As organizations take on new forms and the nature of the employee-employer relationship is reshaped, the identification of employees with their employing organization, and the groups within it, take on increasing importance. This research examined the impact of group identification on employee perceptions and attitudes. Existing theory and research, drawing primarily on Social Identity Theory, were used to develop a framework that examined the impact of salient group identifications in an organizational context on employee perceptions of communication effectiveness and work-related attitudes.
Four research questions were examined:
RQl: What are the salient referent groups (e.g., work unit, other) adopted by
employees as a basis for identification?
RQ2: Does employee identification with salient groups influence employee
perceptions of organizational communication during change, and employee
outcomes such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment?
RQ3: Do different groups of staff identify with different salient groups?
RQ4: Is there a mediating role for communication perceptions in the
relationship between group identification and employee outcomes?
In addition, several hypotheses were tested based on predictions derived from existing research and induced from the findings from the initial phases of this research. The research investigated the impact of strength of identification with salient groups in the organization, particularly the work unit and employment category (full-time versus part-time), on employee perceptions regarding communication during the change process, and on employee levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. More specifically, it was predicted that high levels of identification with salient organizational groups would be associated with higher ratings of communication effectiveness, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. It was also predicted that employees would identify more strongly with their work unit than with the organization; that full-time staff would identify more strongly with their employment category, while part-time staff would identify more strongly with their work unit; that perceptions of communication would explain significant proportions of variance in job satisfaction and organizational commitment; and that identification with salient groups would explain a significant proportion of variance in employee attitudes over and above that explained by perceptions of communication effectiveness. Finally a structural model tested the role of communication perceptions in the mediating the relationship between group identification and employee outcomes.
The research design involved an intensive, multi-method investigation of a large organization undergoing major change. Three studies were conducted. In the Study 1, 20 staff from all levels of the organization were interviewed. The interviews used a convergent interviewing process whereby key themes identified in each round of interviews were explored in later rounds of interviews. In Study 2, five broad themes that emerged from the interview process were used to focus discussion in ten different focus groups involving approximately 70 staff Transcripts of interviews and focus groups were subjected to thematic analysis to validate the themes identified in the convergent interview process. In Study 3, a survey questionnaire was distributed to all staff The survey collected respondent perceptions regarding issues identified in the interviews and focus groups, as well as those of interest to the research.
The results from Study 1 and Study 2 demonstrate that contextually salient group identities in organizational contexts influence employee perceptions and outcomes. In particular, the work unit and category of employment (full-time versus part-time) emerged as the primary targets of employee identification in this organization. Consistent with existing literature, the evidence from Study 3 suggests that strength of identification with the work unit has a direct influence on the job satisfaction and organizational commitment of employees, and on their perceptions of communication effectiveness. Consistent with predictions, employees who identified strongly with their work unit tended to report more positive perceptions of communication effectiveness, and higher levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Full-time staff reported higher levels of identification with their employment category, while part-time staff reported higher levels of identification with their work unit. Perceptions of leaders' communication and identification with work unit explained a greater proportion of variance in job satisfaction and organizational commitment than did identification with employment category or unit communication. Finally, data from Study 3 were used to test the proposed structural model on two hold out samples. Tests of the model revealed a direct effect for employee identification on employee outcomes and perceptions of communication effectiveness, and a partially mediating role for communication perceptions in the relationship between group identification and employee outcomes.
A number of implications for theory and practice may be drawn from the findings. Applications of identity and identification constructs to areas such as intergroup conflict, resistance to change, and workplace diversity are highlighted. The contribution of identification constructs in theorising the creation, sharing, and management of knowledge in organizations is relatively unexplored. Practical implications, especially in the context of organizational change are highlighted. Managers need to be cognisant of the impact of employee identification on the perceptions and attitudes of employees during change. Implementation strategies that take account of these dynamics may well improve successful implementation of change and improve employee outcomes. Future research should examine the reciprocal relationship between group identification and communication perceptions, the change in salient group identifications over time, the compatibility or otherwise of complementary or competing identifications, and the downsides of identification.