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Interpreting workplace identities: the role of office décor

  • Author(s): Elsbach, Kimberly D
  • et al.

Published Web Location

https://doi.org/10.1002/job.233
Abstract

Using qualitative methods, I examine how employees in corporate office environments interpreted a variety of relatively permanent office décor (e.g., furniture, photos, personal mementos) as indicators of their colleagues' workplace identities (i.e., central and enduring categorizations regarding employees' status and distinctiveness in the workplace). Similar to the encoding of behavioral cues of identity, findings suggest that interpretation of physical identity markers begins with either (1) a top-down process of social categorization, in which specific rules are applied to encoding a few, focal, and visually salient pieces of office decor as evidence of management prototypes, or (2) a bottom-up process of social categorization, in which a variety of physical artifacts are examined and compared to specific managerial exemplars to develop a complex representation of workplace identity. Findings also suggest that some of the unique attributes of physical identity markers (i.e., their potential to be viewed independently from their displayer, and their relative permanence) may be associated with the focus of each profiling process (i.e., on interpreting status vs. distinctiveness, and consistency vs. change). Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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