Moral Identity Work in Senior Business Managers

Wishart, Maria (2018). Moral Identity Work in Senior Business Managers. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis adopts a social constructionist epistemology and a narrative analysis research method to explore the moral identity work of senior managers in UK for-profit businesses. Analysis of thirty semi-structured interview transcripts was carried out using the Nvivo data analysis software package, guided by Gioia et al’s (2013) systematic approach to qualitative data analysis. The study identifies one overarching theme – that of the loneliness of seniority, which underpins the moral identity work of participants. Participants articulate the loneliness of seniority with recourse to three main tactics – describing intense pressure to deliver against business objectives, expressing the weight of expectation that they perceive from many stakeholders, and asserting that they feel caught between those above and below them in their organisational hierarchies. Two further themes are elaborated. In the first – reaffirming themselves as essentially moral - participants assert that they have a moral core, with recourse to nostalgia for childhood. In the second - becoming and being moral managers - they assert their roles as moral champions by characterising their organisations as systems that threaten to thwart their moral agendas, and which they need to resist. These findings contribute to understanding in the under-researched area of individual moral identity within a business context, as well as offering a fresh perspective to the broader field of business ethics research. The research makes contributions to theory in several areas, notably to the theories of nostalgia and of stigma management in identity work, and to the theory of resistance as an identity work stratagem. It also contributes to practice with the findings that feelings of isolation persist beyond middle management, and that moral issues in the workplace are experienced in a remarkably similar way in individuals from different business functions and sectors.

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