Breaking them in or eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression

From Administrative Science Quarterly

Socialization theory has focused on enculturating new employees such that they develop pride in their new organization and internalize its values. Organizational socialization is the process by which an individual acquires the values, expected behaviors, and social knowledge needed to assume an active role as a member of the organization. This paper proposes an alternative view of organizational socialization that addresses the basic needs of both organizations and newcomers. Drawing on authenticity research, the paper suggests that organizational socialization is optimized when organizations start by recognizing and highlighting newcomers’ best selves at the very beginning of the employment relationship, when identity negotiation is a critical concern for both parties. Researchers conducted two studies, the first study, used a field experiment to examine whether initial socialization tactics that promote individual identity versus organizational identity result in greater productivity and lower turnover. In the  second study authors used a laboratory experiment to test whether individuals joining a new work environment are better enabled to authentically express their strengths when socialization tactics emphasize their personal identities rather than the organizational identity, with consequences for engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and turnover.


Socialization theory has focused on enculturating new employees such that they develop pride in their new organization and internalize its values. We draw on authenticity research to theorize that the initial stage of socialization leads to more effective employment relationships when it instead primarily encourages newcomers to express their personal identities. In a field experiment carried out in a large business process outsourcing company in India, we found that initial socialization focused on personal identity (emphasizing newcomers’ authentic best selves) led to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months than socialization that focused on organizational identity (emphasizing the pride to be gained from organizational affiliation) or the organization’s traditional approach, which focused primarily on skills training. To confirm causation and explore the mechanisms underlying the effects, we replicated the results in a laboratory experiment in a U.S. university. We found that individuals working temporarily as part of a research team were more engaged and satisfied with their work, performed their tasks more effectively, and were less likely to quit when initial socialization focused on personal identity rather than on organizational identity or a control condition. In addition, authentic self-expression mediated these relationships. We call for a new direction in socialization theory that examines how both organizations and employees can benefit by emphasizing newcomers’ authentic best selves.


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Article details
Daniel M. Cable, Francesca Gino, and Bradley R. Staats
Breaking Them in or Eliciting Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomers’ Authentic Self-expression
Administrative Science Quarterly March 2013 58: 1-36, doi:10.1177/0001839213477098




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