Organizational assimilation refers to the process by which individuals move from “outsider” to full membership in an organization. Fredric Jablin (1982, 1987, 2001) developed a framework to consider the influence of communication on the social construction of role expectations and their enactments that considers the stages of vocational socialization, organizational entry, metamorphosis, and organizational exit.
From childhood, vocational socialization messages from family, school, peers, media, and part-time work experiences shape individuals’ beliefs regarding the nature of work, how to communicate with others at work, and appropriate vocations to pursue. Employment interviewing and pre-entry experiences then provide information which becomes the basis of job and occupational expectations (though incomplete and at times misguided) (Jablin 2001).
Organizational entry and the development of role and task competencies center on two related, ongoing experiences: role-taking and role-making. Role-taking events convey the expectations of members for unit and organization membership. Orienting, socializing, training, formal and informal mentoring, and information-giving and -seeking are the chief means of learning task priorities and preferred manner of role performance (Katz & Kahn 1978). Role-making involves newcomers’ attempts to change work assignments and environments to better suit their needs and goals (Graen & Scandura 1987; Jablin 1987). Upward influence attempts and role negotiation represent communicative forms of rolemaking. Disengagement/exit concludes the cycle and may include both leave-taking behaviors and developing expectations of another organizational role.
From childhood into early adulthood, individuals receive occupational information from their environments, which they then compare against their self-concept, weighing the options and choosing career directions. Some cues regarding technical preparation, prestige, social elements, and stresses are never questioned while others are reconstituted as career understanding matures.
Family members, especially parents, are primary influences on individuals’ career choices and understanding of the nature of work. Children are exposed to anecdotes regarding the nature of parental work responsibilities, deadlines, accomplishments, and difficulties through dinner talk or occasional visits to the workplace. Direct and indirect parental comments on various occupations (from garbage collector to aerospace engineer) convey status, fulfillment, approval, and relations with others. When participating in task-oriented or organizing activities such as household chores, children receive training in coordinated behavior and learn to: respond to requests for work; create justifications or accounts in refusing to perform tasks; solicit the help of others to perform tasks; remark on the expertise of others; identify chores to be completed or delegated; accept or reject sex-role stereotypes; and interpret and use metaphors to describe their tasks or environment. Young people are frequently exposed to procedure-related communication, including “the possibilities and the methods for raising questions or negotiating a change, the forms of talk or silence that are expected to accompany the work one does, and the extent to which people make decisions for themselves or need to follow orders” (Bowes & Goodnow 1996, 308).
Schools and formal education-related activities socialize youth into society, introduce and reinforce hierarchical divisions of labor, and provide feedback on intellectual, physical, and social abilities. Children learn to obtain information required for the completion of assignments, to navigate improperly delegated assignments and dysfunctional group dynamics, and to impress individuals in positions of authority. Textbooks typically offer limited, and often stereotyped, views of work interactions. However, pre-professional programs reveal implicit vocational interaction norms and codes by which individuals can later construct interpretations of events and interactions.
Peers serve as significant others who confirm and disconfirm the desirability of occupations. Because children and teens spend over half of their time in the company of peers, the importance of peer approval of vocational decisions should not be underestimated. Individuals receive considerable guidance from friends on dealing with conflict, negotiating solutions, and problem-solving with regard to their peers, parents, and teachers.
Depictions of occupations in the media, particularly on television, are popular, emphasize sex-role stereotypes, and feature prestigious occupations (omitting important roles for those of lower prestige). Television and movies commonly emphasize the trivial (e.g., romantic interests, office gossip) or one-way communication behaviors such as ordering or advising others and verbally aggressive conflict behaviors. Depictions of employees ridiculing inept bosses and prevailing in conflicts with them are common.
Finally, through part-time jobs, high school and college students learn to follow orders, provide reports on work events, apply problem-solving behaviors, and develop work relationships. They also typically receive little training or socialization, are excluded from outside-of-work interactions with supervisors and co-workers, do not form close relationships with supervisors, and complete tasks solo (and unsupervised) as opposed to in collaboration with others.
Through job fairs and employment interviews, individuals develop expectations regarding the nature of work in a specific organization and their fit to the position/organization. On North American college campuses, the 30-minute “first” or screening interview assists employers in identifying prospects, is marked by information-giving vignettes by both parties about organizational or candidate qualifications (e.g., candidate strengths/ weaknesses), and often evidences a 2:1 ratio of interviewer-to-candidate talk-time. Information sharing is often hampered by interviewers’ closed-ended or vague questions (necessitating re-asking of questions) and interviewees not discussing issues of substance until well into the interview. “Second” or selection interviews may extend from two hours to two days, and the interactions are characterized by multiple interviewers, few scripted interacts, specific screening criteria, and lengthy information exchanges. On occasion, screening, selection, and even placement (i.e., assigning position) may occur in a single interview episode.
Interviewers favor candidates who fit skill and aptitude criteria, engage in an informative and conversational manner, and display high levels of non-verbal immediacy. Interviewees prefer organizations where job attributes like salary and benefits are competitive; whose interviewers are interpersonally warm, well organized, and knowledgeable, and ask openended questions; and where recruiters’ information concurs with secondary sources. The interview process culminates with candidate/organization selection and the development of candidates’ more or less realistic job expectations. Most candidates have fairly accurate notions of job pay and benefits, but their expectations regarding the nature of job duties are often inflated, based on incomplete information from recruiters, others (e.g., peers), and vocational socialization. Those developing more realistic job previews, especially from verbal exchanges, report higher levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
While messages forecasting desired knowledge, values, or behaviors are likely conveyed during the interview process, socialization begins in earnest upon the first day of entry through, at times, deliberately constructed contexts, prepared training materials, and encounters with incumbents (Chao et al. 1994; Van Maanen & Schein 1979). New hires receive messages specifying the nature and importance of task elements, preferred manner of task performance, and patterns of order and status in the work unit. Newcomers look to supervisors to provide guidance in task completion, give feedback, and reward or sanction behavior. Co-workers have vested interests in socializing newcomers, provide vital emotional support, and contribute to newcomers’ social construction of work realities and attitudes.
Newcomers nevertheless report encountering role surprise, in cases of mild discrepancies between their expectations and realities, or “role shock,” where discrepancies are major and dire (Louis 1980). It is generally accepted that newcomers seek information to reduce uncertainty about the best way to complete tasks, the quality of their job performance, and their relationship with others (Miller & Jablin 1991; Morrison 1993, 2002). Newcomers vary their information-seeking tactics and sources depending upon the source and perceived social cost of the information. While research remains ongoing, it appears that (1) perceptions of social costs lead new hires to seek performance and relational information through less direct means (indirect inquiry and observing) and (2) overt means will be used when seeking task or technical information.
During the entry process, newcomers’ development of relationships with supervisors and co-workers is essential. While interactions with supervisors are initially marked by directives and explanations, at some point these exchanges gravitate to “high-quality” patterns, characterized by mutual support, give-andtake, informal ideation, and inside information, or to “low-quality” patterns displaying the opposite characteristics. The nature of these leader–member exchanges (Graen & Scandura 1987) portends the favorableness of assignments, performance reviews, and advancement opportunities. From entry, newcomers and co-workers tend to exchange information equally and express mutual support. Critical outcomes for newcomers during entry include reducing role ambiguity, resolving role conflicts, and gaining role competence. Task mastery may be a precursor of acceptance into the unit or may be required for acceptance.
Employees are thought to regularly seek to modify their role to suit their needs, abilities, and desires. New hires engage in role-making when they pursue competing expectations of their role’s purpose, the manner in which the role is to be enacted, and how the role performance will be evaluated. Others’ expectations may be altered by selectively neglecting assigned tasks, performing extra tasks in addition to assigned duties, and explicit role negotiations with the supervisor (and others at times) to create agreements about assignments and responsibilities. During this phase of assimilation, newcomers move away from coping and role learning activities and toward fine tuning and negotiating the role with others. The manner and outcomes of role-making have considerable influence on participants’ interpersonal trust and on unit innovation, coordination, and flexibility. Contexts for role negotiation include performance feedback interviews and daily upward influence attempts, and contribute to employee role development, extra-role behaviors, and job satisfaction.
Voluntary transitions from organizations are usually gradual, following a pre-announcement, announcement, and post-exit sequence. Psychological factors such as withdrawal, good or hard feelings, perceptions of justice/injustice, and misgivings over leaving may be preceded or followed by overt/hidden conflict, celebrations, retirement symbols, leave-taking, exchanges of addresses, and/or abandonment. In particular, communication-related antecedents (e.g., closed communication climate, non-participation in decision making) of leaving for a different organization are well studied, leading to questions regarding the role of communication in the evolution of loss of commitment or allegiance.
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