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Searching for Meaning in Work: The Challenges of Positive Occupational Identity Construction Facing Professional Account

Searching for Meaning in Work: The Challenges of Positive Occupational Identity Construction Facing Professional Accountants. Jeffrey Bednar and Jane Dutton University of Michigan May Meaning Meeting 2008. Searching for Meaning. Searching for Meaning. Searching for Meaning.

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Searching for Meaning in Work: The Challenges of Positive Occupational Identity Construction Facing Professional Account

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  1. Searching for Meaning in Work: The Challenges of Positive Occupational Identity Construction Facing Professional Accountants Jeffrey Bednar and Jane Dutton University of Michigan May Meaning Meeting 2008

  2. Searching for Meaning

  3. Searching for Meaning

  4. Searching for Meaning

  5. Searching for Meaning • “The way people talk about 'fulfilling their potential' in a job could only happen in the modern world of work - it is simply not something that would have been said a few generations ago. Meaningful work rests on the rise of individualism and identity as pressing concerns for large numbers of people. It speaks of huge and perhaps excessive expectations of working life - the historically unusual sense that fulfilment occurs, or should occur, in the everyday, ordinary business of going to work.” Stephen Overell- The Work Foundation

  6. Positive Identity Construction • “People seek esteem-enhancing or positive self-definitions” (Ashforth and Kreiner, 1999). • People have a tendency to “develop, protect, and more generally to sustain the positivity of identities” (Brown et. al, 1992).

  7. Occupational Identity • “the meanings attached to the self” (Gecas, 1982) • “the way in which individuals define themselves in terms of the work they do” (Kitay and Wright, 2007) • “a repertoire of meanings that are used to make sense of who one is” in relation to one’s occupation (Fine, 1996) • “the set of central, distinctive, and enduring characteristics that typify the line of work” (Ashforth and Kreiner, 1999).

  8. The Importance of Occupations • "Every man's [or woman’s] work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.” Samuel Butler • “A man's [or woman’s] work is one of the things by which he is judged, and certainly one of the more significant things by which he judges himself. Many people in our society work in named occupations. The names are tags, a combination of price tag and calling card. One has only to hear casual conversation to sense how important these tags are.” Everett Hughes

  9. Why Professional Accountants? • “It has been said that all writing is autobiographical. If true, then one’s research- because it is such an intense and focused form of writing- must be a particularly intimate form of autobiography. In this sense, all scholarship is self-revelatory.” Jay Barney

  10. Identity Threat • According to Bartel (2001), identity threats occur when • “a person’s ingroup iscriticized, downgraded or attacked” • “a person otherwise perceives that the ingroup’s relativedistinctiveness or status is somehow compromised”

  11. Identity Threat # 1 • Occupational Stigma • Stigma reduces an individual “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” Goffman 1963 • Stigmatization occurs when a person possesses (or is believed to possess) “some attribute or characteristic that conveys a social identity that is devalued in a particular social context” Crocker et al. 1998

  12. If an accountant's wife cannot sleep, what does she say? • "Darling, could you tell me about your work.” • When does a person decide to become an accountant? • When he realizes he doesn't have the charisma to succeed as an undertaker.

  13. Research Question # 1 • How do high-status professionals overcome negative identity stereotypes to construct positive occupational identities? • Major and O’Brien (2005) suggest that “members of high-status and low-status groups are likely to respond in dramatically different ways to being the target of negative stereotypes and/or discrimination, even though the immediate situation seems the same” (pg. 395).

  14. Identity Threat # 2 • Isomorphism and Professionalization • Personnel filtering acts as the catalyst for homogenization and isomorphism as common structures, practices, strategies, and symbols are diffused throughout a field. • “Such mechanisms create a pool of almost interchangeable individuals who occupy similar positions across a range of organizations and possess a similarity of orientation and disposition” DiMaggio and Powell 1983

  15. Big Four Career Path

  16. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. We operate in 145 countries and have more than 123,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. • Our purpose is to turn knowledge into value for the benefit of our clients, our people, and the capital markets. Our member firms aim to provide clients with a globally consistent set of multidisciplinary financial and accounting services, based on deep industry knowledge (kpmg.com). • Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. We aim to have a positive impact on businesses and markets, as well as on society as a whole. • Working with you in a collaborative style, we gain a clear understanding of your organization and strive to identify issues before they become problems. You get the people you need, wherever in the world you need them, backed up by leading practices, methodologies and tools (ey.com).

  17. Every day our more than 146,000 people in 150 countries go to work to help our clients succeed. From Dublin to Durban, from Minneapolis to Manila, our job is channeling knowledge and value through our lines of service and 22 industry-specialized practices. • Our global annual review details how our industry-focused services in the fields of assurance, tax, human resources, transactions, performance improvement and crisis management have helped address client and stakeholder issues (pwc.com). • Deloitte offer clients a broad range of fully integrated services in areas that include accounting, assurance and advisory, risk, tax, management, financial, technology and human capital consulting. • Deloitte U.S. has the ability to offer a true global, integrated approach to business issues that combines insight and innovation from multiple disciplines with a wide range of business and industry knowledge to help organizations excel anywhere in the world (deloitte.com).

  18. Research Question # 2 • How do professionals construct distinctive occupational identities in strong professional fields subject to homogenizing forces? • Snyder and Fromkin (1980) suggested, “The need to see oneself as unique is a potent and continuous force in our society” • Researchers in psychology have suggested that distinctiveness is “necessary for the construction of meaning within the identity” (Vignoles et al., 2000)

  19. HOW? Isomorphism Occupational Identity Professionalization Experienced Meaningfulness Engagement/ Resilience/ Burnout/Turnover Positive Occupational Identity Occupational Stigma Occupational Identity

  20. Methods • Stage 1 • Exploratory Interviews • Stratified Random Sample • All Michigan MAcc graduates in the last 5 years • 32 accountants from the “Big Four” accounting firms • 8 from each firm selected randomly to try to achieve a representative sample • Grounded theory approach • Open/Axial Coding (Corbin and Strauss, 2008)

  21. Methods • Stage 2 • Field Study • Survey data collection or field experiment to test the assertions from Stage 1

  22. Conclusion • Many high-status occupations face similar occupational identity threats: • Lawyers, dentists, consultants, etc. • Turnover and burnout in professional service firms is among the highest of any occupation.

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