In a previous post, I discussed the definition of workplace organizational behaviour and how certain individual-level variables—including personality, ability and learning—affect productivity, absenteeism, turnover and job satisfaction. In this post, let’s examine how one’s perception influences productivity, absenteeism, turnover and job satisfaction.
What is perception?
Perception is the process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. What one perceives can be substantially different from what another person perceives, and both can be very different than the actual objective reality. In fact, behaviour is based on one’s perception of what reality is, not reality itself.
Why is perception important in the workplace?
Behaviour in the workplace is based on people’s perception of the workplace. There are many factors that influence how something is perceived. Factors pertaining to the perceiver can involve the person’s attitudes, motives, interests, experience and expectations. Contextual factors can involve time, work setting and social setting. Finally, factors related to the actual target can involve novelty, motion, sounds, size, background and proximity.
But what does perception have to do with employment?
Well, there are various ways that a person can perceive a situation in the work environment that can lead to problems. For example, the following can occur among employees in the workplace on a daily basis:
- Fundamental attribution error: The tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors when making judgments about the behaviour of others
- Self-serving bias: The tendency to attribute one’s own successes to internal factors and blame one’s own failures on external factors
- Selective perception: The tendency to selectively interpret what is seen based on one’s interests, background, experience and attitudes
- Projection: The tendency to attribute one’s own characteristics to other people
- Stereotyping: The tendency to judge someone on the basis of the perception of a group to which that person belongs
- Halo effect: The tendency to draw a general impression about an individual based on a single characteristic
Examples of perception in the workplace
- As you can imagine, the way a person perceives a job applicant during an interview can affect an organization. For example, interviewers may like one aspect of the interviewee and—pursuant to the halo effect—assume that person is entirely a good fit with the company. Or, interviewers may learn they have one thing in common with the interviewee and project that they are similar to the candidate in every way, making a good fit for the organization.
- An employee may not get a promotion because an employer has formed a negative impression about the employee simply because that person belongs to a particular religious group. This is stereotyping, and is clearly contrary to human rights legislation. However, given human nature’s tendency to gather things and people into groups and make general impressions, this can occur more often than one might think.
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- An employee may be considered disloyal or not putting enough effort into a project. These characteristics are subjectively judged based on an employer’s perceptions. For instance, one supervisor may selectively perceive an employee to be loyal, while another supervisor may selectively perceive that same employee to be too conforming and insincere.
What effect does perception have on employees and the workplace?
In terms of perceptions, research has shown that what employees perceive from their work situation influences their productivity most. Therefore, to influence productivity, it is necessary for employers to assess how workers perceive their jobs.
Likewise, absenteeism, turnover and job satisfaction have more to do with an employee’s perception of the job. Those individuals who perceive their jobs as negative are likely to have increased absenteeism, more frequent turnover and less job satisfaction. The only way to influence these variables is to understand how an employee subjectively perceives the workplace.
Consequently, perception influences decision-making within an organization. Take the example of the interview. Within the first few minutes of the interview, the interviewer has learned some information about the interviewee and has formed an impression based on various perceptions. The interviewer then decides whether the candidate is a good fit with the company. The remaining time in the interview is typically spent asking select information that supports the initial decision.
Takeaways – managing our perceptions at work
Though we are all human and have a background and a particular perspective on which we rely when perceiving things in the work setting, it is important to be aware of the various factors that influence our perceptions, especially when making important decisions that affect the organization.
Sometimes it is a good idea to have a few decision makers provide an opinion when making big decisions to ensure that various perceptions are considered before taking the plunge. It’s also very helpful to have written workplace policies and procedures in place to ensure that reduce the likelihood help narrow the gap between perception and reality. Such policies help ensure management and employees act fairly and consistently, thus reducing the risk of discrimination and human rights violations, among other problems.
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