Dignity, respect, and identity lie at the heart of what it means to be
human. The paper illustrates how employee concerns to create, maintain, and
protect identity can crucially impact on their behavior and be shaped by
workplace processes. Overall, the article reveals the significance and
complexity—both in theory and practice—of identity dynamics for
understanding employment, management, and organization.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
The article highlights the multiple nature of identity, and the underlying
insecurities that are frequently reinforced by employment in contemporary
organizations. It argues that interwoven material (e.g., job loss) and
symbolic (e.g., dignity) insecurities crucially impact on the identity
dynamics that shape modern workplace practices. It also suggests that the
search for security can be contradictory, narrowing people's perspectives,
knowledge, and experience in ways that paradoxically reinforce their sense
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
"...we need to find new ways of
managing and leading that do not rely on
targeting people’s identities and
insecurities as a way of seeking to motivate
Organizations not only create products and services, they also produce
people by regulating and shaping their identities in numerous ways. In
contemporary workplaces where performance monitoring seems to be
increasing, employee insecurities about identity are also growing.
Whilst focusing on people's identities might appeal to managers and leaders
looking for ways to enhance productivity, it can also be counterproductive
as employees find alternative means of redefining their identities and
surviving in organizations.
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
The ideas for this article were developed through numerous research
projects I have conducted over the past 30 years. Whether exploring
shop-floor culture, gender at work, careers in financial services, safety
practices on North Sea offshore oil installations, or leadership in the
education sector, identity issues have repeatedly emerged as a significant
These projects demonstrate that dynamics of identity and insecurity
crucially shape many diverse workplace practices such as control, strategy,
culture change, performance management, hiring, firing, promotion, dissent,
and impression management.
Where do you see your research leading in the
I am currently extending my interest in critical identity theory to the
analysis of leadership, an area of research that has tended to produce
rather simplified, "quick-fix" recipes about how to be an effective leader.
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
Identities and insecurities take numerous forms in different contexts and
periods. In many ways, my article seems particularly pertinent in the
current climate of worldwide recession which inevitably increases people's
insecurity. In terms of policy implications, we need to find new ways of
managing and leading that do not rely on targeting people's identities and
insecurities as a way of seeking to motivate them.
David L. Collinson
Professor of Leadership and Organisation
Founding Co-Editor of Leadership
Department of Management Learning and Leadership
Lancaster University Management School
Lancaster, UK Web | Web