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Sustainability and Organizational Behaviour


Organizational context is constantly changing as businesses are exposed to new trends. Climate change and globalization, among others, directly challenge the traditional business model. Businesses regularly face pressure to adopt these changes from both the internal and external environment, which directly impacts organizational behaviour, including individual and institutional behaviour. Organizational behaviour refers to the research into the environmental and social aspects that influence how employees work in the organization (Kaifi & Noori, 2010). Hence, organizational behaviour becomes key in determining the success of implementing and adhering to sustainable measures and policies. Sustainability is dominating the decisions of many organizations across the globe. Boudreau & Ramstad (2005) describe sustainability as “future-proofing” organizations. Thus, organizations need to adapt to changes in resource usage, and organizational behaviour is critical because it involves aspects such as creating corporate culture. While organizations have focused mainly on the environmental part of sustainability in the past, there is a recent shift towards including social-economic and cultural elements (Bansal & Song, 2017). Organizational behaviour is subject to in-depth research, unlike sustainability which is an emerging issue. Thus, the necessary organizational behaviour for achieving sustainable goals is an ongoing field of study. This paper will explore the individual and institutional behaviours critical in achieving sustainable objectives, thereby answering how businesses can deal with the sustainability challenge. This literature review first explores key aspects influencing organizational behaviour, followed by identifying individual and institutional behaviour key to achieving sustainable objectives. Lastly, the study will explore the research gaps identified.

Leadership Matters

Leadership has no definition but is generally referred to as directing or influencing others to achieve a particular objective (Conger & Kanungo, 1987). Leadership is a crucial aspect of sustainability and organizational behaviour. This is because leadership is responsible for facilitating organizational success by helping respond to change (McCann & Holt, 2010). Sustainability is creating disruptions in an organization, which emphasizes leadership’s importance. Leaders and managers are responsible for the optimal performance of organizations and employees. Leaders have responsibilities such as scanning the environment for changes and influencing cultural shifts towards achieving sustainability. This leads to sustainable leadership, which comprises practices and behaviours that provide long-lasting value for the environment, society, and future generations (Avery & Bergsteiner, 2011). While leaders are tasked with external responsibilities, they also influence the employees’ beliefs, ambitions, and attitudes towards sustainability policies. This is especially important when recruiting new employees where the leaders can create a psychological contract (Sonnenberg et al., 2011). The psychological contract supports leaders in understanding the employee’s needs and aligns this with the organizational needs. Therefore, the leaders influence the employees’ expectations regarding the company’s commitment to sustainability.

However, leaders need the support of their followers to ensure a successful response to the sustainability demands of the organization. Leaders cannot succeed if the followers are not fully engaged or integrated into the sustainability plans. Thus, followers are becoming more proactive in leadership, leading to the popularity of follower-centered leadership styles (Ralon et al., 2021). There is a need for influential followers to ensure that the impact of interactions between the organizations and the sustainability demands is well understood. While leaders influence the behaviours of the followers and the organization, the followers also influence any organization’s leadership style. The team-member exchange quality theory can be applied to understand the interaction between team members and the leader (Aw & Ayoko, 2017).

Additionally, while followers are essential to any leadership, there is a need to understand how the organization impacts other key external stakeholders. This identifies leadership as a crucial aspect in influencing adherence to sustainability goals by motivating the necessary behaviour in the organization. Thus, sustainable leadership is the most critical leadership style in an age where sustainability is becoming necessary (Avery & Bergsteiner, 2011). The leadership approach ensures that all stakeholders are included in decision-making, and caution is practiced in any production process. The Massey sustainability framework recognizes the role of leaders that are oriented toward sustainable activities. Hence, leaders are essential in deciding how an organization will implement these new demands.

Workplace Diversity

Diversity is another critical concept dominating the business environment in recent times. Diversity has become an inevitable concept for organizations across the world because of globalization. Work diversity refers to the differences or similarities of workers as a consequence of the different backgrounds to which they belong. Diversity has multiple dimensions, such as linguistics, culture, race, ethnicity, and personality (Inegbedion et al., 2020). The changing nature of work has impacted the role played by diversity in businesses. While diversity is a relatively new concept, it has potential benefits for the organization if managed well. This concept has characterized modern organizations, which has led to increased complexity and challenges in management (Shena et al., 2009). These challenges include resistance to change and other problems such as discrimination and marginalization based on race, ethnicity, and other employee differences. Communication barriers are another problem that affects diversity in the workplace, especially when workers are from different cultures.

Despite the challenges affecting diversity, it does have potential benefits for the organization. These conspicuous benefits create the desired individual and institutional behaviour necessary to achieve sustainability objectives. Diversity leads to the assembly of different experiences, cultures, and skills essential when dealing with the modern challenges introduced by sustainability (Simons & Rowland, 2011). Hence, an organization with a diverse workforce will likely have various techniques or insights into sustainability objectives. This leads to efficiency and effectiveness when dealing with modern challenges. Thus, correctly managing these differences ensures that the benefits of heterogeneous groups of people are captured (Inegbedion et al., 2020). Most organizations that adopt diversity measures are likely to influence their creativity because they are open to changes. However, there is no single method for instigating change in an organization because work diversity and sustainability are two emerging concepts that interact with each other leading to a demand for different responses. Thus, the new changes will likely influence the institutional behaviour for sustainability. Workplace diversity is, therefore an integral characteristic of organizations that value sustainability because it is an approach that incorporates different views and perspectives on this problem (Sheena et al., 2009). Innovative behavior is a critical element in the modern world characterized by dramatic changes in the business environment. This is illustrated in the Massey sustainability framework, where a fundamental mission is searching for innovative solutions. Hence, work diversity includes integrating individuals from different backgrounds to solve social or environmental issues. Achieving sustainable objectives can be supplemented by work diversity as it allows the organization to be grounded in external changes.

Organizational Learning

Organizational learning capability is a crucial institutional behaviour necessary for achieving sustainability objectives. Organizational learning capability involves the individual behaviours of the employees as those of the organization. Organization behavior refers to the process that a business improves itself over time (Goh & Richards, 1997). This concept aligns with the Massey sustainability framework because it involves the intentions of constant improvement to achieve a desired future where the organization is sustainable in all its activities. Organizational learning is crucial in the organization as it allows leaders at all levels to create desired institutional behaviors (Goh & Richards, 1997). Organizational learning involves processes such as knowledge creation, transfer, and retention. This is an essential concept in the era of sustainability, where businesses constantly demand to evolve and adapt their systems. Hence, dialogic interaction in the organization allows for knowledge transfer among people.

Additionally, organizational learning capability is promoted by interaction with the external environment (Tam & Gray, 2016). Hence, a diverse workplace will experience plenty of benefits in the knowledge relating to sustainable effectiveness. While different people have various learning styles, the management needs to create a platform that supports all individuals regardless of their strengths.

Sustainable development requires organizational learning. This is because organizations have different corporate behaviours, and there is a lack of a standardized approach to sustainability (Siebenhüner & Arnold, 2007). This leads to new, unexpected scenarios and allows companies to understand when they should pursue change processes to implement sustainability. Thus, corporate learning is a behaviour that supports the achievement of sustainability objectives. The Massey sustainability framework illustrates the critical role of future research as this is central to learning more about effective mechanisms for implementing sustainability. The learning mechanisms of any company will interact with the leadership styles, which impacts the organizational response to changes brought about by sustainability (Siebenhüner & Arnold, 2007). Leaders and policymakers are responsible for implementing policies that allow for organizational learning behaviour, which is necessary for the modern era of sustainability.

Engagement in the Organization

Engagement is another critical aspect of organizational behaviour influencing sustainability objectives’ adherence. Employee engagement refers to the level of dedication that employee has towards their jobs (Kim et al., 2013). While internal dimensions such as personality play a role in the motivation of any particular employee, the management can still influence employee engagement using extrinsic approaches. Employees have a wide array of components of the human dimension aside from their personality (Kim et al., 2016). While it becomes difficult to understand all these dimensions, it is critical to consider that engagement is pivotal to achieving sustainability objectives. Employee engagement is crucial to organizational success as this behaviour allows the entire organization to be aligned toward sustainability issues. Engaged employees are more committed to the corporate objectives as they can also partake in crucial decision-making in the organization. Thus, organizations that are tuned to provide support for employees lead to positive engagement, creating the necessary culture in the organization (Kim et al., 2013).

In addition to organizational behaviour, individual behaviours also play a role in engagement. Thus, employees increasingly look for meaning in work (Glavas, 2012). This individual behaviour justifies the need for organizations to engage employees n socio-economic and environmental sustainability impacts (Dutton et al., 2010). Organizations are moving beyond just the management agenda by understanding techniques that can best motivate employees to engage in sustainability. Thus, targeting individual engagement is critical in ensuring that an organization-wide behaviour is created to implement the sustainability objectives. Employees will picture sustainable organizations as providing more excellent value than organizations that do not address the issue. This s because sustainable organizations allow employees to live out certain aspects of their self-concept that go beyond economic gains (Glavas, 2012). Thus, engagement is a crucial institutional and individual behaviour that supports the achievement of sustainability. Fostering employee involvement aligns with the Massey sustainability framework, where sustainability is an inclusive practice.

Gaps in Literature

Organizational behaviour and sustainability are attracting attention in contemporary businesses of all sizes. While few researchers have investigated the individual and organizational behaviour necessary to achieve sustainability objectives, there are glaring gaps. First, there is a lack of empirical studies examining the different ways sustainability could be implemented. This is because sustainability cannot be standardized, and each organization will react differently to the demands. Furthermore, implementing engagement mechanisms might motivate one employee but disengage the other. There is a lack of a comprehensive approach to dealing with the differences between organizations and their employees. Secondly, few empirical studies have investigated the influence of workplace diversity on sustainability measures. These few studies fail to provide comprehensive coverage of the impact of the work diversity dimensions such as personality and culture as they are very wide. Lastly, there is a crucial gap in understanding how leadership behaviour, specifically in a leader-follower relationship, influences the achievement of sustainability. The psychological contract provides a critical framework for understanding the leader-follower relationship and its impact on sustainability. However, this framework is not explored in these studies despite its potential to provide an understanding of organizational behaviour d its relation to sustainability.


This literature review has explored organization behaviour and sustainability and identified key behaviours essential in achieving sustainability objectives. One key aspect identified is leadership and how it contributes to increased sustainability in the organization. Thus, follower-centered leadership is becoming popular as this allows the employees to be more involved in sustainability actions. Therefore, leadership behaviour involves both the leaders and the followers. The other aspect is workplace diversity, which creates a platform that allows heterogeneous groups to work in an organization. This leads to many perspectives and views, which are essential in generating behaviours responsible for innovative ideas. Another critical aspect is organizational learning which is crucial in adapting to organizational change. Organization learning behaviour is key to achieving sustainability objectives as the employees can understand the external environment and how the organization can achieve sustainability. Engagement is another institutional behavior critical in motivating employees to adhere to sustainability objectives because it grants the employees a cause to work beyond monetary gains. The review has identified crucial gaps related to the lack of comprehensive empirical findings examining organizational behaviour’s role in sustainability.


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