Are You Buying What They're Selling?: Ethnographically Exploring Organizational Identification through Employees' Everyday Talk
Western, Kai Janovsky
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The purpose of this study was to explore how employees' reflect organizational identification strategies in their everyday talk at a big-box retailer. Previous studies on organizational identification have mostly been organization-centric, focusing on the strategies organizations employ to induce employee identification. This study fills this gap by exploring the employee side of the identification process. Using ethnographic methods, the researcher conducted complete participant observation and textual analysis to understand how employees reflect, mock, and/or rebel against the organization's identification strategies in their narratives and rites. This study used a three phase approach to gain a deeper understanding of how employees used everyday discourse to reflect their connection with an organization. In Phase I, complete participant observation and informant interviews were conducted during the 2011-2012 holiday season at a big-box retailer, Big Alpha. Data were coded using thematic analysis. The second phase consisted of textually analyzing organizational artifacts to determine how Big Alpha employed organizational identification strategies. In the last phase, participant observation and informant interview data were compared to the strategies found in Phase II to determine what identification strategies employees reflected in their everyday talk. Findings indicate that employees enact specific identification strategies that reflect identification and disidentification. Additionally, employees utilized the tactic of espoused shared values, indicating their identification with their work group more than with Big Alpha. This study extends organizational identification theory by revealing specific five new tactics and one new strategy that employees use that connect them or disconnect them from the organization. This study also extends research on temporary workers as findings indicated that seasonal, part-time, and college student workers may not perceive themselves as having "real jobs." Finally, this study found that there may be a worker class system that influences the extent to which employees may or may not identify with the organization. These findings suggest practical implications and areas of future research.