G. Coates

"Motivating the Masses : Identity and the Self."

The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure, 1(1) <http://www.ijull.co.uk/vol1/1/00003.htm>

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ISSN: 1465-1270



Much has been written about motivational aspects of employment and the attempts by employers to effect its motivational outcomes in everyone’s best interests. The vast majority of this debate has taken place within a psychological dialectic and its inherent social engineering problematic. Rarely has this problematic delved deeply into the ‘social’ production of identity, norms and attitudes in anything other than an attempt to isolate and manipulate these as objective variables. The intention of such writers has been to prescribe action with pre-defined outcomes. The reverse of this social engineering problematic, and one which is attended to in this paper, focuses on the social construction of work effort. This paper, therefore, seeks to engage with individuals’ own meanings and reasons for acting in work and social settings. The paper explicates the social construction of ‘self’ within the work place before critically examining the psychological conception of individuals reasons for expending effort in organisations. This is accomplished through the analysis of the failings of a number of motivation theories and the utilization of more socially oriented conceptions of the individual’s self to redress the perceived omissions. The work of Shamir (1990) will be used to promulgate an alternative view of self-conception within work and life. Hence individuals emerge as a reflexive, intelligent beings, capable of imputing definitions for, and rationally justifying, their own actions.

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Much has been written about motivational aspects of employment and the attempts by employers to maximise its outcomes. The vast majority takes place within a psychological dialectic and its social engineering problematic. However, rarely has this problematic delved deeply into the ‘social’ production of identity, norms and attitudes in anything other than an attempt to isolate and manipulate these as objective variables, the intention being to prescribe action with pre-defined outcomes (cf. Jamal 1986). Moreover, even current reviews - by motivation theorists - of theories concerning attitudes towards work, are unanimous in their dissatisfaction with present ideas. These they argue do not ‘fit’ epistemologically or empirically to the findings of much of the research (cf. Locke and Henne 1986; Landy and Becker 1987). Thus conceptual thought and research outcome do not marry into a teleological whole. The reverse of this social engineering problematic, and one which is attended to here, seeks to engage with an individual’s own meanings and reasons for acting as they do in social settings. Thus the individual emerges as a reflexive, intelligent being, capable of imputing definitions for, and rationally justifying, their own actions.

The paper seeks to delineate the essence of motivation theories and cast them into a broad pattern for analysis.1 In doing so the paper categorises motivation theories under 5 main areas. The paper then attempts to explicate the social construction of ‘self’ within the work place before critically examining the psychological conception of individuals’ own reasons for expending effort in organisations. This is accomplished through the analysis of a number of its failings and the utilization of sociological conceptions of the individual to redress the perceived imbalance. However, although many psychological theories of motivation are criticised, the intention is not a tirade against psychology; but an attempt to illustrate how one social-psychologist attempts to marry the two ideologies in terms of the individual. By distancing himself from the social engineering elements of the former and adopting a notion of the individuals’ self as paramount in the work place, Shamir (1990) avoids notions of individuals as empty vessels, responding to external stimuli which they have very little control over (Mead 1934). Shamir also argues that unless work is changed to meet the socially negotiated requirement of an individual’s identity, it will remain a chore for the vast majority of people enacting its rigours.

Reflexivity, Self and Meaning.

Existing theories practised in organisations, concerning motivational aspects of individual workers and their attitudes, are mainly psychological in origin. Meanings here have little explanatory power. Thus motivation theory encompasses many sub-theories, the main ones are:

Although Maslow’s needs hierarchy has been severely criticised (e.g. Thompson and McHugh 1991), many introductory texts still begin with lists of pre-defined needs of the individual ‘worker’. Makin, Cooper and Cox (1989:32) state:

The list of all our needs is ... very long. What we require is some form of theoretical structure that will help organise ... needs or potential motivators, into smaller more manageable categories.

Such a view inhibits understanding of how individuals, as reflexive beings can shape their own social reality through - active - social interaction (Goffman 1959). In this paper, the meanings behind employees’ willingness to expend effort cannot be divorced from their real world and made to appear as an objective technology of behaviourism, as motivation theory assumes:

If we are trying to get someone to learn a new behaviour then it is appropriate to reinforce their successful attempts every time they occur. (Makin, Cooper and Cox 1989:54)

This position negates, for all intents and purposes, the input of the individual in question as cognitive. It also negates any influence other than the immediate environment they exist within I.e. work. Individuals become units, as with all positivistic theories of society, manipulable as objects without consciousness. However, people take what meaning they can from whatever sources are available, inside and out of the work environment, and use them to enhance and understand both the image they have of themselves and those of others. The experiential consequences of workplace reality moreover are negotiated, part of everyday life, physical and mental. The physical aspects are to be found in the valued product of peoples’ labours, but the mental aspects are the fluid negotiations of self. It is thus the amount that people buy into organisational culture - through the symbolic (en)action of organisational rituals, dramas, myths etc. - that provides the definition of organisational self/individual and the meanings behind motivation (Golden 1992; Whipp et al 1989). This is not assailable by management control, though perhaps partially under certain complex circumstances.

The meanings individuals impute are negotiable, created like any other discourse, where meaning and response depend upon the varying expectations associated with their position or role. Organisations can thus be understood as social constructions and arrangements. They are the outcome of interactive patterns of human activity rather than pre-given structures into which people are slotted. While an organisation may be experienced and described as a ‘thing’, what is in fact being experienced are institutional processes. Organisations are in peoples’ heads and hearts - they are common sense (Ahrne 1990). Organisations are thus fictions, but they are fictions people grasp, protect and mythologise, until they become solid permanent objects. This is the reification of an organisational reality. However, the organisation is continually being negotiated, as an inter-subjective world where individuals experience their lives.

To understand individuals’ actions within organisations we need to appreciate that the self, the reflected image structuring conduct, is something which develops. It is not initially existent at birth, but arises through the processes of social experience and activity (Mead 1934). Thus it develops in the given individual as a result of their relations to the social world and its processes as a whole and to other individuals within that process. Furthermore, the individual ‘experiences themself as a person only indirectly, from the particular standpoints of other individual members of the same social group or from the generalised standpoint of the social group as a whole to which they belong’ (Evetts 1992). Thus personality and self develops within discourse and the interplay of cultural symbols - signifiers (signs) and the signifieds (Lash 1990).

The activity of individuals and social groups is thus the primary reality and a foundation for the development of consciousness and the self. Human behaviour is not an endless string of nervous responses, but consciously attuned social conduct. Descartes believed that the individuals’ self- experience as a distinct and unique personality is given in the human ability to think (Kenny 1968). The self only appears because reference can be made to the self in such a way; hence, "I think therefore I am". The problem with such a philosophical view is that it creates a dualism between mind and body - not to mention person/society. Individuals though are holistic in their entity, they may have notions of realities they wish to enact, but they are fully aware of their physical - bodily and institutional - limitations. Thus the self is derived from the individual’s place within social relations and physical interdependencies. The act of an individual is both a response to the situation and a stimulus to provoke action in others. Individuals must become aware of the totality of activity in the group, and the place of their own self and that of others within it, in order to plan their actions according to their role. This is the self consciousness gained from communication by gesture and language, out of which interpretation and social bonding takes place (Habermas 1992). The gestures, dialogue, etc., only become signs (signified) through social interaction, meaning does not arise from base emotional expression itself.

A major obstacle to a credible acceptance of the ‘behaviourist’ motivational perspectives is that they themselves believe ‘we need to be more clever with what we already have’ (Landy and Becker 1987:3). In other words, that there needs to be a reconceptualisation of current principles, a reordering of current theories rather than their superseding with anything more conceptually relevant to those individuals they relate to. For example, motivation theory could not explain the attitudes, states of mind and perceptions of self, Fucini and Fucini (1990) found in the new Mazda car plant in Detroit (USA). Here employees perceptions of the organisation, prior to and immediately after entry, were favourably affected by the self-imagining of the organisation as paternalistic ‘parent’ of their needs. However, in order to meet the requirements of setting up the organisation, individuals were pressurised into accepting working practices alien to those they had agreed to endure for the company, especially in this tense period leading up to full car production. This led to grievances arising out of the alleged intransigence of the Japanese management towards the situation facing employees. Individuals thus began to lose the initial ‘spirit of adventure’ engendered by working for a leading Japanese car manufacturer, due no doubt, to their reasons for working hard, their self, being tested to the limit. As a consequence of this, employees were involved in a number of protests, among them ‘walking to the doors’ in order to gain adequate ventilation. It was these perceptions of how their self was seen in the organisation that led to such actions. In other words, their meanings and reasons for working had been brought into question. These actions belonged less to individual intransigence - i.e. an unwillingness to work or indeed a lack of motivation or work ethic per se (see Rose 1991) - and more to the power positional struggles workers were faced with in terms of their identities, what they were allowed to do, and the consequences of this for how they viewed their sense of self.

Motivation theory however, does not view those employees they analyse as sentient, reflexive beings, but as units of stimulus-response. Thus they fail to come to terms with the object of their study - human beings and the complex nature of their socially constructed lives or ‘lifeworlds’ (Habermas 1981). The concept of ‘lifeworld’ refers to the belief that people are born into a symbolic world of meanings that are repaired, elaborated, changed and integrated through communication and the negotiation of action, which are undertaken constantly in ordinary social interaction. Prediction is here marginalised to sophistry. Partly through these processes of socialisation, a ‘lifeworld’ is internalised that allows people to interpret meanings in a reliable fashion and learn conformity to social norms. This enables them to inter-act with others in a way that reciprocates and secures identity and thus replicates response. This then provides an ontological security, in which the organisation is not necessarily implicated.

Once within the confines of an organisation, individuals become open to the organisational ‘aura’, or the set of norms structuring action therein. Clarke and Wilson (1961) proposed that the moral involvement this engendered compensated for a lack of material incentives, and encompassed the socialisation into using company products as a way of seeing its public identity as their own. This is the case of an organisational self where individuals use corporate pens, mugs, or buy T-shirts or use organisational services. This has deep consequences for the self and for the action oriented meanings employees impute to their daily tasks. However, individuals do not respond to these as automatons. They are fluid in negotiation as part of the social construction of an individual’s reality within an organisation. As such individuals are constantly acting up against the buffers of acceptable conduct, constantly pushing the definitions of action further than before. At the same time they touch barriers to free action - other individuals’ definitions of the situation - and re-negotiate their own and others positions in light of this before the ‘dance’ begins again. Before outlining Shamir’s idea of the self-concept and its ‘more human centred’ approach towards people at work, a few cautions are required concerning those it is more likely to supplement than surpass.


The theory proposed by Shamir (1990) is one attempt to bridge the gap between the individual as social and the individual as object of experiment. The intention is to relate work to those that enact its vestiges and its vagaries. If this is engineering in any sense, it is not of the social but of the ‘concrete’ practices of work which have been at the centre of controversy for over 70 years; see for example the Hawthorne Studies (Lilja and Grieco 1989; Jones 1992).

The Bias of Individual.

The first and perhaps most well defined problem is the individualistic bias and the principle of hedonism in which most theories of motivation have their roots, to a greater or lesser extent The individual is seen as rational maximiser of personal utility - a very neo-classical position - which regards the individual as only having self-seeking instrumentality. Allied with this throughout the 1980s were implicit notions of the entrepreneurial spirit as latent instinct in us all (cf. Burrows and Curran 1991). Hence the social creation of the ‘yuppie’.2 Such motivation theory emphasises the unavoidable susceptibility of individuals towards maintaining the sanctity of their own person at the expense of others, no matter how irrational that might appear; for example, personal survival within the firm and the differentiation between employees (Dubinsky and Hartley 1986). Although need theories differ here from the rest, they do so only slightly in that they emphasise ‘expressive’ individualism which remains aligned with notions of individual satisfaction. The contrasting experience is of course particular Japanese organisations and their collectivist notion of commitment, stressing attachment to the organisation and achievement of organisational goals as personal goals - a more unitrist perspective. This however has its own attendant problems for analysis of the individual within the organisation. Here individuals’ notions of the social basis of their self is unavailable to those members of the largest organisations practising commitment oriented policies (cf. Briggs 1988; Garrahan 1988). This is due in part to the necessary sense of duty from members, professing chronological loyalty to the organisation before others.

Although such a perspective also has its inherent contradictions and problems, it highlights the possibility of a cultural bias that affects these western models which claim to analyse motivation per se. Hence they appear culturally specific and therefore lacking in an ability to extrapolate and encompass their societies, or other conceptions of the reasons behind expending effort at work. In other words they lack any insight into motivation at all, merely articulating the vagaries of the choosing of individual variables to express the reasons for acting of people in the work situation.

Moreover, this is only part of the problem; many work-related phenomena are rendered inexplicable in current theories of motivation through an over emphasis upon utilitarian individualism. For example, ‘transformational or charismatic leadership’ (Bass 1985; Pauchant 1991; Weber 1976) cannot be explained by individualistic utilitarian motivation theories; since their ability to explain how followers are persuaded to transcend personal self-interest for the team, other collective good or the organisation, is severely limited, relying as they do on notions of greed and sectionalism.3 Consider this passage from Hopfl’s (1992:23) paper on charismatic leadership and the use of mission statements, induction and imaging to incorporate individual members under the organisational self. The entrance of the leader is intended to place the audience at a disadvantage and to create within them a sense of awe and mystification, but is more precisely intended to persuade them to action in a different way to that of simple motivation. It proposes to provide them with a sense of self that will motivate them to action as a sense of duty as one, not as individuals:

He is not handsome but, at the same time, he is not unattractive. His clothes are expensive and conservative: they make a statement. The man stands before them, examines his manicured nails and then ... scrutinises the ménage ... gathered to hear him. The audience shifts warily in their seats. Mentally they come to attention.

Such unashamed imagery, as opposed to content at this point of the presentation, belies the message this ‘leader’ is attempting to impart - which is that individualism (despite the leader exhibiting this) is relegated to any competitors they might have, and that the person standing before them has the power to help them achieve, but only together, for the good of the organisation. The use of mission statements and induction are on the increase in the UK and have been prevalent in the USA for some time. Yet, they figure very little if at all, in the theories of motivational theorists. This is made apparent in the passage from Hopfl below. It is forwarded by a quotation from a chairman's speech at an extraordinary organisation wide meeting, gathered by the author in the course of a study he is conducting:

What we are about to hear is [the sursum corda] how much the company loves ... and needs these poor unworthy servants; how if they will only give their heart, soul and mind to the company, they can take their place with the chosen ones, the elect. (Hopfl 1992:23)

This company has been the company in this area for a long time, we’ve maintained that through you, yes, through you, each and every one of you has given this company the best of your abilities - we are proud of that. The future holds a new challenge. This organisation can’t make it alone, it needs you, I need you, we need each other. It is only together that we will see a new decade arrive as a prosperous company and we must stick together to make it happen.

When seen in conjunction with recent attempts to adopt organisational structures encouraging homogeneity and unity within employees (Clegg 1990), this becomes an all too real scenario. Such ‘acts’ occurred at ICI (Pettigrew 1985) and at Rover with Sir Graham Day.4 It is even occurring, though less theatrically perhaps, within institutions of higher education. Theories of motivation, would be hard pressed to account for these situations and the differing perceptions the audience might make in terms of individual understanding. The emphasis they place on utilitarianism as a force for action ignores the meanings generated by receiving individuals as they interact with each other in light of such iconoclastic coda of collectivism (Golden 1992).

The Bias of Situation.

Motivational theories hold important the specific goals and clear expectations which enable rewards to be linked to performance from individuals. Fundamentally this illustrates a ‘situational’ bias in current cognitive motivation theory. These exigencies only become credible in situations where the goals can be clear cut, the rewards abundant and are able to be closely linked to performance. A circumstance which belies actual practice in many cases. For example in the public sector where performance is less well defined or where differentiation among individuals in terms of their performance has low cultural sanction. However, such conceptions of individuals are gaining credibility without a hold on any real measure of their performance (cf. Coates 1994).5 Strong situations are characterised by well recognised rules of conduct and uniform expectations of response patterns that constrain behaviour, due to their stimulus response reinforcement. Such situations are few and far between in typical organisational settings, and especially so now that emphasis is being placed upon new organisational forms by employers themselves. These are removing or attempting to remove the last vestiges of Taylorite ‘time and motion’ work task structuring by which rewards were distributed previously (cf. Hassard and Pym 1990; Thompson and McHugh 1991; Reed 1991).

Traditional motivational management text views production of goods and services as the factory-type system following a linear logic of sequential, tightly engineered actions or processes where human beings are viewed as machine parts, even though they do what machines cannot. Thus the situation is a creation of the authorial actor participating always, but interacting intermittently. Strong situations also tend to produce uniformity of behaviour, via the exercise of power and hierarchical ordering of control and status. Conformity to set rules, which means dispositional variables promulgated by motivation theory, such as individual motivation, have less relevance for the explanation of behaviour in such situations anyway. Situations where explicit motivation rules occur might include the armed forces or other regimented regimes, but rarely would they include business and work organisations, which are fluid in their negotiation of patterns for acting.

According to Hosking and Fineman (1991:585), it is "an organisations’ texture is thus important for understanding the situational exigencies of a particular organisation." Cooper and Fox (1990:575) go further and argue that texture is the:

Dynamics of interaction between parts as opposed to the conception of parts as relatively independent sub-systems, an assumption held by the structural-functional point of view

Texture highlights the importance of the social, as opposed to structural interaction for the efficient functioning of the organisation and places creation powers in individuals’ hands. Within the organisations’ environment priority must be given to the tacit and not so tacit nuances of interaction. Golden’s (1992) example of the tacit nuances of the ways in which management passes its message across to employees, stands testament to the subtle interplay of gestures and impression management - a micro level analysis (Goffman 1959), rather than the macro organisational level. Thus there are many ways in which human action can be understood. It is important that analysis focus on those acts which are not made explicit in the structural formulations of roles within organisations, and towards those that are negotiated and re-negotiated as part of a constant interaction process with implications for the larger structural constraints that organisations face (Mills and Murgatroyd 1991). Motivation theorists do not address these issues. For them individuals do not in any way influence the social reality they exist within. Hence criticism needs to focus here, highlighting the tendency of traditional motivational management text to encounter the problem of ‘et cetera’ (Garfinkel and Sacks 1970). Such text is formulated to constrain the et cetera of what takes place within organisations and as such glosses over the minutiae of interaction of the organisation. Organisations are traditionally seen as part of the natural order of the social world, as ‘out there’ pre-existing our discovery of them, but it is the ‘connectedness’ in action - time and space - and not the positivist abstract ideal, that becomes the simulacrum of the human process of organising. Organisations thus lose their rational status and appear more as they really are, the improvised and experimental ideas of human beings coming together and interacting. Therefore it is the texture bargaining of individuals - socially negotiating their realities through language, drama, rituals and so forth - that is emblematic of the organisations’ physical shape. It is this ‘texture’ that provides the structure of rules within which the organisation is enacted. As such it is naïve to view organisational structures as solid firm objects in which analysis can predict outcomes of human action.

For motivation theory, situational attributes are also unquestionable, but an organisational ‘climate’ is created, through social interaction, from situational attributes in the texture of the very way the organisation creates its rules and actions for functioning. Thus those structures that form the shell of the organisation act back, ad libitum, upon the very actors that enable its functioning. Actors make their social contexts through evaluative descriptions. Social order is not a given, rather actors choose, construct and negotiate order in and through their relationships with others. Just as people shape contexts, and thus organisations, contexts also shape people who become conditioned to accept actions as legitimate depending upon who they interact with on a long term basis. Therefore organisational climate is generated by people and contexts; it is not an antecedent of them.

Humans are thus reflexive, knowledgeable agents, conditioned by and at the same time socially constructing their symbolic environment in terms of their self definition. Interaction provides the means through which ‘reality’ is explored and maintained. Within this actors draw upon a ‘stock of knowledge’ to aid sense making, but interactions are also relations of power in which the ability to effect outcomes, affects the sense making process itself (cf. Clegg 1989). In terms of the production and reproduction of an organisation this understanding of an interrelationship between structure and texture shows that an organisational reality is the ‘accomplished’ outcome of human agency in search of ontological security (Giddens 1982). Thus it is an attempt to maintain a notion of self in the flux of social interaction.

The Bias of Attitude.

More fundamentally, motivational theories deal with attitudinal references, which erroneously ignore the referents to action that relate to actual physical activity and its inherent meanings.6 The link between attitudes and productivity is tenuous at best since those expressing satisfaction/motivation are not necessarily those putting most effort in. Employees can also be inclined towards work when they have an easy job that is not particularly strenuous but is either financially or socially highly rewarding (cf. Burawoy 1979). Focusing on attitudes rather than actions results, according to Hudson (1991), in ‘making out’ tactics, where only the image of what is required is given - actual practice lags behind. This is the manipulation of the reality which is the negotiation of organisational reality (Goffman 1959). A central reason for this is that psychometrically tested attitudes are only monocular attributes of individuals which negate the complexity of behaviour and beliefs involving multiple actors and the realities of their social - negotiated - experience. People simultaneously hold many attitudes and experience many complex emotional states. These are important for work place behaviour. However their effects may be divergent or even contradictory and cannot be summed up by simple attitude surveys, nor reduced to their singular meanings alone.

The one epistemological certainty is that meaning, and therefore negotiated social action, comes from the multitude of sites which we all inhabit in the social world around us. The interaction of these inter-site negotiations provide the means, meanings and stimulation to progress in our interactions with others. These are not derived from the single site of employment as some implicitly assume, nor through notions of job satisfaction and motivation. The person is in effect an ensemble of social relations which, in turn, reflect complex structures of social negotiation (Séve 1975). Attitudes thus have a summary nature, and are conceptually removed from concrete situations, which is the source of the problem noted above concerning the paucity of links between research and conceptual ideas.

Furthermore, the conditions necessary for social integration are not to be found solely within the experience of work - identity and social reality lie partly elsewhere (cf. Durkheim 1961; Giddens 1971, 1984, 1991; Keat and Urry 1982; Marx 1973). For Gouldner (1959) the worker brought ‘latent’ roles to the work place which appertained to the meanings there imputed; for example those based on gender, age, ethnic origin, etc., which they can call upon to interpret the situation. To this end, adequate consideration of the nature of worker involvement in an organisation will need to venture beyond the enterprise as its unit of study and simple attitudes that bear little resemblance to actual motivation. An example taken from Beynon and Blackburn’s study illustrates this point:

A packing line is not reducible to its technology. The worker relates to the belt through a particular structure of social relationships in the work situation. [Motivation is not] deducible directly from the technology of mass production. ... [This] ignores the influence of the other factors ... with their distinctive pattern of non-work social characteristics, orientations and attitudes. (1972:156-157)

In contemporary society, the clear majority of individuals are hindered in their attempts to achieve any form of ‘creative response’, due to the controls they are subject to, and therefore from seeing work as a central life interest (Boyle, Wheale and Sturgess 1986). In such situations, reasons for acting are seen as an imposition of forms of working - flexibility and commitment - persuading the employee to adopt symbolic (material) priorities not elsewhere condoned by their class, social or economic position, through seeing the organisation as provider with all its paternalistic overtones (Braverman 1974).

The culturalisation of the work place has thus moved on apace. Workplace relations, as opposed to attitudes, are not now mediated by material means of production, but have become questions of discourse and communication between management and employees - illustrated by quality circles and total quality management briefings (Hill 1991). These, though, have to be founded upon a grasp of those meanings the individual brings to these situations.

The Bias of Generalising.

Current motivation theories appear not to address a specific level of action only generalised attitudes. By so doing they are laying implicit claim to be equally valid for all categories of behaviour and by implication all attitudes. However, this renders current theories problematic due to their tendency to emphasise easily observable and measurable phenomena, leaving actors’ meanings aside on the grounds that they represent too subjective a form of data. Thus they leave those relatively discreet behaviours, actions occurring in the work place, as implausible and at worst non-existent, individuals accordingly being seen as incapable of expressing them. The micro actions of individuals are characterised by expressed meanings within the physical sphere. Goffman’s (1959) example of a person touching the brim of their hat when passing another might be a sign of politeness, but it equally could be signalling awareness of the recipients immediate ‘deeds’ (good or bad). Thus there are many ways in which human action can be understood. It is important, therefore, that for the context of organising the internal ordering of organisations, we focus on those acts which are (a) not made explicit in the structural generalised formulations of roles within organisations, and (b) on those that are negotiated and re-negotiated as part of a constant interaction process with implications for the larger structural constraints that organisations face.

The tendency of motivational theory to extrapolate results, naturally leads to a falsification industry, and leads in the reductionist sense to the problem of validity and usefulness of theories which seek to explain and predict specific acts without recourse to the complexity of the situations within which they occur. This arises despite the fact that the focus of practitioners is simultaneously on a general level, and on the complex commingled patterns of behaviour, due in part to their necessary proximity to the interaction. The reliance upon antecedents, as intentions to behave, means certain theories are judged more valid in spite of their unproven ability to predict macro level action. In other words, the reductionist takes complex action and reduces it to one specific act without re-establishing how this affects the original complex action over time and in differing situations - the spatial and temporal aspects. The conception here of individuals with selves addresses the distinction between behaviour and experience and the ways in which the individual gives meaning to the multiplicity of forms of experience that occur within one individual conscious life. In other words, individuals are unique in that they encompass both similarity and difference simultaneously, making a generalised prediction almost anachronistic.

A Bias of Meaning.

Motivation theories also limit conception of intrinsic meanings within work and the values and moral obligations inherent therein, and in any interaction. Such conceptions as there are for what motivational theorists call intrinsic motivation (see Staw 1976), reflect the individualistic hedonistic bias mentioned earlier, especially when thinking in terms of reward and reinforcements and hence outcomes as ‘expectancies’ (Vroom 1964). The task itself is still seen as providing the satisfaction, the meaning; nowhere is it acknowledged that socially gratifying procedures may possibly be absent from the task itself, yet performing it may be gratifying due to the meaning it provides for the individual in terms of affirming their identity or collective affiliation. Again it is taken for granted that humans are unable to give meaning to symbols, objects and events which shape their lives, as though they were ‘disconnected’ from society and its problems, once inside the organisations walls. Individuals, though, are able to create meaning through language (Mills 1975) and through the social construction - agreement - of their definition.7

This exclusion of meanings is also true of personal values and morals brought from outside of work and of individuals especially. Values do not relate to specific behaviours in a stimulus-response fashion, but can move freely between objects and actions; that is they are socially negotiated. Overlooked here is a concept of values as the ‘desirable’ - to be sought after, as stimulus to action not object of desire in an instrumental sense, but as an end in themselves in their social sense. In this perception the individual seeks the value rather than any reward in the traditional interpretation.

Without such a perspective on values, it is difficult to account for collective concerns and moral obligations, as there is little individual reward available. Individuals, then, use these values in their relationships with others, partly as moral touchstones to rely on and partly as social capital to bargain with, either released or protected depending upon the situational exigencies of the time.


Thus we come to Shamir’s (1990) more recent analysis of the self-concept. Although Shamir has a social psychologists’ background, his theory of the individual as a cognizant, thinking being, goes a long way towards bridging the gap between two disparate fields of inquiry. Human beings are seen not only as goal-orientated in the social sense, but also as self-expressive; that is action is oriented by simple feelings as much as by goals. In this perspective people are driven to act by their values and morals (meanings), garnered through the social interaction of their ‘life space’ as distinct from the work space (cf. Habermas 1981). Thus individuals are theorised as complex entities, with thoughts, realities and beliefs which enhance their conception of their own and others’ realities. People are also enlivened to maintain and enhance their self-esteem and self-worth, that is people have internal desires which they fulfil by manipulating work. Much of peoples’ behaviour is regulated and driven by internal standards of self-evaluative reactions to their own actions, reflected in others through intercourse. This is partly based upon the distinction individuals carry with them between their ‘ideal self’ and ‘ought self’ (Higgins et al 1987), which are always closely linked with - limiting - social values and norms specifying desirable actions in any situation.8 This is also true of people’s sense of self-consistency, through which they seek to align past, present and future actions in terms of their self-concept and their ‘self-history’. These are in part composed of identities, locating the self in socially complex, but recognisable social situations. Individuals are here conceived as active participants in their own creation, not passive receptors of criteria scripted elsewhere. People derive meaning from being linked to social collectivities through their identities. Thus in this view self-concept behaviour is not always related to clear expectations or immediate and specific goals, nor is it dependant on solid singular situational boundaries, monocular meanings or individual utilitarianism.

Use of this understanding of people enables a clearer conceptualisation of commitment, towards work and towards other people. Organisational commitment is typically defined in terms of identification with the organisation, or attachment of personality symptoms to organisational systems (Chonko 1989; Kanter 1968). These have often been confounded with other motivational constructs and outcomes of individuals being committed. Again the complex social nature of individuals lives, bound up with other ‘institutional’ arrangements, is overlooked. Shamir suggests defining the physical exigencies of working together - organisational commitment - in terms of the salience of the relevant identity in the individuals’ self-concept. Work thus becomes less a management defined concept and turns into a ‘user’ led reality. This provides a basis for accounting for individual work efforts that are collectively and socially oriented and not individually calculative, such as the obedience to transformational leaders. However, this is not predictable, nor can it be causally linked to any single variable, and so must be studied sociologically, as it relates to the macro and micro complex commingled lived environment. The theory also provides a perception of intrinsic motivation - internal meanings spurring individuals to act in certain ways - that is more closely linked to individuals’ meaning and understanding of engineered tasks in terms of their values, identities, self-perceived attributes and possible selves. For example, assembly line work reduces motivation due to the detrimental symbolic meaning of this work system for employees’ self-concepts and the meanings they hold of themselves and others - not simply as a result of monotonous task design. Such a social situation arises through the socially constructed notions of assembly line work, external in the first sense to any organisational reality. This is then brought into the work setting and interacted upon by those present, in terms of the extant exigencies they find.


In light of this, it is futile for the work process to look to control employee motivation, because it is not under its immediate influence. The meanings of organisations, jobs, products, etc., for workers, lie within workers themselves and reflect social judgements and values that originate, in part, outside the organisational system and within the social complexity of lived reality. Managers are perhaps able to influence these through their role as facilitators in creating shared meanings for actual work and through their actions as role models, their use of symbols, rituals and language. But the essence of understanding here is upon creating an organisation that it is desirable to work for. Not one which can manipulate people’s identities and self-concepts, but one which provides the environment in which individuals can express and fulfil these. This to a large extent denies a hierarchical manipulation of those subordinate to positions of power - which in any event has been maintained through social agreement and the subtle negotiation of the art of management.

Meaning is thus largely formed outside the sphere of work. This does not negate the ability of work to ‘cause’ certain responses in individuals, but argues basic meanings, response to organisational practices, are set in place long before work is encountered. Moreover, work is used as an experience to add to identity, providing the boundaries within which certain activities take place and prescribing how a number of them are carried out. It does not cause or create the perception of image that individuals have of themselves prior to entrance, but only add to it.

Despite recent attempts to instigate the organisation as a focus of social identity, identity is still seen by individuals as represented by the private spheres where they have a modicum of freedom to choose a course of action, not necessarily predicted elsewhere (Frith and Goodwin 1990; Willis 1990). The way in which work is experienced depends neither on work factors nor non-work factors alone, but on the interaction of the two. One begets the other. The identity expressed at work is derived from the totality of the individuals’ experience. While it must be recognised that workers bring ideas and expectations into work situations it would be churlish to ignore the fact that while they are there these ideas and expectations have to be related to the ideas and actions of others, as well as those of supervision and management. For ‘anyone who wants to understand the nature of the self, the bases of social relations and the limits of rationality’ this is paramount (Turner 1983:38).

Identity does not rest on the contingent fact that one group happens to be more powerful than another, but is inherent in social relations. Within postmodern production relations, a symbolic system of organisation is produced within social relations of subordination and dominance. There is little sense in which the re-production of the symbolic system can be seen as a process in which the dominant and subordinate groups are in equivalent positions. However this portrays only the macro level exigencies and not the micro order of everyday life.

Hence it is fluid individual meanings that we must analyse to fathom work place identity. The modernisation of meaningful life, and its complimentary notion of workers as units of production in a direct relation to output, has not stifled existence but forced these meanings to be placed elsewhere than work, which has always been seen to rely on its rituals (production/employee practices) for good fortune. Furthermore, even within these new organisational forms emphasis is still upon functional prerequisites for efficiency. Individuals have gained little real control over the substantive aspects of their work. As one employee from the author’s study argued, echoing many managers, "We are still numbers, now we are just numbers with names". Pressures to achieve increased organisational flexibility generate polarisation of producers and directors, rather than the fabled unitarism. Notions of trust bound up with identity, such as commitment, seem set to decline rather than rally.

However, post-industrial society has been argued to lead towards consumption displacing employment as a ‘central life interest’. The consumer, it is argued, has become the projected model citizen, consumption not production will give life meaning and individuals their identity. At a time when many organisations promulgate strong organisational consensual cultures to integrate employees towards organisational goals and values, regardless of social and reward differences; it is important to understand how such achievement of commitment depends upon employees seeing for themselves how their work involves real shared - some would say class - interests rather than management insistence or rhetoric exclusively.

New forms of identity, however, must and will arise out of the seam between the organisation and the social construction of reality external to work. The inevitability remains that the process of postmodernisation will dissolve traditional social relations. While the ritually enforced and sacred social forms secularised from traditional societies, re-constructed through organisations, have become more subtle and all seeing, the way has opened through rhetorical example to progressively more conscious interactive communication, conscious negotiation of action and possible real structural change. Moreover, this can be aided by the social structural level exploited by the organisational principle of market forces (capitalism) and its drive for ‘humanisation’ of work.

The emphasis here is thus upon the use of sociology as analytic tool to observe the social relations which are the ingredients to making organisations work. A Weberian bureaucratic reductionism, where the organisation is the object and individuals its fuel, presents an increasingly distorted view and is replaced by a perspective which views people as the catalysts for action within their negotiation of performance for the continued activity of work. Furthermore, an important point, overlooked throughout study within this area, is that no matter the conception of individuals within organisations, either as variable units of manipulation or as individuals with conscious selves negotiating their reality, the documented outcome is invariably the same. The individual increases effort for more spiritual rewards, but less relative financial remuneration.


1. See Sievers (1986) for an exposition of the linguistic use of ‘motivation’ as a surrogate for meaning within work. It is the way in which these reasons for acting are manifested in individual realities that is important here. Eliciting effort from employees within a psychological problematic is based on tapping these reasons and making them commensurate with those of the organisation (Drennan 1990). Seldom are individuals considered in relation to the fluidity of the organisational environment, beyond the extent to which they can be arbitrarily manipulated to increase productivity (Thompson and McHugh 1990).

2. The discourse of the enterprise culture has been a contingent rather than a necessary feature of the restructuring of Britain throughout the 1980s, its discourse has appeared to survive changes of governmental (hegemonic) leaders. What this discourse has attempted, is the ‘inspiration’ of individuals towards economic self interest. The discourse attempted to equate the new enterprise culture with industriousness, regeneration and real ‘work wealth’ and happiness. Although ‘entrepreneurship’ as a concept is difficult to get hold of, it is a function of individual, situational and social variables. An example of the ‘enterprise culture’ has been management buyouts (Campbell, Bechhofer and McCrone 1992). Management teams negotiating successful buyouts were seen by some (Wright and Coyne 1985) as exercising the ultimate right to manage, free from the fetters of an anonymous head office. As such they were now left to the vagaries of the market and their own ability to ‘capitalise’ on enterprising opportunities. In the ironic words of one chairman (Bannok 1990, quoted in Campbell et al 1992:60):

    Management buyouts formed A major element in the UK's Enterprise Revolution of the 1980's. In effect, a new breed of owner-manager was born, and its appearance has been hailed as part of an entrepreneurial revolution.

    However, Campbell et al argued from their data that the supposed rights of ownership applying to mangers in buyout companies are not absolute but are considerably restricted. Here the belief in the entrepreneur has been thwarted by the inability of actual situations to live up to the rhetoric.

3. See for example Dickson (1988), who uses IBM as a real example of charismatic leadership in action.

4. This talk was given to an invited audience at the conservatoire Birmingham Polytechnic 1991. A summary of this can be found in Current Business Review 1(2):16-21. These practices have figured very strongly in the debate concerning a drift to postmodernist production methods and the necessary concomitant mutuality these methods require from employees.

5. Recent work by Bowles and Coates (1992) illustrates that even private sector organisations find relating productivity to an individuals’ performance very difficult indeed - if not impossible.

6. Typically these attempts are captured psychometrically. Categories are the investigators’ and culled from other populations or writings. The recording format is also pre-set. The ‘subject’ looks on to this ‘print-and-paper’ representation and tries to match what they believe with the questionnaire statements. However, to what extent do the questionnaire statements represent real beliefs, real values or actual attitudes That is the real question.

7. The mechanism by which people internalise the roles and attitudes of others, which in turn aid the forming of their own, is language (Mills 1975). Language is composed of gestures, without which people could not incorporate the understandings and meanings of others, thus leading to the enactment of self.

8. For an excellent exposition of the socially constructed nature of the self, see George Herbert Mead (1934).



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