Leaving the Family: Exit from Totalistic Organizations
Hinderaker, Amorette Nicole
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The purpose of this study was to explore how members exit totalistic organizations. Existing organizational communication research has treated employee membership in an employment institution as the universal organizational relationship. This study argues that certain organizational relationships are best understood not by the presence or absence of pay, however, but in relation to the extent of organizational reach into the member's life outside the organization. This study advances the notion that such totalistic organizations share important characteristics including value-based memberships, centrality of organizational values to the member's life, the involvement of primary relationships, and a requirement of organizational fealty. This study advances the study of organizational exit within this totalistic context. A microstoria narrative analysis was used to examine the exit narratives of members of both paid and unpaid totalistic organizations (police officers and firefighters: N = 50, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: N = 50) to gain a better understanding of exit from totalistic organizations. The findings of this study suggest several contributions to the study of organizational communication and exit. First, the findings of this study expand our definition of organizational memberships beyond current literature, which defines memberships based on payment. Second, consideration of totalistic exit challenges existing models of role/vocational socialization, suggesting that foundational values can originate from an organizational source. Third, the process of exit revealed by the narratives of this study suggests a view of exit that was unlike both current phasic models or considerations of volunteer exit. The process of exiting a totalistic organization was less linear and more prolonged than exit describe by existing literature, and was marked by deep personal doubts and fears. Finally, members of totalistic organizations described active concealment of both their decisions to exit, and the doubts about both the organization and the self that contribute to exit, suggesting a communicative pattern during the exit process that diverges from the expected announcement/exit phase of Jablin's (2001) model.