The paradoxical effect of self-categorization on work stress in a high-status occupation: Insights from management consulting

J. Muhlhaus, O. Bouwmeester

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Following social identity theory, the way in which individuals appraise stressful encounters and cope with them is influenced by their membership of social groups, which presumes self-categorization as a group member. To date, the impact of self-categorization on stress has mainly been studied for low-status groups. This article uses an interview study among management consultants to explore how self-categorization in terms of occupational identity impacts work stress in a high-status occupation. Adding to previous research, we find that not only low-status but also high-status groups benefit from self-categorization when coping with stressful situations. In line with prevailing theoretical assumptions, we even empirically find an ‘upward spiral’. We illustrate how consultants’ social identity as high-performing professionals helps them cope with stress, which in turn creates a feeling of social inclusion. However, we also find a ‘downward spiral’, where social identity provokes work stress among management consultants who cannot meet the high occupational standards. They cope less effectively and fear social exclusion from the group. These new findings relate to the specifics of our research context, including high status and increased stress. We thus argue for a research agenda that includes such context characteristics when further developing self-categorization models of stress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1823-1852
JournalHuman Relations
Volume69
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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