Exploring recipients' perceptions of impression management in the workplace : insights from comparing fraudster and non-fraudster executives
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This qualitative study focuses on recipients of the impression management process engaged in by Australian executives. Goffman’s impression management is viewed as part of daily interaction, in which individuals participate as actors on a social stage by managing a stream of impressions to their audience (recipients). The projection of image is only able to succeed when the audience, detecting the necessary conditions of authenticity and morality of the representation, reciprocates with belief. Executive fraud is usually committed in multiple acts over time with co-workers genuinely oblivious. This raises questions of why the recipients were unaware when fraudsters were ‘giving off’ impression management which was clearly inauthentic and immoral.In this study the recipients were co-workers of the phenomenon of executive impression management. The data were collected from two groups who either worked with executives who have been convicted of an indictable offence of fraud (therefore clearly fraudulent), and executives who were not. As the study is of social processes, a constructivist approach was used. A convenience sample generated data from 17 in-depth interviews, which were coded and categorised with theoretical sampling using grounded theory. The applicability of known factors of fraud was also examined and analysed from the recipients’ data.Five concepts of executive impression management emerged from the analysis. Two issues of consistency and received power positioning of the actor’s impression management were dominant for the recipients. This led to the development of a conceptual framework of Executive Impression Management, which outlined the various types of impression management that emerged from the data. Fraudster executives were found to use a distinctive form of impression management labelled Disguised Inconsistent Malevolent. The hallmarks of this impression management are that strips (or cracks) occur in the impression management presentation over time, but recipients regard these as insignificant. The discovery of the fraud is a great shock, which demonstrates the powerful nature of the impression management ‘given off’. It was also found that Goffman’s ‘fateful moment’ was demonstrated when fraudsters were challenged at discovery. Furthermore, known fraud factors from Red Flags, social psychology, psychopathology and impression management authenticity and morality did not hold true with the recipients studied. There is a discussion about the significance of these findings as well as how impression management can be used to understand the complex process of long-term executive fraud. Finally, limitations of the study and directions for future research are also considered.
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