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Essay: Workplace identities and work partnerships

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  • Published: 18 April 2023*
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This essay uses social identity theory to examine the construction of workplace identities and examines work partnerships to see why individuals and organisations embrace them as well as the barriers and benefits to efficient work partnerships. Case studies from this course, including Jasmine (Lomax, 2013 pp.140-141), Sheraz (The Open University, 2017b), and Shirley (The Open University, 2017a) are presented, to analyse how absence of partnership vision, shifting work settings, and unsupportive managers can undermine a person’s workplace identity. Subsequently, we will examine how different types of leaders and managers can assist staff in retaining their workplace identities within partnerships, including those that opt to exercise credibility, those that adopt integrative approaches towards leadership, those that create leadership champion space, those that nurture relationships with partners and those that create shared identities for partnerships.

Many individuals use work to maintain and define their identity and how they perceive other individuals within society. A work identity can be framed in the social identity theory, which posits that the identity of an individual is dependent upon his or her groups. This is consistent with the notion that individuals’ workplace identities are created through socialization within work settings and training (Dutton et al., 2010, cited by Lomax, 2013, pp.141- 144). In such environments, individuals absorb their work group behaviours, language, purpose, values, and norms from colleagues and superiors (Lomax, 2013 pp.140-141). Besides, work identities are strengthened through sharing psychological bonds and histories with members of other groups (Lomax, 2013, p.145). Individuals can preserve workplace identities through storytelling (Strangleman, 2012 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.151).

Bucher and Strauss (1961 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.144) assert that individuals draw upon other features of their identities, like their class or gender, to define their workplace identities. For instance, Jasmine might have relied on her colleagues at the university to keep her workplace identity through sharing her personal experiences with them. Workplace identities provide people with a sense of self-esteem, pride and opportunities for social and professional development. An absence of a workplace identity can trigger anxiety and stress (Haslam & Van Dick, 2010, cited in Lomax, 2013, pp.141- 147). While Jaros (2009 cited in Lomax, 2013 p.142) posits that it may be erroneous to presume that individuals with similar occupations have similar workplace identities, Bucher and Strauss (1961 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.141) state that the formation of workplace identity has been overemphasized. According to Olesen and Whittaker (1968 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.142), some individuals have personal values, such as courage or commitment that determine their workplace identity. Partnerships constitute a shared commitment between partners to collaborate across boundaries toward constructive outcomes (Sullivan & Skelcher, 2002 cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.193). Partnerships are often formal arrangements at strategic levels between service users and voluntary, private, or state organisations. The work can range from full mergers, joint management, coordinated activities, consulting, or simple information sharing (Glasby et al, 2011, cited in Charlesworth 2013a, p.194). For example, a partnership between social care workers and healthcare providers can ensure individuals with complicated issues acquire the different services they need (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.190). For instance, Sheraz, a GP practice manager, partners with social care services, hospitals, pharmacies, and patients to ensure the needs of patients are fulfilled. Organisations might decide to collaborate to enhance services or they might be obligated to partner. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 included partnerships in the legislation. Because of this, bridging organisations such as the Clinical Commissioning Group have been created to track and promote working partnerships (Gov.UK, n.d.).

Partners should embrace teamwork in their operations, as the members depend on each other to share accountability, responsibility, and authority for their collective actions while working to a specific objective (Ward, 2003 cited Charlesworth, 2013b, p.167). To reach the objective, partnerships follow processes to attain outcomes like as a common goal of improving a service or the users’ experiences (Dowling & Powell, 2004, pp. 312-315). A partnership team has common roles to be arranged, such as negotiators, planners, and leaders. Personality is an antecedent of such roles (Charlesworth, 2013b, pp.172-173). Partnerships do not commence as functional teams, rather they undergo evolution through phases: adjourning, preforming, norming, storming, and forming, according to Tuckman and Jensen (1997 cited in Charlesworth, 2013b, pp.173-174). Even though partnerships rarely assume a linear evolution in social care and healthcare, the result of the partnership is often defined through the extensive economic and political context. In this context, the membership of partnerships is likely to change (Ward 2003, cited in Charlesworth, 2013b, p.174). Partners attain a collaborative edge when embracing teamwork, ensuring outcomes that members might not have attained independently (Huxham & Vangen, 2005, cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.195). Such achievements include service users acquiring more coordinated care because of improved communication between organisations; the inclusion of diverse viewpoints, resources and expertise, knowledge; and shared practices (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.196). Collaborative inertia are partnership efforts that do not yield outcomes or are slow (Huxham, 1996, cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.195). This occurs when there are scarce resources; no clear vision; redundant leadership or diverse experiences; and beliefs attitudes, or values that cause disharmony among partners (Charlesworth, 2013a, Page 3 of 8 p.197). There are numerous reasons why working partnerships might threaten workplace identities. Notably, partnerships have eroded conventional service values. Initially, the NHS was created on the premise of sacrifice, cure, and care principles. Contemporary leaders face the distraction of meeting targets and advancing their careers. According to Rodgers (2009) leaders are not geared towards supporting employees. Obholzer (1994, cited in Lomax, 2013, p.147) asserted that unsupportive management could undermine workplace identities. He asserted that social care and healthcare employees, grapple with death, sickness, and distressing issues and the existing bureaucratic system of management urges employees to function in an emotionally detached manner to shield themselves from distress. For instance, the manager, Karen felt overlooked, whereas Jasmine was professionally dejected.

Moreover, working partnerships can raise a sense of insecurity at the workplace. Political or socio-economic pressure can alter the objectives of partnership. Individuals might discover that they are not required within the partnership and thus are compelled to seek new jobs and redefine their workplace identities (Lomax, 2013, p.145). Furthermore, in partnerships, tasks might overlap and roles can be blurred. For example, the members of the Shirley partnership needed to determine the person to conduct the pilot study. Additionally, new roles, such as team leader, must be filled. Undertaking a new role can cause professionals to question their workplace identities (Brown et al., 2000). They might wonder whether they still have any affiliation to their professional groups or if other professionals would accept the new role (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.206). Partnership working can alienate individuals from their professional colleagues. They might not have the required social support to retain their workplace identities (Sennett, 2008 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.145), as seen in the Jasmine case, where Jasmine might have relied on other features of her identity and shared experiences with colleagues to keep her workplace identity Lomax (2013, p.143).

Furthermore, the unveiling of person-oriented care can impact workplace identities. In partnerships, power imbalances might exist: professionals might utilise their experience or status to overpower other partners, making them feel irrelevant (MacKian, 2013 cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.199). Voluntary organisations may be at a financial disadvantage in partnerships (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.199), however voluntary organisations possess the service users’ views. Along with this, service users are empowered because in their absence, services would be non-existent (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.202).
Workplace identities can be undermined if there are no shared visions in the partnership. Partnerships bring together individuals of diverse statuses, conditions, and pay, who might have diverse professional and cultural practices and norms (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.206). When the values of practitioners are not recognized, they might encounter “disidentification”. For example, Jasmine adopted a social approach towards her occupation, whereas the doctors embraced a medical approach. Jasmine became uncertain and lost confidence within her practice as it was different than the organisation’s dominant approach.

The second part of this paper explores how leaders and managers can make people feel valued through support of credible leaders, through nurturing trust in the partnership, through creation of shared identities for partners, and by adopting an integrative approach towards leadership. Obholzer (1994, cited in Lomax, 2013, p.148) feels managers should support employees so they can comprehend the objectives of the organisation and add their impetus. Managers can complement individuals by leading a position of credible self-awareness (Northouse, 2010 cited in Lomax, 2013, p.153). For example, Shirley is a credible leader. She understands partners’ values, she strives to do the correct thing, and she is honest and open. This allows her to link with individuals and let her subordinates to convey their values. Sullivan et al. (2012, p.52) feels managers should create a team setting where individuals feel secure. She asserted that they could actualise this by building relationships on the basis of trust between partners. Trust instils a sense of authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability among partners. They can share feelings and thoughts without feeling belittled in the event of mistake or opinion differences (OPP, n.d., p.4). Nevertheless, trust cannot be built easily when individuals have not served together previously or have previously experienced a poor working relationship (Huxham & Vangen, 2005, cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.208).

Moreover, unrealistic anticipations and stereotypes can undermine trust building (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.208). For instance, Susan, the patient reference group manager was ageist and ignored the opinions of older members in the group; therefore, the team often disagreed and was unable to attain anything (Lomax, 2013, p.157). Partners with diverse agendas can complicate trust building. The partnership would have a meta objective, the rationale behind its presence, for example, the Sheraz partnership intended to fulfil the needs of service users, but individual partners had their specific objectives, for instance, pharmacies want to make money (Huxham & Vangen, 2005 Charlesworth, 2013a, pp.200-201). Sullivan, et al. (2012, p.52) posit that trust can be nurtured by showing respect to partners and nurturing a shared awareness of the challenges. For instance, Sheraz discussed with the expert GP by outlining the rationale and proposal; he did not dictate. Additionally, trust can be nurtured through delegation of activities in a team (Charlesworth, 2013a, p.209). Managers might utilise the SWOT analytical tool (The Open University, 2017d) to evaluate the approach that people adopt towards a situation or determine the hidden talents that might be used to enable partners’ feeling valuable at the workplace (Hales et al., 2011, pp. 49). Afterwards, they can utilise the ten-step delegation tool (The Open University, 2017e) to ensure the correct person is assigned the proper task and are supported in accomplishing it. Moreover, managers should keep contextual awareness regarding how teams work together. Groups can become comfortable together and want to avert disagreements and fall into a group-thinking trap (The Open University, 2017f). Managers can employ a brainstorming tool to overcome this (Mind Tools, 2017). Another means that managers can use to ensure that partners feel valued involves taking an integrative approach towards leadership and drawing upon the diverse perspectives and outlooks of partnership affiliates to overcome problems while working towards an objective. In this case, leadership constitutes a shared task and partners share responsibilities.

Additionally, the approach is premised on nurturing trust and relationships (Alban-Metcalfe & Alimo-Metcalfe, 2011 cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.210). Nevertheless, the approach creates room for champions of leadership, who are members that might or might not have expertise within the partnership field, but who are innovative, entrepreneurial individuals that can influence individuals beyond their control and steer the partnership ahead (IVAR 2011 cited in Charlesworth, 2013a, p.210). For people to link their workplace identities to partnerships, managers should create a shared identity or vision for the partnership. When individuals see the broader picture, they can comprehend how they may contribute (Hales et al., 2011, pp. 50-51). Managers can utilise open space technology (Owen, 2012, cited in Charlesworth, 2013b, pp.180-181), to hold meetings that lack pre-fixed agendas, to assist partners in understanding the goals and shared vision for the partnership.

Moreover, managers can nurture relationships and eliminate power dynamics in the team (Charlesworth, 2013b, pp.181-182). One way is to invite an external expert consultant to explain the vision. The expert would not be restricted by budgets or targets (Hales et al, 2011, p.51). Managers can utilise the mapping tool of the stakeholder (The Open University, 2017g) to determine those who are not aligned to the partnership identity and why this is so. For example, there might be cultural variations between the organisation and individual employees. The challenge is that social care and healthcare partnerships usually have to deliver another person’s long-term goal that has been reduced to politically–timed milestones with a team of individuals that might not be experts within the specific area with loose accountability (Hales et al, 2011, p. 49).

In summary, people define themselves based on their work; this feeling of self is created via the interactions they have with other in work-associated situations. Nevertheless, the manner in which work is undertaken nowadays has undergone changes. Professionals do not work within secluded groups attempting to address the needs of service users. They collaborate with lay people and professionals to comprehend and fulfil the complex needs of service users. The challenge with partnerships is that leaders and managers are more focused on fulfilling achievement and budgetary goals than service provision. The encouragement of emotional intelligence (EI) would help professionals in teams to be authentic. Furthermore, individuals have a likelihood of changing jobs in partnerships, thus they will need to work at the same level as individuals with different experience and expertise levels. To overcome this, leaders and managers should nurture relationships on the premise of trust in partnerships and ensure the perspectives of others are taken into account. Besides, individual partners might not comprehend how the workplace identity is linked to the partnership objective. In such a scenario, leaders and managers should create a shared vision for teams to allow members to relate to the role of the partnership and to feel that their impetus within the partnership is important.


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