Mahdi Ebrahimi, assistant professor of marketing at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics, examines the trend of bringing one’s “whole self” to work in his 2020 study, “Juggling work and home selves: Low identity integration feels less authentic and increases unethicality,” published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and featured in Harvard Business Review.
In this study, which involved 800 participants, Ebrahimi and his coauthors looked at the two major identities in a typical employee’s life – their “professional/work” identity and “non-work” identity. Ebrahimi found that when employees don’t believe that their “whole self” integrates with the culture of their workplace, there is greater likelihood of unethical workplace behavior. The study concludes that when corporate leaders put into practice their company’s authentic mission and vision, they will experience better performance from their employees.
Insights about the study and its implications from Ebrahimi:
We all juggle multiple identities. We have a work identity that could be assertive and competitive and a home identity that may be caring and supportive. We wanted to see what happens when our identities are incompatible or even in conflict with one another (we call this low identity integration). Across multiple experiments and a field study we found that when people juggle identities that are incompatible, they feel less authentic, and that ultimately leads to more unethical behavior.
According to multiple national surveys, the new generation of workers (i.e., millennials and Gen Z) want to bring their whole self to work. Our research suggests that when employees are given the opportunity to create work identities that are compatible with their home identities, they are more likely to behave ethically. Given that unethical behavior is a pervasive issue in organizations, ethical employees reduce the financial and reputational costs of unethical behavior in organizations.
There are several ways that organizations can promote identity integration. Companies can give employees more control. This has become even more critical after the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees want to have control over where and when they work. In addition, companies can create a culture of authenticity at the leadership level. When leaders authentically display the values of their organizations, employees become more authentic and ethical.
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