Organizational Motivation and Behavior Modification : Brief Literature Review

Originally written on 5/1/16

Conceptual Issues

The articles reviewed here discuss factors influencing employee and organizational outcomes. Both journal articles offer compelling theoretical arguments for dissecting organizational motivation and behavior modification while the course textbook adds to the argument for systematically observing organizational behavior. The literature here seems to be working toward clarifying our understanding of motivation and behavior modification, specific to the organizational setting.

Major Contributions

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), in an in-depth meta-analysis, examined behavior modification and the influence of organizational behavior modification processes on task performance. The authors offered a basis for their research by highlighting classic behavioral psychology theorists such as Pavlov, Skinner, and Watson. Further, Stajkovic and Luthans included organizational and systems theory to refine the focus of their work. The researchers arrived at a framework for assessing organizational behavior modification through careful structuring of hypothesis and research questions. Stajkovic and Luthans elucidate clear distinctions between service and manufacturing industry organizational systems. To further clarify the distinction, they highlight the importance of conceptualized and operationalized definitions of service as a performance outcome (p. 1130). In this line of thinking, the authors propose that ambiguous understanding of service complicates behavior modification systems because of often immeasurable performance outcomes as well as inconsistent feedback from leadership. Through comprehensive data analysis, the authors concluded that reinforcement interventions do affect behavioral change in organizational settings. Specifically, nonfinancial and social rewards interventions had the strongest effect in manufacturing organizations while financial and material reinforcement interventions produced the strongest behavioral change in service organizations (p. 1140). Youssef and Luthans (2007) add to the understanding of social reinforcement interventions in their research on positive organizational behavior (or POB) (p. 774).

There seems to be a trend in the business and organizational literature toward the development of emotional leadership. Proponents of “postheroic” leadership (e.g. Crevani, Lindgren, and Packendorff, 2007), distributed power, and humanbecoming models (Parse and Sims, 2002) argue that the most effective models of leadership are those in which the “followers” are the true sources of power, energy, and momentum. Within this trend, Youssef and Luthans (2007) set out to investigate organizational behavior and motivation in the context of such emotional motivators as hope, optimism and resilience (p. 774). In an effort to re-emphasize its importance, the authors defined the nature of “positive organizational behavior” (p. 774) and compared it with similar research in “positive affectivity (PA), positive reinforcement, procedural justice, job satisfaction and commitment, prosocial and organizational citizenship behaviors, core self-evaluations, and many others” (p. 774-775). To add to the knowledge of POB, the authors investigated “positive psychological capacities and work-related outcomes” (p. 793). The study found that, in 2 separate studies, feelings of hope had a statistical correlation to job satisfaction, work happiness and organizational commitment Hope had significant correlations in one of those studies. Optimism and resilience were both found to influence three out of the four factors in one study. Job satisfaction and work happiness were positively correlated with all three positive psychological capacities (p 793).

Methodological Issues

Both articles evaluated this week begin with the presentation of a set of theoretical assumptions that guide their research. For Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), the research was based in the theories of behavioral psychology, behavior modification, and organizational behavior. Youssef and Luthans (2007) rooted their research in behavioral psychology with an emphasis on positive psychology.

Research Methodology

The meta-analysis of Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) included published (and some unpublished) research from 1975 through 1995. After carefully evaluating each of 125 relevant articles against a strict criteria, the authors selected 19 articles for final inclusion in the research. (p. 1125). The authors then performed statistical analysis of the information to calculate effect sizes, normalize estimates of effect sizes, and evaluate “homogeneity of effect sizes” (p. 1126).

Youssef and Luthans (2007), in contrast, worked with primary data from a convenience sample of “1,032 employees from a wide range of positions in 135 midwestern organizations” (p. 784). To this, the authors compared data from a second study of 323 employees in varying roles at a broad range of organizations in the midwest. (p. 784). Both studies included respondents across a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, ethnic makeups, and positions within their organizations. Youssef and Luthans indicated that these variables were controlled for in the analysis of data. Data were collected from responses to a Likert-type survey “that included published standardized measures of hope, optimism, resilience, job satisfaction, work happiness, organizational commitment, and self-reported performance” (p. 785). The authors then collected information regarding the employees’ feelings of job satisfaction using methods derived from assessment tools developed by Oldham and Hackman (1980).

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) developed moderators to clarify data analysis. They split organizational types between manufacturing and service-oriented businesses (p. 1136). Next, they created moderators for types of “reinforcement interventions” (p. 1136), or the ways in which employee performance was rewarded or punished. Categories of reinforcement interventions were financial (e.g., monetary bonus), nonfinancial (e.g., performance feedback), social (e.g., recognition), and 4 “intervention packages,” (p. 1136) each consisting of a permutated combinations of the three types.

To organize their data, Youssef and Luthans (2007), created moderators for the type of positive psychological resource capacities (hope, optimism, and resilience), along with moderators for work-related outcomes (performance, job satisfaction, work happiness, and organizational commitment) (p. 786).


Article Independent Variables Mediators Moderators Dependent Variables
Stajkovic & Luthans (1997) • Behavior modification technique • Type of organization

• Type of intervention

• Task performance
Youssef & Luthans (2007) • Psychological resource capacities: hope, optimism, and resilience • gender

• age

• ethnic grouping

• education

• tenure/position in organization

• organizational size

• industry/sector

• social desirability

• job performance

• job satisfaction

• work happiness

• organizational commitment
• other desirable outcomes


Strengths and Limitations

Both articles surveyed here demonstrate large sample sizes; the meta-analysis was done on 125 articles, while the primary research of Youssef and Luthans was conducted on 2 groups of more than 1200 respondents combined. Each also conducted a very thorough statistical analytical procedure. Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) carefully culled source material prior to their meta analysis. Using Hedges and Olkin’s meta-analytic method, the researchers used three sets of statistical analyses to adequately explain moderators and the nature of moderation (p. 1135). Youssef and Luthans (2007), though conducting research within a convenience sample, carefully evaluated and controlled for variables such as age, gender, education, and organizational tenure.

Both studies were forced to confront highly ambiguous and subjective variables. In the research on positive organizational behavior, the authors needed to account for socially/culturally relative concepts of hope, optimism, resilience as well as organizationally-specific notions of performance outcome, happiness, satisfaction, and commitment. Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) seemed to struggle, in particular, with the confounding variables of performance outcomes as a function of organizational design (i.e., manufacturing vs service organizations). Additionally, the design of both studies did not account for outside factors that could contribute to performance outcomes and/or behavior modification. Youssef and Luthans (2007) admitted that their study did not allow for reliable causal conclusions and that competing influences could be predictors of employee behaviors (p. 793). Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), in a similar way, addressed the cognitive biases and human judgemental processes that inherently color the results of research (p. 1141). The authors of both studies expressed that their narrow theoretical focus could also be a limitation of research.

Implications for Research

As is often the case in empirical research, the authors of the studies reviewed here recommend that additional research be conducted with different samples and methodologies. The researchers emphasize the need for clarification of study moderators, especially in meta-analytical research (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1997, p. 1142). A specific recommendation from Youssef and Luthans (2007) was that researchers address positive organizational behavior in intercultural organizations or organizations outside of the United States to augment the generalizations made about hope, optimism, and resilience (p. 793).

Implications for Practice

Practically speaking, Youssef and Luthans’ (2007) research supported the beneficial function of training programs designed to develop employee positive psychological capacities. The researchers suggested that by engaging in short training interventions, organizations could work toward more positive organizational behavior. “Stepped” or incremental training programs were recommended to help build an “optimistic explanatory style” (p. 794) in which employees anticipate negative events and work toward positive outcomes rather than simply avoiding negative ones. Organizations could benefit in many ways from the development and implementation of positive behavioral training interventions.

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) provided similar, clearly articulated recommendations for leaders. Specific to their research, the authors recommended that leaders in manufacturing sectors utilize nonfinancial interventions or combined intervention packages to modify employee behavior. Given the results of their studies, the authors concluded that financial interventions, while positively correlated with employee performance outcomes, were not sufficiently more impactful than nonfinancial interventions, and therefore were not worth the additional resource allocation (p. 1142-1143). In service organizations, the researchers found that financial interventions were somewhat more impactful than nonfinancial interventions. However, the researchers also found that social interventions combined with nonfinancial interventions were slightly more effective than financial interventions alone (p. 1143). Overall, Stajkovic and Luthans recommend that leaders carefully evaluate their approach to behavior modification, including a focus on specific behaviors, resources available for interventions, and strategically structured performance outcome measurements.



Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2007) Shared leadership: A post-heroic perspective on leadership as a collective construction. International Journal of Leadership Studies 3(1) 40-67.

Pearce, C.L. and Sims H.P. (2002). Vertical versus shared leadership as predictors of the effectiveness of change management teams: An examination of aversive, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering leader behaviors. Group Dynamics, 6(2) 172–197.

Stajkovic, A.D., & Luthans, F. (1997). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Organizational Behavior Modification on Task Performance, 1975-95. The Academy of Management Journal, 40(5), 1122-1149.

Youssef, C.M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33, 774-800.