9.2 Socialization

Think about the last time you entered a new organization.  What type of activities did you engage in to learn your role?  What did the organization do to make you feel like part of a team?  To teach you how to do your job and what was appropriate workplace behaviors? The process of learning the norms, values, and beliefs, of an organization and your expected role expectations is called “socialization.” When we talk about organizational socialization (Jablin, 2001; Kramer, 2010a), we consider those ongoing behavioral and cognitive processes by which individuals join, become integrated into, and exit organizations and the teams and groups within them.  It is the process of “learning the ropes” and acquiring a set of appropriate role behaviors.  Through socialization, we develop work skills and attitudes and adjust to a group’s norms and values.

Socialization is linked to employee and organizational success. Socialization processes are viewed as central to role-taking, newcomer acculturation, employee attitudes and behaviors, and the shaping of newcomer’s identities (Jablin, 2001; Kramer, 2010a, 2010b).  Those members who engage in successful socialization are often better at work tasks, are less likely to voluntarily leave the organization, and feel more connected at work.  Socialization processes are also linked to enhanced commitment, innovation, and job satisfaction.  Think about an organization to which you feel strongly committed. This could be a place you currently or have worked. It could be a place you volunteer, worship, or even the co-op where you buy your groceries. Information exchange between individuals is central to socialization.  Individuals engage in acquiring, sharing, and processing information to learn what it means to be a member of the group.

Individuals are not simply molded by organizations and the groups they join.  Instead, socialization is a dual process. 

The organization may attempt to align new members to its organizational values in organizationally led ways such as employee training programs, handbooks, and social events (to name a few).  FHSU’s “40 Days at the Fort” events are socializing newcomers to campus life. This alignment can facilitate working group cohesion. Organizations and organizational representatives, like supervisors, also teach tasks and skills, and we get information about the people around us and about the organization from our new coworkers.

On the other hand, the individual also influences the organization.  Individualization is the process in which a recruit makes a role their own – going beyond the scope of their assigned tasks or finding new ways to do things.

Part of the process of getting to be an insider is seeking information about tasks, relationships, and ourselves in the organization, and finding out how we fit in with the organization and the people around us.

While the literature on socialization varies, in this text, we will consider the four stages of organizational socialization: anticipatory, encounter, metamorphosis, and exit stage  (Jablin 2001).

The anticipatory stage is the time before entering the organization when expectations for the “encounter” are set (Jablin 2001).  Think about the time before you started your degree at FHSU.  What did you imagine your experience would be like?  What expectations did you set?  Were you excited?  Maybe a little nervous?  When entering any new organization, a new member will try to picture what their experience will be like.

One aspect of the anticipatory stage starts from a very early age.  Vocational anticipatory socialization (Kramer, 2010b) includes the choices we develop over our lifespan from information we gather from our family, peers, and friends.  Consider the value placed on highly regarded jobs in our society like doctors, veterinarians, and lawyers.  These notions can be reinforced by the media and by our education.  Without knowing the specific organization we will be entering, we are still primed to know how organizations work and which organizational memberships are more valued in our society. We develop this by listening to people around us talk, by messages from the media, from our teachers, family, and friends.

Once we do know what organization we will be entering, we begin Organizational anticipatory socialization (Jablin, 2001). We gather information to help us set our expectations for the experience.  The sources of this information can include organizational forums like websites, events, interpersonal communication with current or former employees and other organizational documents.  Think about the information you sought out about FHSU before beginning classes.  You most likely found out what classes you were taking, what your schedule would be like, what type of supplies you needed, and where you would be living if you attend class on campus. You might have also sought out information about your professors and made scheduling choices based on with whom you wanted to work.

While newcomers seek out information, the organization also attempts to provide newcomers with information that will excite the recruits.  Traditional messages by the organization are typically aimed at selling the organization.  The messages will highlight the beneficial aspects of working with the organization.  For FHSU some of those highlights might have been, small class sizes, high-performing and attentive faculty, and how could we forget that it has some of the lowest tuition costs in the nation?

Other messages try to present a more realistic picture of the organization.  The messages aim at an honest portrayal of organizations by sharing good and challenging aspects: “College is a great experience, but you have to work hard to be successful.”

A realistic job preview (RJP) is any method an organization uses to help prospective members get a balanced picture of the positive and negative aspects of the work they will be doing and the organizational climate, prior to joining the organization. Maybe some of you came for an on-campus visit and met professors, and sat in on classes.

A RJPs can be part of job interviews or conducted by visiting the organization prior to entry, by talking with current organizational members, and through internship experiences.  An accurate RJP, combined with opportunities for prospective members to choose not to go further in pursuing membership, can reduce turnover and hiring and training costs by weeding out people who do not want the kind of work the agency has to offer.  This often leads to higher levels of satisfaction during the encounter and metamorphosis stages.

The Encounter Stage is the initial introduction to the organization (Jablin, 2001).  This can be the first day or days on the job and can last for weeks if not months.  Often times, newcomers experience “reality shock”–what Hughes (1958) used to characterize the feeling that newcomers often experience in entering unfamiliar organizational settings.   Those expectations we established before entering the organization most likely will not be the reality of the situation.  We often have unrealistic expectations or an inflated idea of what the job is going to be and then face unmet expectations or experience less of something desirable than was anticipated.  We might enter a crisis period where, because the individual is unfamiliar with the organization, they are constantly being bombarded with new messages from the organization.  To navigate the choppy waters, we often rely on reference groups or peers to learn the ropes.

We engage in sensemaking: trying to figure out what is happening.  We can engage in social learning that takes place by modeling the behaviors of others.  We look to people who have been with the organization longer and model our own behavior to theirs.  We also look for reinforcement.  If we complete a task in the way we think best, we look for rewards to confirm that we are doing the right thing.

Through social learning and reinforcement, newcomers learn two types of information about the organization:  Role-related information and organizational culture information.  Role-related Information encompasses the information, skills, procedures, and rules that an individual must grasp to perform the job (task-related).  Organizational culture information includes the unwritten rules and practices of those within the organization (relationship-oriented).  We also pay attention to memorable messages. We socialize through the stories and short messages we hear during our entry into new organizations and try to assimilate into our roles.  Role development begins at organizational entry and continues through metamorphosis.

The third stage of socialization is metamorphosis.  According to Kramer (2010a) this period represents the “time when an individual is an active, established, or full organizational member.”  During this stage, we know what our role within the organization encompasses and perform it with ease.

Role development involves three interrelated phases:

  1. Role-taking is when the leader asks a newcomer to do a variety of things to assess the talents, skills, and motivation of employee; the superior gives the role and the subordinate takes it.
  2. Role-making is when the member seeks to modify the nature of the role and the manner in which it is enacted – involves negotiation between leader and member, exchange of resources (time of employee and rewards of leader)
  3. Role routinization is when the role of the subordinate and expected behaviors of the supervisor are well-understood by both parties. It becomes routine.

Each member may experience turning points (Bullis & Bach, 1989) or moments when they become more (or less) connected with the organization.  Think of key moments when you either felt more or less connected with FHSU.  How have those moments shaped your current view of the university and your place in it?  What situations or experiences influenced how connected you felt to the organization?  For instance, speaking with a professor during office hours might make you feel more connected with FHSU or receiving a promotion you might feel more connected to your job.

The last stage is the exit stage (Jablin, 2001).  This is the disengagement or exit from the organization.  This can either be voluntary or forced and relates to the issue of turnover in organizations.  According to staffing professional James Del Monte (Greenwood, n.d.), the direct cost to fill a $60,000-a-year IT position ranges from $10,000 to $49,000 (including costs such as placement fees, interview costs, training fees, ads, and relocation).  Indirect costs can be even higher, costing the company an estimated $200,000 dollars on average (including costs such as consulting fees, lost revenue, and lost training).  When an organization spends that much money to train an employee, it is difficult to see employees leaving.

Employees begin to signal their intent to leave with reduced interaction with others, their communication begins to focus on differentiating themselves from the organization and by passing on knowledge to others (Jablin, 2001).  When we think about the exit stage of socialization, we often think about those left behind and how the organization will function in the absence of a member.  If that member was deeply engaged with the organization, it might be difficult to find a replacement.  Socialization strategies during the exit stage may be geared at trying to keep the organizational member or to try to diagnose what went wrong during an exit interview.

We know that successful socialization strategies can lead to more engaged and committed organizational members.  Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the ways in which new organizational members are socialized and what role each and every organizational member has in the process.


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Introduction to Professional Development Copyright © 2022 by Rachel Dolechek & Rose Helens-Hart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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