not have been important questions back in the day, they are critical in today’s society, as climate change becomes an ever-present issue. You may have heard of modern terms like sustainability, going green, carbon footprint, or triple bottom line. These terms play an important role in modern society and sustainability specifically, is becoming common practice as consumers are becoming more aware of the impact companies have on the environment.

PRACTICE QUESTION

STARBUCKS

Starbucks is the first store that comes to mind when people think about national coffee shop chains—after all, there are over 13,000 locations in the United States alone. In fact, in some cities, you can be within walking distance of 30 different Starbucks locations at once.

Starbucks is taking action to show its dedication “going green.” In fact, if you visit their website, they have a portion of their website dedicated to enacting sustainable solutions where they talk about enacting change in their stores, their packaging, and their power solutions. They even are participating in strategies to address climate change issues.

In 2018, as a part of their mission, Starbucks announced a change in the way they deliver their drinks: they will use cups made from all recyclable material and stop using plastic straws by 2020:

If you read through the comments, you can see Starbucks replying to concerns about not having a straw option, letting customers know that there will be straws available for those who need them but that the straws will be made of alternative materials.

Learn More

Take a look at this article from Forbes all about how companies are being driven to more green solutions due to customer choice and demands: A Surprising Push By The Invisible Hand: Why More Companies Are Doing Better By Being Good

Sustainability is a balancing act. It is the ability to successfully perform tasks in the present, while also doing what is necessary to protect the future. Sustainability in regards to the environment includes reducing your carbon footprint and changing operations to be more environmentally friendly. Companies that choose to practice sustainability face many challenges. While many organizations are in agreement that sustainability is important, few have found a way to successfully implement sustainable practices. Change towards sustainability starts with the organizational level but is executed at the individual and group level. Organizational behavior needs to change on all three levels in order to be successful.

Sustainability Practices

Let’s look at a simple example of how to implement sustainability. Imagine a company is trying to reduce their paper usage. In theory, it sounds like a great idea, but what’s the best way to make it happen? In order to be successful, the three levels of influence must work together.

First, the company needs to implement a company-wide goal to reduce paper usage. Most importantly, they need to explain the plan for how to achieve this goal. Then, the groups and individuals within the company need to change their daily behaviors to meet the goal. Now, what happens if no one reiterates the goal/plan? Probably nothing. The goal of minimizing paper usage would be a thing of the past. The follow-through of the plan is equally as important as the goal itself. Paper usage would need to become a common topic of conversation. It would need to become a part of the company’s culture through consistent training, purposeful discussions, and regular evaluations.

The paper usage example, in a nutshell, explains the complications of sustainability in today’s society. It’s easy to set a goal to become more sustainable. It becomes more complicated to create a plan to reach the goal of sustainability. More difficult still is the ability of an organization to follow-through and instill the plan within their culture. Changing an organization’s behavior to meet sustainability goals is not a quick and easy thing. It takes lots of time, energy, consistency, and motivation to successfully lessen an organization’s carbon footprint. While most organizations recognize the importance of going green, many are still struggling to successfully evolve their organization’s behavior to meet sustainability goals.

Outsourcing

Before we get started, it is important to define outsourcing. Outsourcing is the practice of hiring external assets to provide services to help perform job functions typically done by internal employees. Companies in the United States outsource for a variety of services including but not limited to call centers, information technology (IT), human resources, and manufacturing.

Outsourcing is a hot button topic in America. Keeping jobs within the United States is a big concern for many Americans whom argue the importance of employing citizens before hiring outside of the country. If outsourcing is considered such a taboo practice, then why do companies continue to outsource? For starters, outsourcing can save companies a lot of money. The appeal of increasing profit margins can oftentimes outweigh the value put on hiring American workers. If companies can hire employees to do the same job as their current employees but for a lower cost, why wouldn’t they? This is a controversial topic in today’s business world. Outsourcing effects each level of influence within an organization differently. However, outsourcing, without a doubt, has an impact on a company’s organizational behavior.

Photograph from space showing the sun rising over the earth.

Modern technology has connected every corner of the world. Within seconds, people on opposites ends of the world can “meet” through emails, phone calls, video conferences, etc. This has allowed outsourcing to become a more feasible business practice than in past decades. Employees that once all lived in similar locations are now scattered across the country, or the world, bringing together a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences. Managing international teams can be a challenge and may create a disconnect between managers and employees.

Even company employees whose jobs are not directly impacted by outsourcing may be affected. For example, if a company outsources their human resources division, it may have an indirect effect on the marketing department. While the employees within the marketing department have job security, their interactions with human resources may pose a challenge as there would be lack of familiarity and relatability. This has the potential to lead to frustration and disconnect. While companies may control the outsourcing process, they give up partial control by hiring a third party. Changing company procedures or practices used to be completed in house, but with outsourcing they now have a much lengthier modification process. This new process may cost additional resources, time, and money.

Practice Question

Freelancing is another form of outsourcing that is becoming more popular. Companies use freelancers for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, there are special projects that require an outside perspective or expertise. Other companies frequently use freelancers in order to keep their full time employee count low and to incorporate a variety of backgrounds and experiences. While there are a number of benefits to using freelancers, there are some challenges that accompany them. Hiring too many freelancers (or outsourcing too many positions) can make uniformity extremely challenging. Keeping company standards and/or products consistent with high quality may prove to be difficult when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Constant turnover or changes in staffing may create a challenging work environment and make it difficult to maintain effective employee relationships.

So, what do you think? Is outsourcing good or bad for an organization? Obviously the answer depends on the situation and circumstances of each company. However, regardless of your feelings or opinions towards outsourcing, one thing is certain: outsourcing impacts organizational behavior.

Workforce Generations

Four generations of S P Chaube's offspring. Photo includes individuals ranging in age from approximately 10 year old to approximately 90.Think about your most recent family gathering. Were your grandparents there? Maybe your parents, nieces, or uncles? What did conversations around the dinner table sound like? Sometimes family reunions are accompanied by a lot of drama and differing opinions. While some differences may be caused by opposing beliefs, other differences may be something a little less obvious. Generational differences can include lifestyle differences, motivational differences, etc. Although you may view these differences as quirky things your Aunt Susie or Grandma Betty say or do, there may actually be reasons they act a certain way. Understanding generational differences may help to shed some light on why your family acts the way they do. More importantly, learning about generational differences may provide helpful insight into how your coworkers operate. This can be extremely beneficial in creating healthy working relationships and developing a stronger team.

There are three generations who are primarily active in today’s workforce; Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y—with Generation Z just beginning to enter the workforce. Let’s break down each one and examine some similarities and differences! Keep in mind, these are generalizations and there are exceptions within each generation.

  • Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers have been working the longest and have extensive knowledge and experience. They want and oftentimes expect others to value their input and opinions. Baby Boomers believe that hard work equates to long hours and that integrity in the workforce should be top priority. They are known to “live to work” and place extreme value on career advancement and promotion. They enjoy working in a team environment and are said to have created meeting culture.
  • Generation X: born between 1965 and 1981. Generation X has been through a roller-coaster of economic events. Downturns and upswings have impacted their career choices, career successes, and career futures. Unlike the Baby Boomers, Generation X has a more “work to live” mentality and value their life outside of the workplace. While they have a good work ethic, their work-life balance is of highest importance to them.
  • Generation Y: born between 1982 and 1997. Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are the youngest members of the current workforce. Generation Y typically grew up with two working parents and a to-do list constantly on display throughout their childhood. Because of this, Generation Y has the ability to multitask and also values work-life balance. However, differently from Generation X, Generation Y believes they need to accomplish things on their to-do list in order to enjoy their free time. Therefore, Generation Y tends to be very goal oriented and efficient.
  • Generation Z: born between 1997 and today. Generation Z has never known a world before technology. They have grown up in an “always on” world where technology is readily available and used on a regular basis. Technology has been utilized as a babysitter by many parents of this generation and it is also present in the classroom. This constant access to technology makes Generation Z extremely tech savvy but has also changed behavior and lifestyle. Whether or not these behavioral and lifestyle changes will carry on into their adulthood is yet to be determined. Generation Z is starting to enter into the workforce with the oldest members turning 22-years-old in 2019.

Practice Question

Why can’t we all just get along?

Although there are many differences between the three workplace generations we discussed, there are certain things that all three can agree on. All three generations place a huge value on family. In addition, all three generations believe training and feedback is extremely important for a successful career. Finally, change is hard. Young, old, or somewhere in the middle, most people do not enjoy change. Regardless of your personal opinions and preferences, getting to know your coworkers and how they operate is extremely beneficial to all three levels of influence.