Utilitarian Organizations Research Paper Starter

Utilitarian Organizations

(Research Starters)

Utilitarian organizations are formal organizations that are voluntarily joined in order to gain a material reward. Utilitarian organizations are large and may be either for-profit or non-profit. Examples of utilitarian organizations include universities and business organizations. To motivate members, utilitarian organizations rely on material rather than psychological rewards. Although universities are typically given as an example of utilitarian organizations, there is diversity within these institutions; some departments may be utilitarian while others may be normative in nature. In the business world, too, some organizations are better suited to a utilitarian culture than are others. However, utilitarian organizational cultures are not appropriate to every task or situation, and problems can arise when a utilitarian culture is used in a situation that requires the more liberal policies and procedures of a normative organization.

One may join an organization for any number of reasons. Some organizations, like hobby groups or social clubs allow members to spend time doing something they enjoy or to meet new people. Other organizations are mandatory such as correctional institutions, or the military during a draft. Other organizations provide needed goods or services. For example, an organization may provide the living necessary to afford membership in other organizations that meet our needs. In fact, over the course of our lives, most of us will be members of many organizations. Many of these will be formal organizations: large, highly organized secondary groups that are structured to efficiently accomplish one or more tasks and meet goals. According to some categorizations, there are three types of formal organizations:

  • Normative organizations that one joins voluntarily in order to pursue a common interest or to gain personal satisfaction or prestige (e.g., political parties, religious organizations, and sororities and fraternities);
  • Coercive organizations which one is forced to join (e.g., correctional institutions or psychiatric wards);
  • Utilitarian organizations that are voluntarily joined in order to gain a material reward (e.g., universities and business organizations).

Although the first type of organization that may come to mind when one thinks about utilitarian organizations that one joins to gain a material reward is business organizations, not all business organizations are necessarily utilitarian in nature nor are all utilitarian organizations necessarily business organizations. Some people may join a business organization because it allows them to meet a goal in their lives. In general terms, a business is merely an occupation in which an individual is engaged. Therefore, for example, a physician might become a member of a boutique medical practice not because the stated goal of being able to provide a higher standard of care to patients, but also because it brings in a higher income than a standard medical practice. To the extent that the latter is true, this is a utilitarian organization. On the other hand, a physician who joins Doctors Without Borders or a similar group would more than likely be joining the organization because of the organization allows him/her to help meet a non-economic need (e.g., to help others) rather than for the low stipend that it pays. This kind of group does not offer a high material reward and is, therefore, less likely to be a utilitarian organization. Further, not all utilitarian organizations are business organizations. The material reward that a utilitarian organization offers, for example, may not be directly monetary in nature. For example, schools and universities are considered utilitarian organizations in this schema. Although an educational institution may provide one with the credentials necessary to join a utilitarian or other business organization and earn more money than if one had not first attended the educational institution, the educational institution itself did not offer the individual money (as anyone writing a check for tuition can testify).

Motivation: A Defining Factor

As the discussion above implies, one of the factors that distinguishes between the various types of organizations is the motivation of the individuals who join them. One of the most enduring theories of motivation that has been applied to the understanding of what motivates individuals within an organization is Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs (Figure 1). Maslow hypothesized that people are motivated by different things at different times in their lives depending on what needs have been met or not met. In addition, Maslow's theory also hypothesizes that needs lower on the hierarchy must have been satisfied before higher level needs can be satisfied. Therefore, according to this theory, if one's more basic needs are not being met at any given time, one will focus on meeting these rather than meeting a higher order need. In his theory, Maslow posits that the most basic level of needs is the physiological needs including the needs to satisfy hunger and thirst, sleep, and sex. From the point of view of organizations, this means that one is unlikely to join an organization if it does not help one meet these basic needs (i.e., offer one sufficient remuneration to meet these needs). Therefore, for example, a physician is unlikely to join Doctors Without Borders if doing so would mean that s/he or his/her family would not be able to pay the rent or buy groceries.

Once one's physiological needs have been met, people become more concerned with safety needs including the need to feel secure and stable in life (e.g., having a job so that one not only has food for today, but can also buy food for the foreseeable future). Utilitarian organizations still work well at this level of need by providing members with the material things that they need to feel secure in life.

The next level of needs according to Maslow, however, is for belongingness. People at this level of need are motivated by such factors as the need to feel accepted and part of a group, to love or feel affection and be loved in return, and to avoid loneliness and alienation. Someone at this level of need may be motivated by being given the opportunity to work on a special team to solve an organizational problem where s/he could feel part of a group. This need is not well met by a utilitarian organization because of its emphasis on material rather than psychological needs.

The next level of needs in the hierarchy is for esteem needs including such things as the need to achieve, be competent, and independent. Both utilitarian organizations and normative organizations can meet this type of need. In the former case, it can be met by a high salary, corner office, or other things that symbolize that one has moved up in the organizational hierarchy. In normative organizations, on the other hand, this type of need can be met by contributing to a team not because it was an opportunity to be part of a group, but because it was a respected position that showed his/her importance or expertise.

The final level on Maslow's hierarchy of needs is self-actualization, or the need to live up to one's full and unique potential and is associated with such...

(The entire section is 3180 words.)