Representational predicaments arise when a job incumbent believes that attributions and images assumed by dominant authorities unfavourably ignore, or disproportionately and unfavourably emphasize, aspects of the incumbent's own work and social identity. This is likely to happen when the incumbent does not have a close relationship with a dominant authority, and when power asymmetries give the former relatively little control over which aspects of their work and social identity are made visible or invisible to the latter. We draw on critical incident interviews from three organizations to illustrate a typology of six types of representational predicament: invasive spotlighting, idiosyncratic spotlighting, embedded background work, paradoxical social visibility, standardization of work processes, and standardization of work outputs. We analyse responses to representational predicaments according to whether they entailed exit, voice, loyalty, or neglect. Incumbents tended to respond with loyalty if they felt able and willing to accommodate their work behaviour and/or social identity to the dominant representations, and if there were sufficient compensatory factors, such as intrinsic rewards from the work or solidarity with colleagues. Exit or neglect appeared to reflect the belief that it was impossible to accommodate. Power asymmetries appeared to deter voice. Individual employees with a close and cordial working relationship with a member of a dominant authority group, or who were relationally networked to one, appeared not to experience representational predicaments.
Bibliographical noteThe study was funded by the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong, Grant No. LU3013/02H.
- Hong Kong
- Organizational justice
- Performance evaluation
- Representational predicaments