Publication Date

January 1994


The study of roles and role behavior is particularly relevant today as individuals acquire more roles in the complexity of the 1990s. One environment that has been significantly prone to change is the workplace, where multiple committees, teams, and departments have transformed the nature of work and are altering the way that jobs are defined. In addition to the fact that workers are now taking on multiple roles within organizations, the roles themselves are changing at an accelerated pace. Reengineering, downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, and total quality initiatives are just a few of the interventions that businesses are implementing in order to become leaner, flatter, and more responsive to their environments.

This paper draws from social identity theory and identity theory to understand how employees respond to organizational change. Given the fairly low success rates of major change efforts (estimates are between 10% and 50%), it is suggested that a more thorough understanding of the effect of these programs on an individual's role within the organization is necessary. This paper begins by first defining, comparing, and contrasting social identity theory and identity theory. This has, to date, not been done, and it is particularly important because a number of authors appear to be using the two theories interchangeably. Next, social identity theory and identity theory are used to build a broader framework for understanding human behavior, and this model, called the identity cycle, is used to develop a set of propositions regarding the effects of organizational change on employee attitudes and behavior.


Suggested Citation
Cable, D. M. & Welbourne, T. M. (1994). Organizational change and the identity cycle: Understanding the effect of change on individual attitudes and behaviors through a combined social identity theory/identity theory perspective (CAHRS Working Paper #94-01). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.