Workers' Psychological Potential

Chris Argyris has studied how personal development is altered by the work situation. Too often businesses are run which constrain each person's potential and losing the personal benefit and that towards the organisation.

Potential is realised by getting right:

Personal and psychological maturity
From To
Infant passivity Adult activity.
Dependence Relative independence.
Limited behaviour Varied behaviour.
Erratic, shallow, brief interests Stable, deeper interests.
Short time perspective Longer time perspective.
Subordinate social position Equal or superordinate social position.
Lack of self-awareness Self-awareness and self control.
This means going from the impatient here and now, self centredness, and dependence to a longer term perspective, seeing the other's point of view and having independence with interdependent responsibilities. This facilitates a full and constructive release of psychological energy. satisfy the needs and challenging work will be met with energy.

Competence in dealing with one another
The lack of interpersonal competence prevents maturity and psychological energy. People remain short term regarding advantages (making excuses) and lack of seeing from another perspective (including not seeing effects on others, and poor communication); they shirk responsibility (preferring habit) and are uninterested in opportunities and apathy rules. Even with no obvious dissatisfaction people are not fulfilled.

The nature of the organisation
This incompetence derives from organisations. They are usually not axiologically good, meaning that they are not well coordinated to further overall objectives, and is unable to respond to internal and external demands for change. This happens with pyramidal hierarchy and specialisation, which produces sectional insularity. Routines reinforce infantile behaviours and prevent psychological development leading to a sense of dimunition and failure. Doing the job as told means no looking ahead or around. It is passive and dependent. At the same time, managers are forced to be more directive and remote. Everyone is a cog in the wheel. Communication is poor, especially from the worker upwards.

To be effective, managers should aim for the full pyschological development of the worker. This means changing the organisation and the raising the competence of dealing with one another.

So the top of the organisation must first increase its own interpersonal competence and show real feelings to those below, to speak constructively and positively, and not being defensive.
Secondly this must be spread throughout the organisation.
Thirdly jobs should be enlarged in a way to expand the individual's intellectual and interpersonal involvement. This means more responsibility and for thinking ahead. It means empowerment within the work operation and looking beyond. It means participation about the make up of the job. More information and evaluation is required.

Axiologically good organisation needs to be systemic or elements of human relations model (and similar models). It needs to involve people in what is happening, especially because it recognises human costs of change. Organisation should be flexible regaarding involvement and therefore able to alter in terms of the type of decision to be made.

A change agent like a social scientist might be able to advise on change for an organisation that is not developing the full psychological potential of workers.


Pugh, D. S., Hickson, D. J., Hinings, C. R. (eds.) (1971), Writers on Organizations, Second Edition, London: Penguin, 135-139.

Refers to:

Argyris, C. (1957), Personality and Organization, Harper & Row.

Argyris, C. (1960), Understanding Organizational Behaviour, Tavistock.

Argyris, C. (1962), Interpersonal Competence and Organizational Effectiveness, Tavistock.

Argyris, C. (1964), Integrating the Individual and the Organization, Wiley.

Argyris, C. (1970), Organization and Innovation, Irwin, 1965. Intervention Theory and Method, Addison-Wesley.