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Attitudes Theory

Attitudes are an integral part of the workplace that directly impact employee behavior.  Understanding how people form attitudes, how those attitudes affect work behavior, and persuasion will help managers improve their ability to change counterproductive attitudes.

A.        The ABC Model

The ABC Model includes three areas: affect, behavioral intentions, and cognition.  Affect is the emotional component of an attitude.  When we ask an employee how he or she feels about a new policy, we are requesting an affective response.  Behavioral intentions relate to the action(s) an individual would take given the opportunity.  Cognition is a verbal statement regarding one’s belief about a specific person or situation, which reflects perceptions and attitudes. People experience cognitive dissonance when their behavior conflicts with their own attitudes or beliefs.

B.        Attitude Formation

All attitudes are learned, and our attitudes vary based on our experiences and learning environment.  One way in which our attitudes are formed is through social learning, which involves the influences of family, peers, colleagues, and institutions.

C.        Attitudes and Behavior

The association between attitudes and behaviors intrigues researchers.  Attitude enactment is not as simple as thinking positively to produce positive results.  The degree to which our behavior matches our attitudes has to do with relevance, personality factors, and social context.

 Work Attitudes 

Two primary work attitudes are job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

Job satisfaction is the pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experience.  There are several measures of job satisfaction.  One of the most widely used measures is the Job Descriptive Index.  Job satisfaction correlates with several other outcomes, including organizational citizenship behavior – behavior that is above and beyond the call of duty.


Organizational commitment is the strength of an individual’s identification with an organization.  There are three kinds of organizational commitment: affective, continuance, and normative.  Affective commitment refers to an employee’s intention to remain in an organization because of a strong desire to do so.  Continuance commitment is based on the fact that an individual cannot afford to leave.  Normative commitment refers to a perceived obligation to remain with the organization.  Some interesting outcomes of widespread company downsizing ventures may alter the level and types of organizational commitment.

Because attitudes can be altered and shaped, it is in the interest of managers to be conscious of ways in which they might affect attitude changes.  Through persuasion, attitudes can be altered.  Characteristics of the persuader, and the individual being persuaded, and the message itself must be considered.  Source characteristics are related to the individual trying to persuade another, while target characteristics are related to the individual being persuaded.

The persuader may have an impact on the target through expertise, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and/or likability.

2.         Target Characteristics

The persuader may have difficulty persuading a target who has high self-esteem, who is resistant to change, or who is negative.

3.         Message Characteristics

People react either negatively or positively to the message content, as well as to the perceived intent of the persuader sending the message.

4.         Cognitive Routes to Persuasion

Persuasion occurs through either a central route or a peripheral route, or both.  The central route involves direct cognitive processing, in which the content of the message is very important.  In contrast, peripheral routes involve persuasion based on characteristics of the persuader or the method of presentation.  Consequently, the target’s level of involvement with the issue becomes very important, and the persuader should adopt the route that matches the individual’s level of involvement.

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