Organizational Identification in Social Theories

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 10
Words: 2777
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: PhD


Organizational identification (OI) is a recognition of an individual’s belonging to a particular group unified by a single purpose — to advance the business and align the daily work with the organization’s strategy and vision. OI is a multidimensional concept based on several social and psychological theories that explain why and how people communicate, learn, and engage in other activities. It can also be used to determine how one’s affection with a company can impact their work engagement satisfaction. When combined, the theoretical foundations of social interactions and learning explain how people develop a sense of self, learn and what are their intrinsic motivators, which in an organizational context helps explain how employees learn the implicit culture by observing others in this company and why they are motivated to work to maintain their level of earnings. This literature review aims to explore OI and the five core theories guiding OB research and practical application. To address the issue of correlation between high levels of OI and work attitudes of the employees, this literature review will focus on examining the main theories relating to OI, which are the social exchange theory, social identity theory, social learning theory, conservation of resource theory, cognitive appraisal of emotions and self-determination theories.

Research Question

The research question guiding this literature review is what is OI and how it affects an organization’s performance explored from the perspective of different social theories. More specifically, OI has a positive correlation with work satisfaction and the work engagement of the employees. OI is a part of the organizational psychology field, which is a multidisciplinary discipline that combines managerial studies with a comprehension of essential antecedents of human behavior, such as what motivates a person to work and achieve more, remain in the same workplace, or demonstrate alliance towards a company.

A premise of this study is that as human beings are social creatures, their functioning in different groups affects their perception of self and the group, determining the levels of commitment and motivation to do something to benefit this community. One of these groups is a company where an individual works. The intricate organizational culture issue does not respond to all the questions about the organization-employee relationship and identification. Other elements of this identification include the businesses’ values and the methods for obtaining profits that are applied. Hence, this research helps advance the underlying elements of human psychology that guide social behavior and affect how people act within their organizations and their feelings and attitudes towards their employers. Therefore, the main question that this research focuses on is the importance of OI and how it affects one’s commitment to an organization. The hypothesis is that the higher the OI levels are, the more significant is one’s commitment, which should affect the outcomes of work, such as work satisfaction and effectiveness.

Importance and Rationale of Research Question

Executives and business research academics are concerned with the question of improving the efficiency of enterprises, which is why the motivation theories and leadership research have gained a lot of attention. However, the issue of how employees self-identify when working for a company and how companies can affect this sense of self and the antecedents of it and the impact that good OI has one’s motivation has not been studied as extensively. The notion “organizational identification” can be defined as a degree to which an employee identifies themselves with a company they work for, and Brown (2017) argues that it is the way one perceives “unity between him or herself and a collective” (p. 296). The author continues to explore this phenomenon and states that OI, in essence, is a process, affected by a multitude of factors. This means that OI is a dynamic matter that is not reflected in the company’s declared values or missions or its strategy. Instead, OI is more complex and related to a person’s view of self and their appraisal of unity with their organization.

The implication of self-identification with the organization is the desire to work towards ensuring that the company succeeds. Tavares et al. (2016) explain the importance of OI in the following manner: “employees’ tendency to reciprocate organizational treatment would depend on the extent to which they identify with the organization” (p. 34). Moreover, OI should weaken the extent to which the employees perceive the quality of exchange relationships and interest outcomes. The former category relates to the perceived organizational support, while the latter to the turnover intentions (Tavares et al., 2016). To prove that OI is essential, one should review how this phenomenon is formed or in what ways does the person’s identification with the company they work for is formed. According to Hamzagic (2018), the following steps are required: “1) strong organizational culture, (2) effective management, (3) good communication channels, (4) formation of the psychological contract, (5) common organizational value sharing, (6) decision-making premises” (p. 31). These steps prove that the executives have an implant in shaping employees’ self-identification with the company because they can manage communications and culture in the way they deem suitable.

The importance of OI also is reflected in the perception of self and the degree to which it is connected to the organizational factors. As Blader et al. (2017) note, the primary measurement element of OI is the level of integration that an individual shows when considering themselves and their organizations. In other words, the more the membership in a particular organization is integrated into a person’s feeling of self, the higher the OI levels are. The employees may self-identify and consider their perception of self as something interchangeably linked to where they work, which creates intrinsic motivation to excel and perform better.

Theoretical Foundations

There are five fundamental theories of social interactions and learning that are applicable for OI, which include the social exchange theory, social identity theory, social learning theory, conservation of the resources theory, cognitive appraisal, and self-determination. Each explains the distinct characteristics of how people perceive information, learn social cues, and comprehend behavior prompts.

Social Exchange Theory

The first theory was developed by Blau in 1964 titled “Social Exchange Theory.” According to Blau, the exchange is the basis of social interactions, and as a result of it, both parties get social or economic benefits (as cited in Brown, 2017). In accordance with this theory, there are certain “currencies of exchange” that organizations can use to support their employees’ commitment to work (Brown, 2017). The simplest form is the financial gain one receives for dedicating time and effort every day when working for a business.

The expectation of having a reciprocating relationship is the basis of social interactions, including those that occur in the workplace. Tavares et al. (2016) explain this theory as the expectation that individuals have when they engage in a certain behavior regarding the outcome of it or the reward they will receive. An important assumption regarding OI and the Social Exchange Theory is that reciprocity is the central element in both cases because the organization-employees relationship is built upon the material and non-material benefits the latter receives, for which they put efforts into their work and show loyalty (Tabres et al., 2016). Therefore, the social exchange theory is based on reciprocity, where each of the two parties benefits from a social relationship.

When beginning to work for an organization, it is apparent that the expectation is the ability to receive benefits, both monetary, such as compensation or insurance and intangible, or example, prestige or opportunity to find challenging tasks. Perceived organizational support is a metric that academics and practitioners use to illustrate the reciprocity of the employee-organization relationship (Tavares et al., 2016).

Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory, together with the social exchange theory, is one of the two approaches that researchers most commonly use to explain the relationship between organizations and their employees. This theory was developed by Tajfel and Turner in 1980, and its basic assumptions are that a person’s self-identification is connected to their group membership (Tavares et al., 2016). Here, being a part of a company contribute to the person’s sense of self, serving as a form of social identification.

The sense of identity is the central element of a person’s perception of self in general. This concept can be defined as someone assigning specific characteristics to themselves regarding their identity, appearance, or other factors (Buckley et al., 2018). From an organizational perspective, the social identity theory implies that because individuals who are hired into an organization become members of a new group, their identity will be linked to this organization.

Social Learning Theory

The next theory is linked with the idea that learning is a solely social process that can occur only with the use of observations or direct instructions. This theory was first introduced by Bandura in 1963 (Buckley et al., 2018). This theory draws upon the assumptions of two other theories: cognitive learning and behavioral learning. The former implies that learning depends on psychological factors, while the latter is based on the idea that learning is a response to stimuli from the outside environment.

Bandura formulated his theory after an experiment involving an inflatable Bobo Doll, in which children would watch adults treat Bobo either violently or passively (Buckley et al., 2018). The children then would imitate the behavior they witnessed, including words and actions, which prompted Bandura to conclude that social behaviors are learned from observing others (Buckley et al., 2018). In organizations, this theory helps explain how implicit elements such as culture are transferred from one individual to the other.

Learning has become integral for organizational management, and most employees go through initial training when they are first admitted to a position. This theory implies that apart from traditional learning methods, managers can leverage observation of behavior to create a certain culture in their organizations and ensure that employees behave in a certain way. This, of course, is related to implicit learning rather than an explicit one. IN this regard, a mentorship program can be beneficial for an organization because, in this way, successful employees can teach others how to model behaviors that contribute to good organizational outcomes.

Conservation of Resource Theory

In 1989 Hobfoll developed a theory, the basis of which is the idea that individuals strive to retain the resources they have. Basic examples include comfort or present financial status (Buckley et al., 2018). This theory’s premise implies that a potential threat of losing these resources or their loss results in stress. From an organizational perspective, this theory should be perceived as a stress theory that explains what motivates individuals and what prompts them to work towards retaining old resources and obtaining new ones. Hobfall et al. (2018) view this theory as an idea that “cognitions have an evolutionary-based built-in and powerful bias to overweight resource loss and underweight resource gain” (p. 104). As a motivation theory, COR explains why people need to gain social bonds and personal strengths, as it is part of the evolutionary process and the basis of human survival.

In terms of OI, Hobfall et al. (2018) link COR with stress-appraisal theory, which implies that stressful occurrences are generally the ones that are perceived as stressful. COR has three underlying principles that guide it: loss is more salient then gain, investment is motivated by a need to protect the resources from being lost, and the paradox of resource gain in proportion to resource loss. The basis of this theory is stress, which was the predetermining factor that leads the researchers to the study of factors causing stress in humans and how perceptions and attitudes towards resources can affect it. The Primacy of Resource Loss principle implies that losing something caused significantly more harm when compared to gaining a resource. The second principle is that people tend to invest in resources as a way of trying to protect themselves from losses as oppose to a common belief that this is an intent to increase the resources one possesses.

Cognitive Appraisal Theories of Emotions

This theory implies that a person’s emotions are a result of a person appraising the events. Some factors that can result in a strong emotional response are the mismatch of the expectations and the actual outcome or the cause of a particular outcome (Moors, 2017). Moore (2017) defines an appraisal as “a process in which values are determined for a number of appraisal factors such as goal relevance, the goal in/congruence, un/expectedness, control, and agency” (p. 4). Hence, the individual’s perception is a determining element of defining what events and factors are perceived as good or bad and what emotional response they ca cause.

This theory explains why the same event can cause a different response from two people since they evaluate it using their distinct views and expectations, which can cause one to feel happy and the other sad. From an organizational perspective and considering OI, this theory implicitly points to the idea that people’s appraisal of different events and contexts is essential. Therefore, working with these perceptions, for example, by communicating the mission and vision or the strategic objectives, is essential.

The two researchers that contributed to the development of the appraisal theories the most are Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus, who worked on the structural and process models under the theories of appraisal (Buckley et al., 2018). Magda studied the arousal that results in emotions such as anger and was the one to introduce the cognitive theory. Based on it, Lazarus assumed that the nature of cognition and determinant antecedent conditions are the ones that predetermine the reaction from the initial emotions (Buckley et al., 2018). Further research into the matter proved that both cognition and emotional response contribute to an emotional reaction of a person in response to stimuli.

Self-Determination Theories

This theory is based on the assumption that every individual has a specific set of needs that have to be satisfied. This leads to the person having a high level of intrinsic motivation and a strive for achieving competence, autonomy, or relatedness (Buckley et al., 2018). Intrinsic motivation is an essential factor for OI because it is linked to better performance when compared to extrinsic motivation, such as financial gain and benefits. The theory of self-determination is based on some of the people’s innate needs and tendencies towards growth and development. Through the lens of this theory, one can determine what motivates individuals and to what degree one can be self-motivated, which in terms of OI contributes to the understanding of employees’ intrinsic motivation and how it can be enhanced through proper organizational management.

Proposed Theoretical Model

In light of the five theories explored in this literature review, one can conclude that OI is based on many factors that predetermine employee’s social behavior. Perhaps the most important factor is social learning through observation, which helps explain how employees can learn to associate themselves with their companies by witnessing similar behaviors of their colleagues and executives. According to Buckley et al. (2018), OI helps address some of the fundamental aspects of human existence in terms of social interactions. The two theories, self-determination and conservation of resources, help understand why it is important for individuals to work towards a certain goal, for example, get qualifications, find a good job, develop competencies, and other actions. In terms of OI, one can assume that organizations that offer these opportunities to individuals can expect better levels of OI when compared to those who ignore it.

The reviewed theories point to the idea that executives can create beneficial environments in their organization that suit the innate psychological tendencies of individuals, such as the tendency to learn from social interactions or their intrinsic motivation facilitated through the self-determination of the desire to conserve the resources that these individuals have. As a result, individuals are motivated to work effectively because their appraisal of the benefits and the resources they may receive due to this cooperation between them and an organization serves as a motivation.


Overall, this literature review explores OI’s topic, which is a concept of an individual’s level of self-identification and identification with the company they work for and the satisfaction and willingness to perform well. The explored theories explain how people develop a sense of self and that it is linked to their membership in a specific group. From an organizational perspective, one can argue that OI plays a vital role in defining the commitment of an individual and their willingness to work efficiently for the benefit of this group. The reviewed theories help explain human behavior in varied social situations, including instances when an individual is placed in the context of an organization with its distinct culture and environment.


Brown, A. D. (2017). Identity work and organizational identification. International Journal of Management Reviews, 19(3), 296–317. Web.

Buckley, M., Wheeler, A., & Halbesleben, J. (2018). Research in personnel and human resources management. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Hamzagic, E. (2018). The importance of the organizational identification in forming organizational perception. International Review, 2018, 3-4. Web.

Hobfoll, S. E., Halbesleben, J., Neveu, J. P., & Westman, M. (2018). Conservation of resources in the organizational context: The reality of resources and their consequences. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 5(1), 103-128.

Moors, A. (2017). Appraisal theory of emotion. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 1-9. Web.

Tavares, S. M., van Knippenberg, D., & van Dick, R. (2016). Organizational identification and “currencies of exchange”: Integrating social identity and social exchange perspectives. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 46(1), 34–45. Web.