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The Self at Work


by Debbie Rogers

New Book Examines the Role of Self-Concept in Workplace Behavior

The concept of self has been around almost as long as people have been working.

But studying how the two concepts relate to each other is new, according to the editor of the latest book in SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series, titled The Self at Work: Fundamental Theory and Research.

Richard Klimoski said the book explores understanding workplace behavior, and how it ties into the self. Ten years ago, he said, these topics and their tie-ins would not have existed.

“The idea of self-complexity has been around, but complex self and how it relates to resilience – for example, dealing with setbacks – has only come out recently, and we know that setbacks are common in the world of work,” said Klimoski, of George Mason University.

“The idea of identity – who are you, what do you want to be known for, who do you want to be known as – is a relatively new idea for I-O psychology and it has been useful in trying to explain workplace behavior.”

Editors Lance Ferris and Russell Johnson, both of Michigan State University, and Constantine Sedikides, University of Southampton, have organized The Self at Work into three areas, Fundamental Concepts and Theories, Integrative Themes, and Applications to Organizational Concepts.

They write in their overview, “The self and work are indeed intertwined, thus necessitating that industrial and organizational psychologists have an understanding of theory and research pertaining to the self.”

Johnson said the topic of the self is relevant for many work topics, and has previously appeared as a subtopic in other books that review various work-related phenomena.

“This is the first volume, however, that is built specifically around the topic of the self at work, rather than an organizational phenomenon or human resources management practice that applies fundamental concepts and theories about the self,” he said.

Ferris said he, Johnson and Sedikides do a lot of work on the self.

“We wanted to do something a little different with it, and we’d always been really interested in how Organizational Behavior and I-O psychology really draw on social psychology for a lot of the concepts,” Ferris said.

They reached out to prospective chapter authors, looking for matches.

“We thought it would be very cool to have people from social psychology, who are experts on these topics, match up with someone in I-O or in psychology or organizational behavior, who was also an expert on the O-B or I-O side of things, to co-author chapters,” Ferris said.

“Most of the coauthors jumped at the chance, they realized it was an interesting idea. We had gotten the idea from a special issue in the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, where they had done something similar. This was doing it really focused on the self.”

Johnson said that given the diverse background of the authors, a real selling point of this volume is that it will appeal to a broad audience and promote cross-fertilization between different disciplines.

“Our contributors are all leading and well-known scholars who research the self, albeit from different disciplines – organizational, personality, social, development, or cognitive psychology. We compiled a wish-list of the top researchers and were very happy when nearly everyone accepted our invitation to co-author a chapter,” he said.

Johnson said the book looks at the changing nature of work, and how that relates to the self. As many jobs and careers become more autonomous and entrepreneurial, employees have greater discretion in making their own decisions and pursuing activities that they find motivating.

“Thus, how and why work is completed owes more to internal, personal factors than external organizational factors,” he said. “Thus, there is a greater need to understand employees’ sense of self, which plays a larger role in shaping employees’ decisions and behaviors in today’s flatter and more participative work environments.”


Ferris said the book could be used by social psychologists who are interested in seeing how management research is using their concepts and what it adds to the concepts. Management and scholars interested in social psychological roots will also find the book valuable.

“The self is really always timely,” Ferris said. “It’s essentially the prism through which a lot of workplace experiences are filtered.

“What excites me about the book is it brings a lot of these different views on the self – self-efficacy, self-esteem, self-control, self-determination – into one book.”

The Organizational Frontiers Series is sponsored by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Launched in 1983 to make scientific contributions accessible to the field, the series publishes books addressing emerging theoretical developments, fundamental and translational research, and theory-driven practice in the field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology and related organizational science disciplines including organizational behavior, human resource management, and labor and industrial relations.     

Books in this series aim to inform readers of significant advances in research; challenge the research and practice community to develop and adapt new ideas; and promote the use of scientific knowledge in the solution of public policy issues and increased organizational effectiveness.

The Series originated in the hope that it would facilitate continuous learning and a spur research curiosity about organizational phenomena on the part of both scientists and practitioners. Toward this end, with the collaboration with Taylor and Frances as our publishers we make available on average 2 new volumes a year to SIOP members and those interested in the most up to date developments in the Science of I/O Psychology.

See the full list of publications in the Organizational Frontiers Series here.