What is an Organizational Behavior Degree?

People and change are the constants within organizations in every sector and industry. Companies restructure. Technology evolves. Processes must adapt. Employees are required to learn new skills. Teams must integrate to work together more efficiently.

Organizational behavior (OB) professionals possess the specialized skills to manage these changes and demands and keep the human side of business at the forefront of organizations. The relatively new discipline of organizational behavior studies the interaction between individuals and groups in organizations; how to predict and understand events; the influence of values, personality, and emotions on individual behavior; and the implications of specific behaviors on the organization.

The organizational behavior major draws upon knowledge from psychology, sociology, management theory, and related fields. It addresses topics including communication and motivation, team dynamics, leadership, the role of politics and power, conflict and negotiation, organizational culture, and change management.

Program Options

It is not uncommon for organizational behavior programs to be offered as a concentration within an organizational management or human resources management major.

Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Behavior – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s programs in organizational behavior introduce and address issues of how to analyze and influence patterns of action and behavior in organizational roles and settings. Courses in leadership, human resources management, and team management are among the curriculum’s foundational courses. Instructional methods include research, case studies, and experiential learning.

Many schools encourage students to combine their studies in this major with a minor concentration in one of the social science disciplines, namely psychology, sociology, or anthropology.

Here is a snapshot of a typical undergraduate core curriculum:

  • Leadership – introduction to leadership theories; opportunities for students to assess and work on improving their leadership skills; topics include the ability to know oneself as a leader, to formulate a vision, to have the courage to lead, to lead creatively, and to lead effectively with others
  • Managing Organizational Teams – theory, research, and applications of organizational behavior; team processes, group dynamics, and team effectiveness; practical strategies and skills for successful management of organizational teams
  • Human Resources Management – issues pertaining to personnel administration; topic include human resource planning, job analysis, recruitment and selection, training and development, performance appraisal, organization development and change, issues in compensation and benefits, and labor-management relations
  • Negotiations and Conflict Resolution – principles and methodology of the negotiation and conflict resolution process
  • People Analytics – introduction to the emerging field of people analytics, which involves applying data collection and analysis techniques to improve the management of people within organizations; topics include people analytics techniques, common pitfalls, and possible shortcomings of people analytics, as well as related the ethical questions
  • Cross Cultural Management – examination of the dilemmas and opportunities that managers experience in international, multicultural environments; development of knowledge and skills (bridging skills, communication, tolerance of ambiguity, cognitive complexity) relevant to the interaction of different cultures in business and organizational settings
  • Leadership Practicum – students apply OB concepts and leadership strategies by spending one day per week at a company or organization
  • Organizational Research Methods – field research in organizational behavior
  • Managing Organizational Change – examination of organizational change theory and techniques, with an emphasis on interventions such as Quality-of-Work-Life approaches; a look at initiatives in organizational change, primarily in contemporary American organizations; opportunities for practical experience in work and organization redesign
  • Career Theory and Development – theory and research on careers and opportunity for exploration and development of personal career goals; analytical and practical skills are honed through the study of careers of individuals as presented in films, panels of guest speakers, and interview assignments
  • Compensation Management – examination of compensation policies and practices, consistent with motivational theories; topics include design and evaluation of job evaluation systems, salary structures, and performance-based pay; compensation of special employee groups; and current pay equity laws; projects and simulations provide practical experience in the use of compensation techniques
  • Introduction to Labor-Management Relations – the structure, function, and government of labor unions, labor legislation, the collective bargaining process, and the public interest in industrial relations
  • Collective Bargaining – principles of collective bargaining in the US and abroad; mock collective bargaining sessions provide an opportunity for students to apply knowledge gained
  • Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience – an introduction to contemporary research on the relationship between brain and behavior; topics include learning, memory and cognition, brain damage and neuroplasticity, emotion and motivation, and drug addiction and brain reward circuits
  • Social Psychology – an overview of the major topics in social psychology; three levels of analysis are explored beginning with individual processes (attitudes, attribution), interpersonal processes (attraction, communication, love) and social influence processes (conformity, norms, roles, reference groups)
  • Contemporary Social Movement – a look at contemporary social movements in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, such as the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the environmental movement; exploration of how social movements emerge, grow, and decline
  • Cognitive Anthropology – the problem of knowledge, the nature of perception, the concept of mind, the relation between thought and language, the concept of meaning (communication, interpretation and symbolism), social aspects of cognition, ideology

Master’s Degree in Organizational Behavior – One to Two Year Duration
To be accepted into an organizational behavior master’s program, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Some schools limit admissions to students who have earned their undergrad degree in a related discipline such as organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, education, economics, political science, or business. Both thesis and project based programs exist.

Coursework places a strong emphasis on understanding of behavioral research and the development of both employees and organizations as a whole. Master’s candidates apply their knowledge in practical business scenarios and undertake fieldwork to develop professional skills in a variety of real-life situations. This degree prepares students for careers as human resources directors, business consultants, and entrepreneurs.

At the master’s level, compulsory study modules may include:

  • Selection and Training for Human Performance – knowledge and understanding of research literature in the areas of employee selection and training
  • The Psychology of Effective Organizations – an overview of the ways in which individual, team, and organizational factors effect employee behavior at work; how appreciating these factors can help people design effective organizations
  • Systems Thinking and Consulting Practice – the theoretical foundations and practical applications of socio-technical systems thinking across a range of problem domains, such as IT systems, pro-environmental behavior, workspace design, telehealth, and safety
  • Organizational Development and Change – theories of change and development applicable to organizations, groups, and individuals; examination of different perspectives and approaches that can be applied to facilitate change in organizations
  • Managing Performance and Developing Careers – exploration of how the contexts and constraints of organizations create tensions and challenges in the areas of performance management and career development, and how these tensions and challenges may be navigated
  • Research Design and Analysis – an overview of the key issues in research design and the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data
  • Commercial and Professional Skills – the skills required for business consulting in 21st century organizations

Doctoral Degree in Organizational Behavior – Five Year Duration
Doctoral programs in organizational behavior are designed to produce university faculty members and researchers.

Here is a sample course schedule:

First year focus is on coursework to develop the tools needed to produce high-quality research. Classes may include:

  • Individual Behavior in Organizations
  • Macro-Organizational Behavior
  • Social Psychology of Work
  • Fundamentals of Empirical Social Science Research

Second year sample curriculum:

  • Special Topics in Organizational Behavior
  • Organizational Design and Development
  • Seminar in Human Resources Management
  • Interpersonal and Intergroup Behavior in Business Organizations
  • Comprehensive Written Examination
  • Oral Presentation of Current Research by each doctoral candidate

Third, fourth, and fifth year focus is on:

  • Full-time research
  • Participation in related research seminars
  • Participation in relevant national or international conferences
  • Dissertation and oral defense
  • Preparation for the job market

Sample Areas of Research

  • Cross-cultural management issues
  • Enhancing employee creativity
  • Goal setting for individuals and teams
  • Individual differences
  • Influences and consequences of diversity
  • Job search and recruitment
  • Leadership
  • Managerial cognition
  • Managerial goals
  • Motivational goals
  • Newcomer adjustment process
  • Organizational change and turbulence
  • Organizational identity
  • Organizational justice
  • Person-organization fit
  • Relational identity identification
  • Social and human capital
  • Status loss
  • Structuring work environments for creativity and innovation
  • Team performance and effectiveness
  • Workplace aggression

Degrees Similar to Organizational Behavior

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

Behavioral Science
Behavioral science analyzes the impact of our actions and interactions on ourselves, our relationships, and our society at large. The field incorporates a mix of natural sciences and social sciences. It is based on physiology – the regular functions of human beings; psychology – how our mind’s functions influence our behaviors and decisions; sociology – the development, structure, and functioning of human society; and anthropology – the evolution of human societies and cultures.

Degree programs in behavioral science teach students to apply the fundamentals of each of these sciences to understand human habits, actions, and intentions. They prepare graduates to work as behavioral scientists in human behavior research or as hands-on practitioners trained to address individual and social problems.

Human Development
Degree programs in this human development explore physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development through each stage of human life – prenatal, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood, late adulthood, and death and dying. The physical domain is concerned with growth and changes in the body and brain, the senses, motor skills, and health and wellness. Cognitive human development comprises learning, attention, memory, language, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. Psychosocial development involves emotions, personality, and social relationships.

Students learn how these three domains of human development influence and impact every aspect of our lives – from self-respect and self-esteem to how we interact with family, peers, and society at large.

Human Resources Management
Degree programs in human resources management teach students how to plan and coordinate an organization’s workforce. Courses cover recruitment, interview, selection, and hiring processes; management of workplace health and safety, payroll, training, and employee benefit programs; and dispute mediation, disciplinary actions, and dismissal procedures.

Labor Relations
The field of labor relations is concerned with the relationship between the management of a company or organization and its workforce. It entails the processes that take place between employers and employees and management and unions to make decisions regarding wages, working conditions, hours of work, workplace safety and security, and grievances.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro level and the macro level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Skills You’ll Learn

Graduates of organizational behavior programs tend to develop an impressive, and very transferable, set of organizational leadership skills:

  • Ability to solve problems / capacity to think abstractly and solve diverse problems quickly
  • Emotional resilience, especially in dealing with rapid change
  • Empathy
  • Extroversion / capacity to communicate and collaborate
  • Honesty / integrity
  • Lifelong learning
  • Motivation / initiative
  • Networking
  • Practicality / finding solutions based on practical evidence
  • Self-control / managing emotions / resisting reactionary responses
  • Strong influencing and persuasion skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Understanding and appreciating new technology
  • Understanding group dynamics
  • Understanding human motivation
  • Understanding human personality

What Can You Do with an Organizational Behavior Degree?

Business knowledge is critical to the achievement of organizational goals. Equally critical is an understanding of human behavior and what supports and preserves the wellbeing of the individual in the workplace. Because this is true not just for some industries but for all of them, employment options for graduates of organizational behavior span small and large organizations in every sector, from government, education, and healthcare to business, non-profits, and consulting.

Here is a sampling of roles and titles within the organizational behavior / organizational management field:

  • Change Management Specialist
  • Employee Relations Manager
  • Human Resources Advisor / Officer / Administrator / Manager / Director
  • Labor Dispute Negotiator
  • Management Consultant
  • Organizational Development Manager
  • Recruitment Officer
  • Technology Consultant
  • Training and Development Specialist / Manager / Director


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