Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Employers benefit when members don't only identify with them

Where does our work allegiance lie? At first blush, probably with the employer organisation that pays our wages and paints a vision of why we are doing what we do. We identify as National Trust people, or as part of Rummidge General Hospital. Identification with an organisation helps it meet objectives and lines employees up towards common goals, such as meeting hospital targets. But perhaps we also identify as a member of the medical profession: two identities, not one. And for in-sourced employees - 3rd party contractors working under the roof of a client company – this question is especially sharp: am I part of IT-Help Inc or Global Furniture Plc? Research suggests that people can and do answer 'both' to this question. Recent research looks at dual identification, helping us understand how it influences organisational goals.

Yen-Chun Chen, Shu-Cheng Steve Chi and Ray Friedman opted to investigate a clear example of dual identification: brand counter staff in department stores. The employees have a workplace - a Macys or Selfridges - that differs from their employer - the counter for a Levis or Fat Face. 181 participants, mostly women, from eight Taiwanese department stores completed a survey on how much they identified with their store and with their counter. A month later they reported their turnover intention and job satisfaction, and measures were taken of sales performance (using hard metrics) and customer focus (through ratings by colleagues in their team). The analysis controlled for job tenure - recent incumbents may form weaker attachments to their location - and social desirability of questionnaire responding.

As anticipated, participants identified primarily with their employer. And the stronger the better: highly identifying individuals were more satisfied, less likely to plan to leave, performed better in the job and more displayed more customer-oriented behaviour (as flagged by colleagues). But performance and customer focus were even higher when these individuals also identified strongly with their workplace, the department store.

The finding suggests that inwardly focused outcomes - whether I'm happy with the job and want to stay in it - are influenced by their identification with the employer, not the workplace. This makes sense: the employer assigns pay, establishes mission and vision, and holds the key to future prospects. The more outward aspects of the job - pleasing customers and making sales - are also tied to identification with the employer, but here the context - the workplace - matters as well. The authors suggest that workers who are aligned to their environment will operate more freely within it, finding it easier to liaise with staff on other counters and store management. This leads to easier coordination and a smoother experience for the customer - who after all, expects the parts of a store to work together for their benefit, rather than as a series of competing market vendors.

Statistically, the effect of workplace identity moderated the employer-identity benefit by just 1-2%. And when participants had low identification with their employer, workplace identity didn't matter either way. In this sample, workplace identity was definitely subservient to the employer one. But a significant moderator of a few percentage points is meaningful in this research area; over repeated interactions, small effects can add up. So if companies intend to invest efforts into aligning teams with their own organisational agenda, they should consider going the extra mile by fostering a positive dual identification. The people across the hall may be drawing their paycheck from a different account, but they make up the working environment, and it pays for your people to feel part of that.

ResearchBlogging.orgYen-Chun Chen, Shu-Cheng Steve Chi, & Ray Friedman (2013). Do more hats bring more benefits? Exploring the impact of dual organizational identification on work-related attitudes and performance Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/joop.12017

Further reading:
 Riketta, M., & van Dick, R. (2005). Foci of attachment in organizations: A meta-analysis comparison of the strength and correlates of work-group versus organizational commitment and identification. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67, 490–510. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2004.06.001

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