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Tuesday, July 12 • 13:31 - 14:30
Working 24/7: Identity management strategies as boundary mechanisms in a greedy institution.

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 302, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Sietske Ruijter, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Kim van Zoest, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands

The growing use of social media has brought both opportunities and challenges to organizations. One of these challenges is the uncontrolled spread of content on social media that could potentially damage the reputation of the organization and its members (e.g. Meijer & Kleinnijenhuis, 2006). Social identity theory can be used to explain how organizations and their members cope with such phenomena (e.g. Petriglieri, 2011). Some organizations attempt to counter negative outcomes by imposing social media standards on their members, as one of the many ways in which the organization tries to enforce their employees’ loyalty. Employees, however, are then confronted with various characteristics of what Coser (1974) and Peterson and Uhnoo (2012) refer to as a ‘greedy institution’.

In this paper, we explain how police officers – who strongly identify with their organization and profession – cope with both threats to their organizational and professional identity emerging from external pressure (e.g. social media content) as well as demands of total commitment from their organization.

For this study, a mixed method approach is used. Data analysis is based on 32 semi-structured interviews and focused probes (following a Q-sorting experiment) in a large police region in The Netherlands. The interviews (which lasted from 35 minutes to one and a half hour) were executed by two researchers, tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim.

In line with social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), police officers try to maintain a positive social identity. As their identity is threatened by, for example, social media content, they engage in identity management strategies.

Contrary to what was expected based on social identity theory, police officers – who strongly identify with their organization, and even stronger with their profession – do not frequently choose an identity management strategy that actively protects their social identity in case of an identity threat. Instead of positively distinguishing their threatened identity, they, for example, conceal their police identity in private times or condemn the condemners (Petriglieri, 2011). This can be explained by the finding that the Dutch Police shows striking similarities with Coser’s (1974) description of a greedy (highly demanding) institution. The police organization wants to ensure that police employees actively protect the organizational image in case of a threat and refrain from possible image threatening behavior. In order to avoid negative organizational image and subsequent legitimacy losses, appropriate behavior is enforced by the organization under the pretext of: 

“Don’t forget… everything you do is under a magnifying glass. You, literally, live in a glass house. For the smallest mistake you might make, you could be reprimanded or even fired.” (R8)

Our focused interviews reveal that tensions arise when police employees at the same time try to protect their professional identity and their ‘personal space’ when their professional identity is threatened in private times. Police employees, then, perceive a threat not merely as an identity threat, but also as a threat to their work-private boundary. The struggle police employees experience because they, on the one hand, want to speak up to protect their threatened and so much ‘beloved’ professional identity, and on the other hand want to enjoy their off-time, is well reflected in the following quote:

“You are proud of your work (…). So, every now and then, I do get tossed back and forth, because on the one hand, you don’t like that people always talk negative about your work, but on the other hand, you don’t always feel like ending up in discussions. (…) In first instance, I would try to keep my mouth shut, but eventually, um, if I do fall for the provocation, I would defend it.“ (R21)

In accordance, police officers not merely use identity management strategies to protect their threatened identity. They also use these strategies as boundary mechanisms: to enhance vigilance against total intrusions of their personal identity.

Future Work: 
Data analysis is already at an advanced stage. A first draft of a paper will be presented at the conference. Feedback will be welcomed. The paper is one of the studies in the PhD project of the first author.


Coser, L. A. (1974). Greedy institutions: Patterns of Undivided Commitment. New York: Free press.

Meijer, M. M. & Kleinnijenhuis, J. (2006). News and corporate reputation: Empirical findings

from the Netherlands. Public Relations Review, 32, 341-348.

Peterson, A. & Uhnoo, S. (2012). Trials of loyalty: Ethnic minority police officers as ‘outsiders’

within a greedy institution. European Journal of Criminology, 9 (4), 354-369.

Petriglieri, J. L. (2011). Under threat: responses to and the consequences of threats to

individual identities. Academy of Management Review, 36 (4), 641-662.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin,

& S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-47).

Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole.

Tuesday July 12, 2016 13:31 - 14:30
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 302 Goldsmiths University, Building 2

Attendees (10)