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Applying I/O Psychology Concepts, Part I - Work Attitudes

Today, I launch an eight-part series on how some of the most basic concepts within the sub-fields of industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology apply in the real world (using my past experiences in some cases) and how we can use these concepts to develop a healthy work environment. This is being done in conjunction with my preparation for a comprehensive examination in the subject areas which I will take nine days from today.

In Part I, I will discuss the concepts of work attitudes, as well as affect and behavior at work.


This section focuses on moods and emotions, which are the two main types of affects. Moods are a more generalized set of feelings while emotions are more targeted and short-lasting. We also learn about emotional labor and regulation. With emotional labor, we are forced to display certain emotions while at work, and an individual's changing of emotions is known as emotional regulation. When you go to the store, you typically deal with a cashier, and the cashier has to show professionalism even though they might think their job is menial. That perfectly illustrates what these concepts mean.

Two other concepts with emotions are emotional intelligence (EI) and emotional contagion. EI is a popular concept in I/O psychology which describes a person's capacity to manage emotional responses. Emotional contagion refers to a person's tendency to synchronize their emotions with others in their environment. In my previous blog post, I alluded to what happens when a toxic work environment impacts how employees conduct themselves. Little did I know at the time that there was an actual term for this, and that is indeed emotional contagion.

There is a theory in I/O psychology called the broaden-and-build theory which states that positive emotions may help individuals to expand their way of thinking, and in turn lead to higher degrees of positive emotions, and ultimately better results.

Job Attitudes

There are four distinct job attitudes: job satisfaction, work commitment, employee engagement, and organizational justice.

Job Satisfaction

As defined, job satisfaction is the degree of pleasure employees derive from their jobs. It comes in two levels, global job satisfaction and job facet satisfaction. Global satisfaction is overall feeling about their job while job facet relates to specific aspects such as their supervisor, pay, etc. This concept resonated with me in that there were aspects of my old job I liked, such as the work itself, the opportunity to connect with people, and the flexibility it offered later on, but other aspects I did not like. So in a sense I do identify with this concept. One thing I found interesting was the concept of a honeymoon-hangover effect, where a person's job satisfaction is high within their first three months of employment but then slowly begins to wane (to the point of reaching the same level they had at their previous employer at the time they left). In my old job, I saw people come and go in short time because they found they were not as satisfied with what they had signed on for. This seems to be a common effect and should be addressed to reduce turnover costs. Moreover, job satisfaction is typically influenced by the employee's positive affectivity (moods and emotions) combined with objective job requirements to create an interpretation of the job circumstances.

As job satisfaction decreases, withdrawal behavior increases. Withdrawal behavior can include absence, and ultimately turnover (i.e. departure from the job). There is a strong correlation between job satisfaction with turnover, but not with absence alone (since other factors can cause absence, e.g. medical issues, family, transportation).

Work Commitment

Work commitment is the extent to which an employee feels an allegiance to their work. It can be describe as being one or more of four types of bonds:

  • Acquiescence bond - where an employee stays at the job due to a perceived lack of alternatives

  • Instrumental bond - an employee worries about the cost of leaving.

  • Commitment bond - an employee chooses to be dedicated

  • Identification bond - the employee identifies with the company's values.

In my experience, I found myself bound by the first two - acquiescence and instrumental - staying at the company for over 16 years since I felt I had no other options and worried about the loss of job security. Colleagues of mine tended to be more commitment bond related, but very few had an identification bond (at least from my observations). Case in point - from the time I started until the time I left, there were only perhaps a few dozen people at the company for the entire length I was there.

Another way to study commitment is to look at three components - affective, continuance, and normative. Affective is where the employee stays due to personal attachment (similar to the commitment and identification bonds); continuance is based on the cost of leaving (like with instrumental bond); and normative is based on a feeling of obligation (combining the identification bond with perhaps acquiescence). In a sense, one can be committed for all three reasons, as I was.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is the degree to which a person feels invigorated, dedicated to, and/or absorbed in their work. These three concepts (vigor, dedication, and absorption) are considered to be separate dimensions, relating to personal energy, pride, and capacity, respectively. Employee engagement has become a hot topic in I/O psychology, to the extent that many big companies hire people specifically to manage employee engagement.

A concept associated with employee engagement is burnout, when an employee feels exhausted emotionally. It is often associated with withdrawal behavior. Burnout can be more frequent in a toxic work environment, especially when employees have little to no work-life balance.

Organizational Justice

Organizational justice pertains to the fair treatment of employees in organizations. There are three types - distributive, or the fairness in which outcomes or results are distributed among members of an organization; procedural, the fairness of the means used to achieve the results, and interactional, or how people are treated. Interactional justice is further broken up into interpersonal justice and informational justice. Interpersonal justice deals with showing concerns for employees while informational justice is related to providing knowledge about procedures that demonstrate regard for people's concerns.


In the workplace, there are several types of behaviors: organizational citizenship behavior, counterproductive work behaviors, and organizational politics.

Organizational Citizenship Behavior

This type of behavior is that which goes "above and beyond" job performance. It is broken up into five dimensions:

  • Altruistic - willfully helping people with a task or problem.

  • Conscientiousness - being punctual and following company rules, regulations, and procedures.

  • Courtesy - being mindful and respectful of other people's rights

  • Sportsmanship - avoiding complains, petty grievances, gossiping, etc.

  • Civic Virtue - responsible participation in the political life of the organization.

These types of behaviors are paramount to a healthy work environment. As one who experienced a fair amount of backtalking, disregard for rules and procedures, and unwillingness to help, I have been able to spot employees who fail to engage in these behaviors.

Counterproductive Work Behaviors

One of the most noticeable things in a toxic work environment, this is where the phenomenon of workplace bullying can be found. It can involve verbal and physical behaviors such as ostracism (a topic I will be studying in depth as part of my ongoing research practicum). More severe CWBs include sabotage, work-directed behaviors (lateness, absence, theft, and working slowly), and most seriously, homicide - yes, we've heard of disgruntled employees firing guns in offices, perhaps far too often. There is also a form of workplace bullying known as cyberagression - hostile or aggressive behavior through electronic means.

I will have much more to say about CWBs, workplace bullying, and cyberagression, but in the interest of saving space, I will defer this to future blog posts.

Organizational Politics

Much like government politics, organizational politics are where behavior is exhibited by employees driven by self-interest. As with CWB, I'll discuss this in further detail later on.

Conclusion and Reflection

As I read through this information, I learned a lot about behaviors and attitudes, and reflect again on how these affected me, directly and indirectly, in my past employment. I only wish we had training on this; perhaps it would have reduced the toxicity of the work environment.

Coming up tomorrow, part II - teams and teamwork.

Be Healthy!!!

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