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Identity boundaries and transitions in current work environments. Dr Kate Mackenzie Davey Head of Department of Organizational Psychology. Work and identity. Outline classic approaches to work and identity Focus on identity and transition Describe recent research

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identity boundaries and transitions in current work environments

Identity boundaries and transitions in current work environments

Dr Kate Mackenzie Davey

Head of Department of Organizational Psychology

work and identity

Work and identity

Outline classic approaches to work and identity

Focus on identity and transition

Describe recent research

Occupational image and identity

Boundaries and identity

work and social identity
Work and social identity
  • Social identity theory (Tajfel, Haslam, 2000)
    • Self categorisations
    • Ingroup-outgroup
    • Maintain positive self image
    • Socialised
  • Organizational/occupational identity
    • Individuals are socialised to identify with organizations or occupations to which they belong (Elsbach and Kramer, 1996)
  • Role identification: internalisation of values and beliefs (affective and cognitive components) through socialisation (Ashforth & Mael, 1989)
social construction
Social construction
  • Social constructionism emphasises ongoing ‘identity work’ (Sveningsson and Alvesson 2003)
  • Identity is fluid, fragmented, socially constructed through language, negotiated in interactions and contingent on context.
  • Identity is “something people perform or do rather than something they have”. (Smith and Sparkes 2008: 25).
  • The self is constructed by and through language and “identities are “performed within relationships”, “done in interactions” and/or “talked into being” (Smith and Sparkes 2008: 25).
  • Rather than having one fixed, all purpose identity, individuals can invoke a range of identities according to different circumstances and different needs.
performative identity butler 1999
Performative identity (Butler, 1999)
  • Calls the subject into question: not natural
  • Asserting ways of doing identity to cause trouble for oppositional identity
  • Identity enacted
  • Performance without a separate performer
  • Parodic proliferation undermines dialectic: drag
  • ‘The laugh of recognition is the occasion of insight’
  • Performative acts and a performative economic context (Case & Pineiro, 2006)
  • Discourse “ a connected set of statements, concepts, terms and expressions which constitutes a way of talking ..about a particular issue, thus framing the way people understand and act with respect to that issue” (Watson, 1994, p.113)
  • Particular interests become taken for granted
  • Productive and reflective of power relations
  • Constructs identities and subject positions
continuity and change
Continuity and change

Focus on stability and continuity

  • Links to maintaining identity and stable self concept(Sugarman, 2001)
  • External continuity: context, familiar environment, activity, people. Pressure to maintain career and construct cv accordingly
  • Internal continuity: maintenance of sense of identity: our awareness of consistent structure of ‘ideas, temperament, affect, experiences, preferences, dispositions, skills(Atchley,1989)
  • Career embeddedness(Cooper & Mackenzie Davey, 2011)

Change seen as in line with capacity to cope (Atchley,1989)

  • Emplotment (Cochran, 1997) “a comforting story we tell ourselves” Nicholson & West (1988)
institutionalised socialization jones 1986 saks et al 2007
Which of these apply to the armed services?

Collective or individual

Formal or informal

Sequential or random

Fixed or variable

Serial or disjunctive

Investiture or divestiture

Leads to passive acceptance of pre-set roles

Reproduces the status quo

Reduces uncertainty

Reduced role ambiguity

Reduced role conflict

Lower intention to quit

Increased fit to job and organization

Increased job satisfaction, commitment, performance

Custodial approach to role

Reduced innovation

Institutionalised socialization(Jones, 1986, Saks et al 2007)
transition stages hayes et al 1976
Transition stages Hayes et al 1976




Letting go




This is based on studies of bereavement. Is it appropriate for all work transitions?

work role transitions
Work role transitions

Any move into and/or out of a job, any move between jobs, or any major alteration in the content of work duties and activities (Nicholson & West, 1988)

transition cycle nicholson 19871
Transition cycleNicholson 1987









personal change,

role innovation,

developing relationships




identity and work
Identity and work
  • Identity research indicates that people typically seek to see themselves in a positive light, and this positive sense of self is largely grounded in socially important and salient roles - including occupations- and how these roles are perceived by others. (Ashforth & Kreiner, 1999:413)
investment bankers stigma and identity

Investment bankers, stigma and identity

Kate MacKenzie-Davey and Liz Stanley

coping with stigma and taint at work
Coping with stigma and taint at work
  • Established body of research on ‘dirty work’ – occupations that are physically, morally or socially tainted
  • Despite acknowledging the stigma, individuals often maintain positive, self-esteem enhancing work identities
  • Ashforth & Kreiner (1999, 2007) argue people ‘normalise’ taint by engaging in proactive tactics to counter it
    • developing occupational ideologies
    • creating social buffers
    • confronting client and public perceptions
    • defensive tactics, both cognitive and behavioural
    • blaming – distancing from clients and role
  • Static, based on existing rather than changing stigma
defensive reframing
Defensive reframing
  • Little use of occupational ideologies, social buffers or confrontation as tactics
  • Some (limited) reframing to stress banks’ importance

“I mean, whatever way you look at it, banks are, are a critical

component of any functioning society, You can’t do without banks,

okay, so there is the need for some perspective on the whole thing.”

“I feel okay. If we weren’t here, well there’d be lots of other people

that wouldn’t be working out there.”

  • Most tactics were defensive – behavioural and cognitive
social comparison
Social comparison
  • Most common tactic was social comparison – differentiating self from others you judge more harshly

“Um, so you get this phenomena that the banks overcharging kind of retail customers, and you get tarred almost with that brush, working in banking, being a banker”

“Um, well the industry isn’t all that bad, okay? I think that the industry on the whole isn’t like that at all. It’s just that there are a few areas in the industry that are like that.”

“Um, I feel quite resentful actually about, um, if, if I’m honest, I feel quite resentful about the fact that, you know, a relatively small number of people, um, have caused quite a big problem.”

  • Distancing from role was common as people stressed separation of personal and work identity

“I think the problem is slightly different in that the circle of people I mix with are not… don't tend to be professional people, so family and friends are not professionals. So I don't think they… this sounds as though it's… I'm not saying they don't comprehend, but it's just not… So they… I'm just the same person that I've always been.”

“Even now most, most of the people we socialise with now 20 years on have no clue what I do. Ah, it’s quite tricky, because it’s very, it’s very varied, so some people in our little local village where we… we don’t socialise with people of our own profession so we very rarely socialise with people in the industry, and we live in a tiny little village. Out there,we don’t socialise with people in the industry.”

taint and banker identities in the financial crisis
Taint and banker identities in the financial crisis
  • Nature of the taint
    • Where taint established, more time to develop occupational ideologies and shared responses
    • For bankers faced with emerging taint, no established resources to draw on
    • Attack on character of people not nature of work
  • Nature of the workers
    • More collectivism in low prestige occupations
    • Banking culture focused on individual performance and reward, not unionised
  • Strength of taint
    • Values focussed as personal and separate from occupation
press representation and individual identity
Press representation and individual identity
  • Case of Lynndie England and Jessica Lynch and the position of female soldiers in the USA
  • ..the two most famous American soldiers to emerge from the war in Iraq are women:Fessica Lynch and Lynndie England […] On a startling number of basic resume entries, Lynndie England and Jessica Lynch have an awful lot in common. Then again, the last time I saw a photograph of Lynch, she was at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with Ben Affleck, who told her she was “even more beautiful in person,” while the last time I saw a photo of England, she had a naked Iraqi man on a leash (Chicago Sun-Times, May 12) Cited in Just (2006)
image and identity
Image and identity
  • Identity is social and linked to groups
  • Group image impacts on individual identity
  • Some occupational groups have a more publicly recognised identity
  • Press coverage influences and may create identity positions available to members of occupations (Dutton and Dukerich, 1991).
  • Mismatches between perceived personal and occupational identity may create discomfort
  • Need to make sense of identity
  • Responses may be to try to change the occupation or to leave.
occupations and boundaries
Occupations and boundaries
  • Strong occupational identities create boundaries between in-groups and out-groups
  • Collaboration between these groups can present problems
  • Partnership may present an alternative identity position (Hardy Lawrence & Grant, 2005)
  • Individuals in boundary spanning roles may oscillate in their identification (Jarzabkowski, Sillince & Shaw, 2010)
  • Ambiguity in collaborative relationships may be creative or provoke anxiety
  • Especially complex in the NHS where there are power and status differentials between groups
occupational embeddedness ng feldman 2007
Occupational embeddedness(Ng & Feldman 2007)
  • Teachers find it difficult to leave the profession even when unhappy with their work
  • Occupations may embed individual’s in work and social networks
  • Occupations with a clear social identity provide status
  • Social life may be focussed within the occupational group
  • Structuring of time by work may impact on personal life
  • Work life balance may impact the identities available to those in an occupation
  • These occupations may be especially salient by eroding boundaries between personal and occupational identity
doctors into management
Doctors into management
  • Medical directors have difficulties in practice
  • Political context
    • New public management in NHS: Management v medicine
    • Regulation of medical standards
  • Leadership: ambivalent, unclear
    • Charisma or instrumental (Alimo-Metcalfe & Alban-Metcalfe, 2004)
    • Competence framework
  • Hybrid role: leadership and medicine
  • Identity struggles
    • Social identity theory and transition (Turner, 1999; Haslam, 2001)
    • Critical discourse analysis and power (Fairclough, 2005)
    • Performativity and instability (Butler, 1999)
  • NHS initially profession dominated “achieved for the medical profession a constitutional position in the realm matched only by the Church and the Law” (Parry & Parry 1976, p.208)
doctors and managers
Expert power (Blake & Mouton)

Knowledge power (Foucault, 1963)


Professional self regulation

Control by mutual consent, peer review

Motivated by achievement


Maintaining skill

Lengthy training and socialisation

Legitimate power (Blake & Mouton)

Motivated by advancement

Maintaining the organization

Hierarchical control

Shifts in political context (Griffiths, DHSS1983)


Performance indicators

Work load monitoring

Customer focus


Quasi-market to NPM & Clinical governance

Doctors and managers
medical directors hybrid role
Medical Directors: Hybrid role
  • Senior doctor “drawing a senior ‘strategic’ consultant further into the management process” (Ashburner Ferlie & Fitzgerald, 1996, p.9)
  • Responsible for regulation “difficult distasteful, time consuming and acrimonious work” (Sir Liam Donaldson, 1994)
  • Leadership
  • Clinical manager at Trust Board level
  • Bridge between medical staff and the board: creating alignment
  • Ambiguous and variable despite competence framework
doctors on management
Doctors on management
  • Managers as constraining
    • I think it’s again universally true and I think there is a bad case of it in the UK, that those doctors who take on these roles are viewed with a great deal of suspicion by their colleagues – the wish to remain unaccountable, autonomous, self propelling that most doctors have, means that those who take on the role might be seen as constraining, constricting, managing – are seen as unusual
  • Translater
    • Some of the things the executive do – they’re always doing things which then have to repair. They’re always writing letters of the sort that people in authority write to people, the sort of letter that gets right up your nose even before you’ve finished reading the first sentence. They’ve got an uncanny knack of doing that. The use of language. The worst ones come from HR…() So I get a lot of letters- I translate a lot of letters for the executive into things that are acceptable to the consultants
in the tribe
In the tribe
  • .. But I am very protective, because by and large, these are, they are not only senior, but they are very busy people. I by and large like them, you know, I like my consultants, even the ones who have been real really irritating. I like them, they amuse me and I’m very much part of their tribe, I feel. I am protective because these are busy people, they don’t want to be drowned out by loads of emails and loads and loads of stupid stuff coming out from people.. But an awful lot of people get into very managerial defensive talk, you know, and they’ll be free with slight threats, which may be appropriate when you are talking to nurses or just general staff, but totally inappropriate for managerial staff, totally inappropriate when you are talking to doctors really
  • I think it is important to keep a clinical hand on things because there is quite a serious danger that you end up aligning yourself possibly against your colleagues if you don’t keep a hand on the clinical side of things......For a year or two you’d probably still have a lot of credibility amongst clinical colleagues but I think increasingly as you get more remote from day to day clinical work, you’d be, accusations would be made that you’d lost the plot really and become a manager with a medical qualification rather than a doctor who manages. And I think there’s quite a lot of, there’s a big danger that if you stop doing medicine you’d lose your colleagues very quickly
losing credibility
Losing credibility
  • I have no wish in becoming a manager because if I become a manager the gap between me and my professional colleagues in medicine will be so great that they will say that, ....that they will say..... well, they will say something! They will say goodbye to me so to speak. They won’t be very keen on that. They won’t respect me. Not only that I won’t be able to do my job properly because I won’t be able to act as a conduit from them to the executive
  • if you’re a medical director and you sit in your office, you lose the, your colleagues cease to regard you as a clinician, and you become totally a manager, whereas I think if you are out in the hospital, you actually know the problems other people experience and you’ve got to be talking to people and be around – gives people a chance to bend your ear which they do frequently….So that’s good for me that I still feel that I’m a clinician and that’s always been my role. That’s actually very important. It’s getting to do what I know how to do
bridge or gatekeeper
Bridge or gatekeeper?
  • Medical manager seen as bridge (Hoff 2001) and tribe member (Atun, 2003)
  • Clinical credibility
  • Translator or gatekeeper role distinct from medicine or management
  • Undermines managerial role and reinforces special role of doctors
    • Trivialises management
    • Sustains divide
    • Subverts change
hybrid roles
Hybrid roles
    • The ambiguity of the medical director role means that it is always defined relative to medicine and management.
    • Medical identity robust and yet continuously needing to be performed.
    • Hybrid roles difficult to achieve: Tend to recreate binary opposition.
    • Medical management can be seen as more difficult than clinical practice. This undermines some elite claims for medicine and has implications for identity.
    • Medical Directors struggle with bridge vs. gatekeepers dialectic
  • … Medical directors: doctors in drag?
  • Identity is central to work
  • It is embedded in social groups and social practices
  • Socialization can have a powerful impact on identity
  • Identity positions may be created or threatened by outside accounts
  • And by the boundaries between work and non work
  • Powerful occupational identities create boundaries between professions
  • Maintenance of a positive identity is an ongoing project and many current events will influence change