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The influence of social factors on organizations

management, organizing, social factors, values, norms, attitudes, customs, demographics

The social domain of an organization's environment consists of societal values, attitudes, norms, customs, and demographics. Every society incorporates values and attitudes that may be uniform across a population or may vary by regional or ethnic groupings. Values are what people believe to be proper goals for members of the society to keep or achieve. Attitudes reflect what individuals think about issues and behaviors that occur within a society.

In the United States, most citizens value the freedom of speech as a necessary feature of their daily lives. They may, however, believe that this right is abused by other citizens. Citizens in other countries may feel that freedom of speech is unnecessary or is a value that only leads to disruption in their daily lives. Other values and attitudes that may differ by regions within a country or between countries concern the role of the family as a means to socialize the young, the importance of clean air to breathe, or the role of religion in political institutions. Values and attitudes are often expressed in the legal codes of countries. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, for instance, guarantees the right of free speech to all citizens.

Values and attitudes, however, can change over time. Forty years ago in the United States, the role of motherhood was viewed by many as taking precedence over the mother's desire to work outside the home. This attitude has changed, despite some resistance, as over 50 percent of women with children under the age of six are now active in the work force. In 1950, the percentage of working mothers was only 12 percent.3
Attitudes toward the consumption of alcohol have undergone several changes over the years. In 1919, Prohibition was established with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which forbade the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Led by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, many had the attitude that alcohol consumption led to the decay of people's morals and the erosion of their sense of responsibility to their families.

Enforcement of the law proved to be an insuperable problem, however, and public concern about the graft and violence surrounding illicit traffic in liquor led to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. In the past decade, however, there has been a resurgence of concern about the effects of alcohol not only on those who consume it but also on those who do not. Concern about traffic deaths due to drunk driving, health hazards associated with alcohol abuse, and the increase in the number of alcoholics has led to efforts to restrict its use.

Naturally, these shifts in values and attitudes about alcohol consumption have had direct repercussions on the operations of organizations that manufacture alcoholic beverages. During Prohibition, many breweries and distilleries were either forced into bankruptcy or required to manufacture nonalcoholic beverages. With the end of Prohibition, legitimate producers of alcoholic beverages reappeared. Recently, in response to the growing concern about alcohol consumption, producers have issued public service messages cautioning consumers about the dangers of overconsumption. They have also added beverages lower in alcohol content to their product line.

Societal norms are common standards of behavior accepted by members of a society. Norms may be the product of values, attitudes, customs, religious teachings, or tradition. Forty years ago, for example, it was the norm for men attending sporting events to wear a suit and tie. In many ballparks today, this practice is more likely to draw stares from spectators in the stands. Norms also influence the way we speak or behave in the presence of friends, relatives, new acquaintances, or supervisors. Managers who fail to observe regional or societal norms in their dealings with people inside and outside the organization may become less effective.

Demographic factors are such characteristics of the population as age, sex, income, and buying patterns. The United States Bureau of the Census collects countless measures of population characteristics to identify shifts in the population and help organizations in their forecasts of future trends. The dramatic population growth of the postwar years of 1946 to 1962 has had a major impact on organizations as the baby-boom generation has matured. Manufacturers of baby food, clothing, and toys first enjoyed a large increase in sales only to suffer a decrease in sales as this portion of the population Moved into their teens and became a significant market for the products of record companies, the automobile industry, and clothing manufacturers, which all experienced growth during the sixties. In the seventies, home-construction firms and companies catering to weddings grew rapidly. Businesses in the 1980s who benefited from the buying patterns of the maturing baby boomers were those associated with high technology, health, and travel. The 1990s will perhaps be prosperous for organizations that provide medical goods and services and products associated with status.

Demographics are important in other ways as well. They provide information about living patterns, the composition of the work force, migrations to new regions, levels of education, and wealth. Organizational managers who can interpret these trends successfully will be at an advantage in making decisions about entering new markets, producing or dropping products, and staffing the organization with essential human resources.

Published: 2007-05-12
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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