Unearned Status Gain: Evidence from a Global Mandate
Author(s): Tsedal B. Neeley, Tracy L. Dumas
Abstract: Theories of status rarely address "unearned status gain," defined as an unexpected and unsolicited increase in relative standing, prestige, or worth attained not through individual effort or achievement but from a shift in organizationally valued characteristics. We build theory about unearned status gain drawing from a qualitative study of 90 U.S.-based employees of a Japanese organization following a company-wide English language mandate. These native English-speaking employees believed that the mandate elevated their worth in the organization, a status gain they attributed to chance, hence deeming it unearned. They also reported a heightened sense of belonging, optimism about career advancement, and access to expanded networks. Yet, among those who interacted regularly with Japanese counterparts, narratives also revealed discomfort, which was manifested in at least two ways. These informants engaged in "status rationalization," emphasizing the benefits that Japanese employees might obtain by learning English, and prevaricated on whether the change was temporary or durable, a process we call "status stability appraisal." The fact that these narratives were present only among those working closely with Japanese employees highlights intergroup contact as a factor in shaping the unearned status gain experience. Supplemental analysis of data gathered from 66 Japanese employees of the organization provided the broader organizational context and the nonnative speakers' perspective of the language shift. This study's findings expand our overall understanding of status dynamics in organizations, and show how status gains can yield both positive and negative outcomes.
Publication Title: Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 59(1)
Pub Year: 2016
Pages: 14 – 43
URL: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=113
Keywords: status

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