Role Comparison: How Employees Work On Constructing Positive Self-Identities It is clear that all of the participants included in the study wanted to portray themselves as having a positive self-identity; this is reflective of Goffman’s concept of “identity work” (Anderson and Snow, 2001). What was surprising to me was that there seemed to be a tendency for the part-time employees to promote themselves by putting down the full-time employees. There were a few different ways in how this was done, for example they would make comments like:
“Even if I wasn’t in school I wouldn’t work here full-time… I would never work full time for $8 an hour.” “I am not going to be lifer here, as soon as I get my degree I am out of here.” 1 This appears to be role distancing (Anderson and Snow, 2001). And in my opinion it is the comments like the above, although they may be the honest opinions of some part-time employees, that keep the part-time employees classified as part of the “out-group.” [A7] On the other hand the full-time employees embraced a positive self-identity by voicing comments like: “I walked out of here last night with $180 bucks.” “I had this one guy sitting alone at a table who stayed for hours… he left me a $50 tip on a $40 dollar tab.”
For the full-time employees instead of role distancing they embraced their roles and told stories in order to confirm a positive self-identity (Anderson and Snow, 2001). The way that the part-time employees identify themselves as students and most of the full-time employees identify themselves as servers may also correlate with how the two groups work to maintain a positive self-identity.
The workplace is a complex and intriguing stage where the self and identities are shaped around a constructed social status and prestige. The sub-cultures of full-time and part-time workers can be aligned with in-group and out-group status respectively and is maintained by employees through self-identification with either group. The in-group of full-time employees at Food Idol have a higher likelihood of moving up the social hierarchy within the company. The out-group part-time employees all envision themselves moving on instead of moving up. This is much reflected in the work by Hughes called “Careers.”
Aside from the hierarchies that exist within Food Idol, hierarchies from outside Food Idol have their place. It does not go unnoticed in this service industry that employees often feel looked down on by their customers. Some employees find it frustrating and feel the need to dignify themselves or show what status and worth they have aside from their identity of “server.” Given more time, I would choose to further my study and look at the interactions between employees and customers addressing why a power struggle exists and how these struggles could be perceived in a different way. [A8]
It is also clear from this study the employees included in this research all wanted to express themselves in a positive self-image. The ways in which these positive images were displayed were somewhat surprising until I put them under the perspectives of role distancing and role embracing (Anderson and Snow, 2001). Further, I included the primary ways that the two groups used self-identification (student or server) and in doing so I was able to make sense of how the two groups constructed such different positive identities.
Overall, the research process became increasingly interesting with each interview conducted. As mentioned if time had permitted there are aspects that I would have liked to have included in the research, and I invite any one to further with those aspects should they wish to do so. However, upon reflection I realized, that those who I included in the study are those who I work with most, who I am friendly with, and know better than other co-workers. This may have had an effect on the research process as it is possible that the responses given may have not been what they would have been if an outsider had been conducting the research.
Acknowledgements I would like to use this space to thank the participants who made this research possible. I would also like to thank Phillip Vannini, who without trying to sound corny he was able to spark a genuine interest in me for the research and writing of qualitative research methods.
Anderson Leon and Snow, David A. (2001). “Inequality and the Self: Exploring Connections from an Interactionist Perspective.” Symbolic Interaction, 24, (4): 395-406. Denzin, N.K. (1989) The Research Act. New York: McGraw-Hill. Hall, Richard H (1934). The Sociology of Work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine- Forge Press 73-76. Hughes, Everett C. (1997). “Careers.” Qualitative Sociology, 20 (3): 389-398. Hughes, Everett C. (1951). “Work and The Self” in Social Psychology at the- Crossroads by John H. Rohrer and Muzafer Sherif (eds). New York: Harper and Row Publishing Inc.