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Relationship between Organizational Based Self- Esteem and Social Undermining

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Organizational based self-esteem (OBSE) reflects the perception that individuals have of themselves as important, meaningful, effectual, and worthwhile within their organization. It is known that OBSE correlates consistently with employee attributes and are important to the success of organizations. This study develops hypotheses about relationships between OBSE and social undermining among faculty members. The study adopted a descriptive – correlational method. The statistical population of the study consisted university faculty members in Iran, that 235 members were selected as the participants using stratified random sampling consistent with the sample size. Social undermining was examined by using Duffy et al. Questionnaire (2002) and OBSE was examined by using Pierce et al. Questionnaire (1989). Reliability of the questionnaires were computed using Cronbach’s alpha (0.94 for social undermining and 0.93 for OBSE). Results based on data from a sample of university faculty members showed a negative relationship between co-worker and supervisor undermining and OBSE.

One of the personality attributes that predictably and consistently enhances understanding the organizational behavior is ‘self-esteem’. Self-esteem, as a personality variable is widely studied, perhaps because of the belief that it can influence how we as individuals think, feel and accordingly behave (Brockner 1988). As described by Korman (1970), self-esteem is an overall evaluation of our self-worth and the extent to which an individual sees himself or herself as a “competent need satisfying individual” (p. 32).

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Korman (1976) held that organizational occurrences play integral roles in employee self-esteem, a construct which he surmised considerably determined employees‟ attitudes and behaviors in an organizational context. Pierce, Gardner, Cummings, and Dunham (1989), furthering Korman’s paradigm, introduced the concept of organization-based self-esteem (OBSE), and the construct has attracted considerable attention ever since. More specific than its global counterpart, OBSE constitutes the degree to which employees deem themselves competent and valuable within their organizations. It is “the degree to which organizational members believe that they can satisfy their needs by participation in roles within the context of an organization” (p. 265). It also reflects “an employee’s evaluation of his or her personal adequacy and worthiness as an organizational member” (Gardner et al. 2004, p. 308) as well as the perceived value they have of themselves in the organization (Pierce et al. 1989).

If one accepts Kormans‟s (1970) view that an individual’s self-esteem is shaped by one’s experiences, it can be hypothesized that the experiences one has within the organization will consequently have an impact on his/her level of OBSE and the attitudes that are shaped by how they perceive they are treated by the organization. Studies have indicated that the organizational context, as a whole, influence OBSE (Pierce et al. 1989, 1993). This conclusion seems to reinforce Korman’s view (1970) that the environment in which an individual work influences the beliefs that an individual has about his or her value and worth in the organization.

OBSE can be related to some organizational behaviors. At the individual level, research has shown that persons with high OBSE have greater work motivation (Pierce et al., 1989) and intrinsic motivation (Hui & Lee, 2000), and achieve higher performance ratings (Van Dyne & Pierce, 2003; Pierce et al., 1993; Gardner, Pierce, Van Dyne & Cummings, 2000; 1992; Marion-Landais, 2000) than persons with low OBSE. Concerning the organizational level, researchers have also discovered that OBSE correlates negatively with turnover intentions and with turnover (Gardner & Pierce, 2001). Elloy and Patil (2012) examined the relationship between Organization- Based Self-Esteem and the three dimensions of burnout and discovered that the three dimensions of burnout would have a negative impact on OBSE. Some studies have suggested that OBSE plays a significant role in influencing one’s attitude and behavior at the workplace (Bowling et al., 2010; Pan, Qin & Gao 2014) and have examined the relationship between self-esteem and deviant behavior (Ferris, Brown & Heller, 2009). However despite the wealth of research illuminating OBSE, there have been no studies examining its relationship to social undermining.

Definition of the social undermining construct, includes behaviors directed toward a target that indicate or display (l) negative affect (anger, dislike), (2) negative evaluation of the target in terms of his or her attributes, actions, and efforts (criticism), and/or (3) “actions that hinder the attainment of instrumental goals” (Vinokur, Price & Caplan, 1996: 167). Building on these general definitions, Duffy et al. (2002) defined social undermining in workplace contexts as behaviors that hinder another’s ability to establish and maintain positive interpersonal relationships, work-related success, and favorable reputation. Specific examples of undermining in workplace contexts are intentionally making someone feel incompetent, withholding important or required information, giving the silent treatment, talking behind someone’s back, and spreading rumors about a particular individual. . Social undermining behaviors include: (a) inordinate delay, (b) competing for status, and (c) the giving misleading information, all of which may produce unfavorable outcomes for perpetrators, victims and the organizations that they are situated in (Greenbaum et al., 2012).

Social-undermining behavior is designed to inhibit one’s ability to maintain positive relationships, achieve high levels of performance, and maintain a favorable work-related reputation. That is, it embodies the characteristics of an esteem-threatening situation (Duffy et al., 2006). Although high-SE individuals could respond in a variety of ways in esteem-threatening situations, they are more likely than their low-SE counterparts to engage in social-undermining behavior as a way to maintain their status situation (Duffy et al., 2012). Despite Duffy et al. theory, present findings believe that high-SE individuals and high organizational based self-esteem are less involved in social- undermining behaviors and there are bilateral relations between social undermining and OBSE.

Relationship between social undermining and organization based self-esteem can be understood through the self-consistency theory (Pierce et al.,1989; Pierce & Gardner, 2004) and belongingness theory. Self-consistency theory (Korman, 1970, 1976) suggests that in order to maintain cognitive consistency between attitudes and behaviors, individuals engage in actions consistent with their overall views of themselves. Discussing the self-esteem and behavioral relation, Korman (1970) stated that “individuals will be motivated to perform on a task or job in a manner which is consistent with [their] self-image” (p. 32). Though consistency theory could predict a negative relation between self-esteem and counterproductive behavior (Ferris, Brown, Lian & Keeping, 2009). People with high self-esteem would outperform those with low self-esteem because individuals trying to maximize their performance to be consistent with their self-image.

Individuals who possess high OBSE often involve themselves with positive behavior which is consistent with his or her own positive evaluation of himself or herself. In turn, individuals with low OBSE have the tendency to engage in negative behavior that relates to the image of himself or herself. Bowling et al. (2010) in their meta-analysis study, found that OBSE has a positive relationship with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job involvement, job performance, and organizational citizenship behavior. Close to this study, Ferris et al. (2009) found that OBSE contributes negatively to the counterproductive work behavior. Therefore, based on previous research, we hypothesized that there is a significant relationship between OBSE and social undermining.

The belongingness theory (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) suggests that one of the primary human drives is the need to belong, or to form strong positive interpersonal relationships. The need to belong is a powerful, and fundamental human need that individuals constantly strive to satisfy, when one’s sense of belonging is thwarted (i.e., lower than desired), this can result in adverse reactions (Baumeister et al. 2003; Thau, Aquino & Poortvliet, 2007). Within belongingness theory, self-esteem has been proposed to play a special role as an indicator of one’s satisfaction of the need to belong (Leary & Downs, 1995). That is, self-esteem levels would rise or fall in accordance with one’s acceptance and rejection from a group (Williams, 2007). While individuals strive to maintain high self-esteem (Crocker & Park, 2004), the interpersonal relationships can sometimes frustrate belonging and self-esteem goals by communicating to the individual that they are not valued (Leary et al., 2006). For example, social undermining can sometimes frustrate belonging and infuse low levels of acceptance and lead to low levels of self-esteem. Individuals with low self-esteem feel as that they have been devalued by others and expect to experience rejection, with needs to belong and experience positive self-worth remaining unfulfilled.

In an organizational context, this suggests that low OBSE levels represent an ongoing thwarting of belonging and esteem needs which, in turn (Thau et al., 2007), can result in undermining behaviors. That is, people with high levels of self-esteem may be less affected by high levels of social undermining. In sum, the belongingness theory states that one of the human needs is the desire to be accepted by others or to have a positive interpersonal relationship with the group (Ferris et al., 2009; Baumeister & Leary, 1995). One’s satisfaction on the group acceptance can be measured through the level of individual’s self-esteem, and the level of self-esteem depends on the acceptance or rejection by the group (Ferris et al., 2009). One of the interpersonal factors that are identified and contributes to the level of self-esteem is social undermining, be it from the supervisors, or co-workers. Social undermining in particular has the capability to influence the OBSE as it unfulfilled the employees’ socio-emotional needs to be accepted and appreciated.


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