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The Impact of Diversity and Demographic Characteristics on Individual Behavior

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The Impact of Diversity and Demographic Characteristics on Individual Behavior

Organizational diversity emphasizes achieving equality and opportunity in the work environment through the changing of organizational demographics. Diversity in the workplace emphasizes the appreciation of differences and creates an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted, however it is individual behavior that determines the workplace environment. There are numerous types of diversity and demographic characteristics that impact on individual behavior.

Values and attitude differences are a key driver of individual behavior. Values and attitude is how a person sees, relates to and acts in and out of the workplace. Psychologist Milton Rokeach has divided values into two categories, terminal values (the goals an individual wants to achieve) and instrumental values (how the individual will achieve their goals) each with 18 traits (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn 2005). While studies have shown that values may differ between managers and line workers there are shared values within the organizational culture. Ideally, these shared values will bring the group together when working toward mutual goals.

An attitude is defined by Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn (2005) as “a predisposition to respond in a positive or negative way to someone or something in one’s environment.” Like values, attitudes are learned responses from life’s experiences and are reflected in our feelings and behaviors. When an individual is dissatisfied with their job the resulting attitude is likely to manifest itself in absenteeism, low production, physical and mental illness.

Even though attitudes and values do not always predict behavior, the link between attitudes/values and potential or intended behavior is important for managers to understand.

(Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn 2005) Prejudices (preconceived and often erroneous views about others) and stereotyping (generalizations at the base of prejudice) are negative observable behaviors that manifest into discrimination. Discrimination is against the law and organizations may be held liable for the actions of their employees.

In addition to values and attitudes, another diversity characteristic that is greatly affecting today’s work environment is age. Each generation has different common events which occurred during formative years that shaped their current work expectations. People who grew up during the Depression may have different expectations and behaviors than younger people who are often referred to as Generation X workers. Values can collide when members of different generations work together. Generation X members are often by viewed by older workers as frustrated, cynical, hopeless and unmotivated slackers who still live at home, wear grunge clothing and listen to alternative music. Conversely, older workers are viewed by Generation X members as dinosaurs who are technologically ignorant, mired in the old ways, who are hanging on to jobs that should be staffed by their peers. While these two generations many be very different when it comes to the use of technology, respect for authority, skill building, time spent on the job, and work/life balance, when the older workforce steps out to mentor the younger workforce a cohesive group is formed.

While age is a major demographic characteristic that impacts individual behavior in the ever-changing workforce, the concept of sexual orientation is the most volatile. Federal laws prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin; individuals who are 40 years of age or older, qualified individuals with disabilities, and sexual orientation. However the increased visibility of non-heterosexual employees can have the unfortunate negative side effect of putting those employees and their allies in conflict with others who perhaps find sexual orientation to be a difficult phenomenon to understand. It has long been said that people fear that which they do not understand. This ignorance leads to the perpetuation of irrational beliefs and stereotyping. Employees may be treated less favorably because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. In recent years this irrational fear revolved around the notion that simply being in the same room with a homosexual employee would expose others to AIDS. Through education

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