Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Lisa Schurer Lambert
Leigh Anne Liu
Status, or a person’s ranking within a hierarchy, is a core organizing principle for social dynamics within the workplace. Those with high status receive a broad range of social, material, and psychological privileges by virtue of their social standing. For example, status is linked to high levels of social attention, including interest and respect from others, material rewards in the form salary and bonuses, and psychological benefits including autonomy, control, and well-being (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009). For these reasons, the question of why and how status is ascribed and the behaviors that follow these arrangements are of critical importance to people and groups within organizations.
This work focuses on exploring the perceptual nature of status. Across three essays, I explore where status perceptions come from and the processes that influence whether status assignments create or disrupt social harmony. First, I present a theoretical discussion of the possible sources and outcomes of status disagreement. Next, I explain how individual-level differences in ideology may lead to divergent patterns in the way that people strive for status, assign status to others, and make status-based inferences. Finally, I examine how situational factors influence how well actors in high and low status roles work with others to achieve collaborative or competitive goals. Below, I provide a more specific overview of each of these three essays.
The first essay focuses specifically on the phenomenon of status disagreement (Kilduff et al., 2016), or instances when people disagree about who belongs at the top and bottom of a status hierarchy. While we have reason to believe that status disagreement is a common real-world occurrence, our understanding of the origins of this concept and its consequences is only beginning to emerge. This work makes two main contributions to existing knowledge. First, this essay expands our consideration of the sources of status disagreement by illustrating the potential for variation within three overlapping conceptual dimensions: personal motives, information, ideals. Second, this work broadens the range of possible consequences that might emerge from status disagreement, outlining the potential for both group-level and individual-level outcomes.
The second essay focuses on ideology as an individual-level difference that leads to variation in how people strive to attain status, ascribe status to others, and make inferences about the value of others’ contributions. I propose that those who are high on social dominance orientation, or hierarchy-enhancing beliefs that support hierarchy and inequality, are more likely to value behaviors that signal competence. In contrast, those who are low on social dominance orientation, or hierarchy-attenuating beliefs that support equality and the distribution of opportunity, are more likely to value behaviors that signals warmth. These processes have important implications for foundational workplace practices, including recruitment, selection and performance appraisals.
In the third essay, I explore how status may derive its meaning from situational characteristics that encourage competitive or collaborative goals. Whereas most of our current knowledge on status hierarchies suggests that high status actors work best with low status partners, I suggest that two high status actors can develop effective synergies when they are prompted to focus on shared goals. That is, collaborative settings may simultaneously allow high status actors to leverage the psychological benefits of self-perceived status beliefs while also reducing feelings of threat that decrease shared performance. This work adds nuance to prior findings by illuminating situational contingencies that influence status-based interactions.
Together, these essays suggest that status is in the eye of the beholder. Status arrangements are not always the subject of shared consensus, but may also be the topic of perceptual differences. Moreover, situational characteristics may influence how status is enacted via behaviors. This work takes steps to unpack common theoretical assumptions regarding shared information, ideals, and self-interest. In doing so, I hope to illustrate that variation in the way in which status is perceived, achieved, and enacted has important implications for a range of workplace processes.
Forrester, Juanita, "Essays on Status Perceptions in the Workplace." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2017.