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Why Do People Differ in Their Manner, Extent of Their Involvement, and Concern for Work?

People's orientation towards work: Why do employees differ in their manner, the extent of their involvement, and level of concern for their jobs? Cite this item: S. Shafqat. (2021). People's orientation towards work. Risk Concern. Accessible at: link.


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Organizational behavior and human resource management literature has several in-depth researches and theories on people's orientations towards work, which give an insight on how "People differ in the manner and extent of their involvement with, and concern for work."

Many renowned authors have presented their theories and findings on this topic.

Notably, Donkin (2010), maintained that "for most people, their job remains about earning a living and not much else." However, Mullins & Christy (2016), have argued that "work, for most people today, in one form or another, is a major part of their lives, and many people spend a large portion of their time at their jobs." Their implication being that work, for most people, is much more than 'just earning a living,' and is an integral part of the lives of most people.

One of the most important research, on people's orientations towards work, is that done by Goldthorpe et al. (1968); they identified "from information collected about the work situation, organizational participation and involvement with organizational colleagues, and life outside the organization," that people have three main types of orientations to work: instrumental, bureaucratic, and solidaristic. "Individuals with an instrumental orientation define their job not as a central life issue but in terms of a means to an end. There is a calculative or economic involvement with work and a clear distinction between work-related and non-work-related activities" (Mullins & Christy, 2016; Goldthorpe et al., 1968). Arguably, as per the research of McGregor (1957), such people may be classified as Theory X-associated individuals, i.e., requiring close supervision and control.

The second orientation defined is the bureaucratic orientation: "Individuals with a bureaucratic orientation define organizational duties as a central life issue. There is a sense of obligation to the duties and responsibilities of the organization, and positive involvement in terms of a career structure. There is a close link between work-related and non-work-related activities" (Mullins & Christy, 2016; Goldthorpe et al., 1968).

The third orientation defined is the solidaristic orientation; "Individuals with a solidaristic orientation define the work situation in terms of group activities. There is an ego involvement with workgroups rather than with the organization itself. Their job is more than just a means to an end. Non-work activities are linked to work relationships" (Mullins & Christy, 2016; Goldthorpe et al., 1968). Arguably, people with a bureaucratic and solidaristic orientation, as per the research of McGregor (1957), may be classified as Theory Y associated individuals, i.e., due to the presence of inherent motivation, not requiring close supervision and managerial control.

A critical analysis of these orientations, however, should assess whether these orientations are entirely intrinsic. Sociological theorists, such as Charles Perrow, in his 1986 article titled 'Economic theories of organization,' emphasized that "human nature when compared to the non-human, shows 'primarily a lack of instinctual responses'; essentially, 'this means humans are highly adaptive'" (Perrow, 1986, pp.13-14). Also, "environments can make the difference: some organizational structures will 'promote self-interested behaviors, others will promote other-regarding behaviors, and still, others will be neutral" (Perrow, 1986, pp. 13 - 14).

Essentially, his monograph suggests that humans are very adaptive, and it is the organizational structure and nature of work that affects people's orientations towards their jobs, rather than these orientations being intrinsic. Therefore, people do bring their 'dispositions' to work; however, their orientations, arguably, aren't entirely intrinsic. These insights can also be considered a limitation to the orientation theory by Goldthorpe et al. 1968.

The nature of work is also an important factor affecting people's orientation towards work and how they differ. Thus, a more holistic viewpoint that may help explain as to why 'People differ in the manner and extent of their involvement, and concern for work' is presented below (figure 1). Arguably, people's orientations differ because of multiple levels of internal and external factors, as shown in figure 1.

factors affecting  an individuals orientation towards work, what affects individuals orientation towards for, individuals orientation towards work, orientation towards work.
Figure 1: Layers of factors affecting an individuals orientation towards work. Source: Author.

Arguments that support only external factors, or, alternatively, arguments suggesting an instrumental role of an individual's personality or disposition governing his or her orientations, may not be all-encompassing. Thus, figure 1 presents a more comprehensive representation of factors, internal and external, that impact organizational members and, arguable, govern their orientations towards their jobs.

In combination with other variables, these factors can help explain why people have different orientations towards their jobs. For example, a person with low epistemic motivation (disposition), who is in an organization that doesn't support divergent thinking (organizational environment/structure) and has a repetitive, mundane job, might develop an instrumental orientation towards work.

However, If the same person, with the same disposition, was in an organization (for example, national service, or an organization seeding intrinsic motivation in an individual due to his/her inherent outlook) that connected the role and responsibilities to a broader influence, affecting the individual psychologically, for example, social cause, patriotism, or connected the job to the person's nationalistic identity, etcetera, the same person would then develop a solidaristic orientation towards work. Therefore, the three parameters in figure 1 can help explain why people differ in this regard and have different orientations.

Reliance on just one theory, therefore, would be myopic, and implementing a framework, as presented in figure 1, can aid us in developing a broader understanding of why people differ in their manner, in their involvement, and their concern for work.

Organization should also be willing to understand a broader set of factors that impact workers' orientations, improve the organizational structure and culture incrementally, in conjunction with providing personalized attention so that holistically, it fosters an atmosphere that is more aligned with the type of orientations it intends its workers to nurture.


Donkin, R. The Future of WRK Palgrave Macmillan (2010).

Goldthorpe, J. H ., Lockwood, D ., Bechofer, F., and Platt, J. The Affluent Worker, Cambridge University Press (1968).

McGregor, D. (1957) 'The Human Side of Enterprise,' Management Review, 46 (11). pp. 22-28.

Mullins, L.J., and G. Christy. (2016). Chapter 10. Organizational and corporate culture. Pearson, 11th edition.

Mullins, L.J., and G. Christy. (2016). Chapter 7. WRK motivation and job satisfaction. Chapter 8. WRK groups and teams. Pearson, 11th edition.

Perrow, C. 'Economic theories of organization', Theory and Society 15(1/2) 1986, pp.11-45.


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