The maladaptive threats of identity limbo and cohesion resistance: A qualitative case study examining the challenges of over-inclusion and status and dominance confusion
Scully, Sherry E
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This doctoral thesis examines the construct of organizational identity of knowledge workers involved in a merger or acquisition, to gain insights into the complex social-behavioural responses of participants to perceptions of imposed integration of social groups. Following a qualitative case study methodology, this study used observation and interview data collection to capture the authentic experiences of participants from the host firm, and from the two acquired groups. The central curiosity guiding this study asked if continuity in subordinate identities, that transition relatively seamlessly from acquired to host organizations, offers the same adaptive or insulating effect against identity threat as superordinate identification. The central thesis proposed that despite the relative consistency between subgroup identities, the involuntary introduction of new members into a work team would continue to arouse perceptions of identity threat and provoke associated efforts to resist assimilation through withholding cohesion-building behaviours. The data were analysed using Atlas-ti to draw out key themes and patterns. The results suggested a relationship between the different integration strategies applied to the two acquisitions, and the participants’ perceptions of the integration. The data also suggested a relationship between levels of identity and reluctance to extend and engage in cohesion-building behaviours among host and adopted participants. Serendipitous findings pointed to potential triggers for the identity-related resistance, that most notably included status and dominance confusion that interfered with perceptions of identity continuity, and resistance to over-inclusion in superordinate and principle identities that lacked salience and distinctiveness. This paper introduced two new concepts to the field of identity research, including principle identity, and resistance to cohesion building behaviors. This paper also examined the perspectives of knowledge workers, as a distinctive cohort, to gain some insights into if and how a merger of like-professionals is experienced uniquely. Finally, the qualitative case study methodology offered an opportunity to examine the macro-economic contexts of the two acquisitions for relevance, and these contexts were found to be significant to a holistic understanding of the experiences of the integrations.