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Rowing without an Oar: Identity Reconstruction Following Organizational and Occupational Loss


... people who have lost their organization or occupation (2 separate samples) ... In the space below, please write a description of this time in as much detail as ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Rowing without an Oar: Identity Reconstruction Following Organizational and Occupational Loss

Rowing without an OarIdentity Reconstruction
Following Organizational and Occupational Loss
  • Jen Tosti
  • New York University
  • March 30, 2007

Status of Research and My Goals for Today
  • I welcome any and all suggestions for
  • Additional literatures to which this research
  • Other constructs that I should measure
  • Relevant samples beyond those that I have

A Tale To Tell
I have a little tale to tell Its called my
working life My skills I soon will have to
sell Shut up demanding wife!!! The job I have
has paid me well I thought it was for good I
dont know what to do right now Ive only 12
months left Painter, decorator Candlestick
maker Which one will suit me best?
  • I dont know how to sign on
  • Ive always earnt a crust
  • But moving on to pastures new
  • Certainly seems a must
  • Youve heard my little tale
  • Of my shortened working life
  • Well, so long Norsk Hydro
  • I thought it was for life.
  • Beesley, Meltdown, 2004

Job Loss as Identity Loss
  • Benefits of working (Jahoda, 1982)
  • Economic and psychological benefits
  • Among psychological benefits are individual
    identity and status
  • Work is a core domain of peoples lives (Casey,
    1995 Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin Schwartz,
  • One way people define themselves is in terms of
    their work (Ashforth Mael, 1989 Pratt, 1998)

Collective Identity at Work
  • Two primary collective identity referents, or
    groups to which the individual may form a
    self-defining attachment
  • Organizations (Ashforth Mael, 1989)
  • Occupations (Van Maanen Barley, 1984)
  • What do we get from group identification?
  • Meet needs for assimilation and differentiation
    (Brewer, 1991)
  • Inform attitudes, values and behavior (Tajfel
    Turner, 1982)
  • Act in line with organizations interest (Pratt,

Loss of Collective Referents
  • Primary assumption of social identity theory is
    that referents are stable and enduring (Glynn,
    1998 Somers, 1994)
  • Changes to modern workplace question these
    assumptions (Sennett, 1998, 2006 Friedman, 2005
    Ciulla, 2000)
  • Short-term commitment by organizations
  • What happens when an organization or occupation
    goes away?
  • Organizational death (Harris Sutton, 1986
    Sutton, 1987)

Research Questions
  • When people have lost a collective social
    identity referent, what resources do they draw
    upon to reconstruct their identities?
  • Specifically concerned with the loss of the work
    organization or occupation
  • How do the resources utilized relate to
    psychological health and success in the domain of
    the lost referent?
  • Specifically well-being and career success

Identity Content
  • Resources forms of wealthsupplies (e.g.,
    money or goods) or supports (e.g., information,
    status, affiliation or love) having economic,
    social or emotional value (Rousseau Ling,
    2007 374)
  • Recent interest in content as well as process of
    identity construction (McAdams, 1985 Pratt,
    Kaufmann Rockmann, 2006)

Identity Construction
  • In developmental psychology
  • Identity construction is crucial in adolescence,
    although a lifelong pursuit (Erikson, 1959 1963)
  • In organizational behavior
  • Professional identity construction (Ibarra, 1999
    Pratt, Kaufmann Rockmann, 2006)
  • Identity work (Sveningsson Alvesson, 2003)
  • Although a burgeoning topic, identity
    construction remains relatively unexplored

Identity Reconstruction
  • In clinical psychology
  • Loss of a relational identity referent (e.g.,
    spouse, child, parent) (Bagnoli, 2003 Riches
    Dawson, 1996)
  • In social and personality psychology
  • Construction of a life story creates continuity
    out of instability (McAdams, 1985, 1996)
  • Contexts divorce (King Raspin, 2004), career
    and religion change (Bauer McAdams, 2004)
  • In sociology of health and illness
  • Loss of a valued self (e.g., healthy person)
    (Yoshida, 1993 Radley, 1989)

Identity Resources
  • Death of significant other causes all other
    relationships to be reexamined (Bagnoli, 2003)
  • Having multiple identities to draw upon may
    buffer the loss of any one (Sieber, 1974 Koch
    Sheppard, 2004)
  • Identification with extant collective referents
    will positively relate to SWB and career success
  • Occupation if organization lost
  • Organization if occupation lost

Identity Resources
  • People differ in their ability to balance old
    and new views of the self following the loss of
    a valued self (King Raspin, 2004 Yoshida,
    1993 Radley, 1989)
  • Possible selves are personalized representations
    of goals investment in a future that is unlikely
    to happen is maladaptive (King Raspin, 2004
    King Smith, 2004)
  • Salience of new possible self will positively
    relate to SWB and career success

Identity Resources
  • People differ in their narration of turning
    points as being redemptive versus contaminative
    (McAdams et al., 1997 McAdams et al., 2001
    McAdams Bowman, 2001)
  • Importance of finding positive meaning despite
    adverse circumstances in rebuilding identity
    following loss (Bagnoli, 2003 Yoshida, 1993
    Affleck Tennen, 1996 Tedeschi Calhoun, 1995)
  • Redemptive turning points will positively relate
    to SWB and career success

Identity Resources
  • Two dominant themes tend to emerge in life
    stories (McAdams, 1985, 1996)
  • Agency highlight power of the individual
    relative to all others
  • Communion emphasize intimacy and connection
  • Emphasizing connection to other people is
    positively related to well-being, while agency is
    not related (Bauer McAdams, 2004 McAdams et
    al., 2001 Riches Dawson, 1996)
  • Narratives of communion will positively relate to
    SWB and career success

Hypothesized Model
  • Investment in the Lost Referent
  • Identification
  • Work Centrality

Subjective Well-Being

  • Career Success
  • Objective
  • Subjective
  • Identification w/ Extant Referent
  • New Possible Self
  • Redemptive Turning Point
  • Communal Themes

Proposed Approach
  • Study 1
  • Interviews with people who have lost their
    organization or occupation (2 separate samples)
  • Purpose gain an understanding from participants
    of what resources are used and in what
    combination inform Study 2 (Sieber, 1973)
  • Study 2
  • Survey of people who have lost the same
    organization and occupation as in Study 1
  • Purpose hypothesis testing

  • Former accountants for Audit Corp
  • Audit, tax and consulting firm
  • Ceased accounting operations in 2002
  • Audit Corp is gone, but accounting remains
  • Former research scientists for Tech Lab
  • Industrial research laboratory
  • Strategic change in 2001
  • 2/3 of research science group laid off
  • Research science is gone, but Tech Lab remains

Measures DVs
  • Subjective Well-Being
  • Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons,
    Larsen Griffin, 1985)
  • Sense of Coherence Scale (Antonovsky, 1987)
  • Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression
    (CES-D) Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen Griffin,
  • Subjective Career Success (Gunz Heslin, 2005)
  • What is your definition of career success?
  • In general, how satisfied are you with your
    career thus far?
  • Objective Career Success
  • Annual Income
  • Promotion Rate

Measures IVs
  • Identification with the Lost Referent
  • Organizational/Occupational Identification Scale
    (Mael Ashforth, 1992)
  • Overlapping Circles Identification Measure
    (Bergami Bagozzi, 2000)
  • Work Centrality Scale (Paullay, Alliger
    Stone-Romero, 1994)

Measures Identity Resources
  • Identification with Extant Collective
  • Organizational/Occupational Identification Scale
    (Mael Ashforth, 1992)
  • Overlapping Circles Identification Measure
    (Bergami Bagozzi, 2000)
  • Salience of New Possible Self (King Raspin,
  • Possible Self Narrative
  • How easy was it for you to imagine your life in
    this scenario?
  • How clear was the mental picture you imagined?
  • How often do you think about this possible

Measures Identity Resources
  • Narrative of Loss of Organization/ Occupation
    (McAdams, 1985 McAdams et al., 2001 Bauer
    McAdams, 2004)
  • I would like you to think back to the time in
    your life when you stopped working at Audit
    Corp/as a research scientist. It is likely that
    this event marked the end of one chapter in your
    life, and the beginning of another, as is
    consistent with a turning point. In the space
    below, please write a description of this time in
    as much detail as you can, including what
    happened, who was involved, what you were
    thinking and feeling at the time, and how (if at
    all) that experience changed your life?

Measures Identity Resources
  • Redemptive Turning Points (McAdams Bowman,
  • Negative situation turns positive or results in a
    positive outcome
  • Examples progress, growth, learning, recovery
  • Communal Themes (McAdams, 1985)
  • Episodes communication, sharing, sympathy,
    friendship, love, touch, physical closeness
  • Characters mother, spouse, teacher, mentor
  • Ideologies care, responsibility

What Do I Expect to Find?
  • The resources people draw upon to rebuild
    identity partially explain differential outcomes
    following the loss of an organization or
  • Subjective well-being
  • Subjective and objective career success
  • Although investment in the lost referent hurts,
    identity resources can help!

Theoretical Contributions
  • Identity Construction in the Domain of Work
  • Better understand the content of individual
    identities at work
  • In turn, individual identities are resources to
    the organization and occupation
  • Identity Construction Following Loss of a
    Collective Referent
  • Can be applied more broadly (e.g., fall of
    nations, ethnic groups, religions)
  • Unemployment and Job Loss
  • Additional lens to understand differential
    experience and outcomes of job loss

Limitations of Proposed Study
  • One-time, cross-sectional design
  • Does not allow us to understand process
  • Directionality unclear do people choose action
    that is in line with their self-narrative or do
    they construct a narrative post-hoc based on
    course of action?
  • Asking people to recall an event that occurred
    several years prior
  • Susceptible to retrospective biases