In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Role of Time in Organizational Studies

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of the Role of Time in Organizational Studies
  • National Temporal Culture
  • Methodological Research on Time

Management Role of Time in Organizational Studies
Susan Mohammed, Jacqueline Marhefka
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0137


Time is an inescapable, fundamental, and ubiquitous part of everyday life that is interwoven with every aspect of work behavior. As speed has practically become an obsession in the business world, time is an increasingly dominant facet of employees’ work experiences. Although its importance is largely undisputed, however, time has traditionally been woefully neglected in organizational behavior and organizational psychology research. One of the most prolific authors on this topic, Joseph McGrath was among the first to study the intersection between temporality and groups as well as organizations. The perfunctory “we need more longitudinal research” in the discussion section of articles has become cliché, as almost every area of research in organizational science can better integrate temporality into research conceptualization and measurement. Although the numerous calls to make time more explicit in theories and studies seemed to largely go unheeded for decades, interest and momentum regarding time has been building in recent years. We provide bibliographic support for research on time at the individual, team, and organization levels as well as discuss national temporal culture and methodological work.

Overviews of the Role of Time in Organizational Studies

Much of the research on time has been conducted at the individual level, and a number of reviews nicely summarize this work. Joe McGrath was a pioneer in highlighting the literature’s neglect of time, calling attention to temporal problems, and overviewing conceptions of time, as seen in McGrath and Rotchford 1983 and McGrath and Kelly 1986. Following McGrath’s seminal work, Bluedorn and Denhardt 1988 provided a review of temporal research in the management literature, including both micro and macro organizational behavior studies. George and Jones 2000 as well as Mitchell and James 2001 argued for the need to incorporate time in theory building by explicitly specifying duration and when events happen. As the introduction to a 2001 special issue of the Academy of Management Review focused on time, Ancona, et al. 2001 called management research to actively incorporate a “temporal lens” instead of allowing time to be peripheral and implicit. Building upon their earlier temporal work, Bluedorn 2002 reviews the literature on time-based individual differences, and McGrath and Tschan 2004 provides a roadmap for researchers to consider temporality in methodological design. More recently, Roe 2008 illustrates that stability is the exception and change the rule in organization science, while Sonnentag 2012 organizes temporal research into broad categories to further empirical research.

  • Ancona, D. G., P. S. Goodman, B. S. Lawrence, and M. L. Tushman. “Time: A New Research Lens.” Academy of Management Review 26 (2001): 645–663.

    Advocated that management research adopt a “temporal lens,” focusing on when behaviors start, how quickly they happen, and in what cycles.

  • Bluedorn, A. C. The Human Organization of Time: Temporal Realities and Experience. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

    This book describes several aspects of time from a variety of perspectives, including the human experience and construction of time, as well as the resulting realties. Concepts including polychronicity, subjective time, temporal depth, convergence, and time management are discussed in depth.

  • Bluedorn, A. C., and R. B. Denhardt. “Time and Organizations.” Journal of Management 14 (1988): 299–320.

    DOI: 10.1177/014920638801400209

    Comprehensive review of various perspectives on time for micro- (e.g., individual differences, decision making, motivation) and macro- (e.g., strategy, culture) levels that concludes that much more research is needed on time.

  • George, J. M., and G. R. Jones. “The Role of Time in Theory and Theory Building.” Journal of Management 26.4 (2000): 657–684.

    DOI: 10.1177/014920630002600404

    Identified key theoretical issues regarding temporality and reviewed various time dimensions. The duration of time states and types of dynamic rates are advocated as constructs to contribute to future theory development.

  • McGrath, J. E., and J. R. Kelly. Time and Human Interaction. New York: Guilford, 1986.

    This book explores reasons why time has been neglected in theories and measures and offers an integration of conceptual and operational issues in the psychology of time. Discusses social entrainment theory, which proposes that routines internal to the team become synchronized with pacers external to the team.

  • McGrath, J. E., and N. L. Rotchford. “Time and Behavior in Organizations.” Research in Organizational Behavior 5 (1983): 57–101.

    Overviews dominant conceptions of time and offers strategies for coping with temporal problems. Described the term entrainment to explain temporal processes in social and organizational behavior (e.g., organizations have annual cycles).

  • McGrath, J. E., and F. Tschan. Temporal Matters in Social Psychology: Examining the Role of Time in the Lives of Groups and Individuals. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.

    This book examines the social psychology of time, temporal aspects of social psychological processes, and how temporality matters for research methodology.

  • Mitchell, T. R., and L. R. James. “Building Better Theory: Time and the Specification of When Things Happen.” Academy of Management Review 26 (2001): 530–547.

    Urges the management discipline to be more precise with the timing, frequency, and stability of measurement in both theory and measurement.

  • Roe, R. A. “Time in Applied Psychology: Studying What Happens Rather than What Is.” European Psychologist 13.1 (2008): 37–52.

    DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040.13.1.37

    Calls for a paradigm shift in applied psychology by arguing that change is the status quo and stability is the anomaly for organizational phenomenon.

  • Sonnentag, S. “Time in Organizational Research: Catching Up on a Long Neglected Topic in Order to Improve Theory.” Organizational Psychology Review 2 (2012): 361–368.

    DOI: 10.1177/2041386612442079

    Offers four ways in which time can be conceptualized in organizational research: time-related constructs (e.g., temporal focus), time-sensitive processes (how activities occur within a temporal continuum), time lags (when things happen), and temporal context (temporal boundary conditions for when propositions should hold).

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