Impression Management in the Workplace: Research, Theory and Practice

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 27 September 2011



Burke, G. (2011), "Impression Management in the Workplace: Research, Theory and Practice", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 35 No. 8, pp. 851-853.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Book synopsis

This book offers an introduction and overview of impression management for anyone interested in learning more about this topic. According to Beugré and Liverpool (2006) impression management has not only become an organic part of life in the workplace, but also a key aspect in its politics. This is because “wanting to create a favorable impression on others is a basic part of human nature” (p. 1). Thus, the topics covered range from looking at individual to the organisational aspects.

The book is divided into 11 chapters. In the first chapter, the author begins addressing key misconceptions such as creating false impressions, hiding deficiencies, or only performing impression management on a superficial level. However, emphasis is placed on looking at how impression management can be used positively and legitimately to highlight a person's qualities. Most of the chapter dealt with looking at the motivations underlying impression management and how impression management is constructed. The chapter concluded with looking at ethical considerations of engaging in impression management. Chapter two offers an in‐depth look at Bozman and Kacmar's (1997) cybernetic model of impression management. The basis of this model is that one's motivation for impression management is most likely linked to their perception of the difference between their reference goal and feedback provided by the target. Chapter three looks at the individual, organisational, and situational factors that influence how much impression management a person engages in.

Chapters four and five discuss impression management from an individual lens. In particular, chapter four focuses on substantive approaches that the author separates into two broad categories: those that focus on self‐presentation of a person's characteristics and behaviors and those aspects that deal with work accomplishments. Chapter five takes a closer look at surface level approaches and this includes examining facets of physical appearance, business etiquette, making first‐impressions, non‐verbal impression management, beliefs surrounding the alpha male(s) and female(s), and personal branding. Chapter six shifts from looking at self‐control factors in managing impressions to looking at making other feel good. The chapter is devoted to looking at the different methods an individual uses to ingratiate themselves to others. Chapter seven examines self‐control factors that an individual(s) can use in managing their impression by discussing self‐handicapping and damage control, which are collectively known as self‐protection techniques.

Chapters eight and nine specifically look at strategies that can be used to manage impressions in three of the most important areas in the workplace: the job search, workplace performance, and leadership. The author devotes chapter ten to looking at impression management from an organisational perspective where the focus is on corporate image and corporate social responsibility. The final chapter of this book recaps some of the topics mentioned in previous chapters and gives more detail about the consequences, both functional and dysfunctional, of impression management.

Book evaluation

Although this book offers a nice introduction and overview, the content presented in each of the chapters seems to only scratch the surface of impression management. The author does explain that much of the literature varies in terms of empirical support. The author also highlights the importance of anecdotal and opinion based support of the literature and does a nice job of delineating which aspects have been supported by each type. However, the author waits until the third chapter to mention this significant aspect. This information should have been presented in the opening chapter, to better inform the reader of what to expect in the subsequent chapters. The second chapter provides a nice discussion on cybernetic theory using Bozman and Kacmar's (1997) model. The model seems to take a rational approach in assuming that the tactics that one chooses to engage in to manage impressions occurs in a straightforward, conscious manor. Interestingly, the author noted that “the idea of people using consciousness or pre‐consciousness techniques to facilitate others thinking positively of them goes back thousands of years” (p. 2). Thus it would have been nice for the author to discuss additional frameworks to give the reader an idea of the different theoretical perspectives on the topic.

Some of the book's chapters were too loaded with content and not enough depth. For example, chapter three begins by discussing individual differences in a person's likelihood of using certain impression management techniques, then jumps to organisational factors, then situational factors that impact impression management. It seems like each of these facets is worthy of more attention than a section in a chapter.

In addition, the organisation of the book's chapters seems out of place. A good example of this is that chapters four and five discuss self‐control impression management tactics on a surface and deep level, then chapter six switches gears and focuses on attuning to other's feelings and thoughts to manage impressions. Then the book goes back to discussing self‐management tactics in chapter seven. It would make more sense to discuss all of the self‐control techniques first and then discuss tactics directed toward techniques used to manage other's feelings and thoughts. It was surprising to see so little mention of emotional labour, given that this has a significant impact on how a person manages their impressions. Especially since one of the foundational frameworks of emotional labour, Ashforth and Humphrey (1993), focuses on observable behaviour to manage impressions in an individual cultivating social perceptions in an interpersonal climate (Gardner and Martinko, 1988). This also relates to emotional intelligence. Therefore, I think that more discussion on the connection between emotional labour and intelligence and impression management is warranted.

Overall, I think that this book is a nice read for those seeking an introduction to impression management. It represents a compilation of topics and also provides some practical applications that one can use for better managing impressions. For more substantive discussion, I would recommend looking at additional materials that focus on an aspect of impression management.

In the author's own words

As stated and implied throughout this book, impression management is much more than an abstract concept without real‐world implications. Depending on how broadly one interprets impression management, it is a personal process, an organisational process, and an industry. In terms of being an industry, people invest money in managing their impression through such means as clothing, hairstyling, working out in gyms, as well as hiring the services of personal trainers, personal brand coaches, and plastic surgeons (p. 195).

About the reviewer

Gigi Burke earned her doctorate in Adult Education with a Human Resource and Organisational Development concentration at the University of Georgia, USA. She has worked in the education field for 11 years providing career development and training services for individuals, groups, and community members. Her latest position was Interim Director, Career Services at Oglethorpe University. Her research interests centres on looking at the impact of race, gender, and culture on emotion work and emotional intelligence among leaders, and trust building in the supervisor‐subordinate relationship. Gigi Burke can be contacted at:


Ashforth, B.E. and Humphrey, R.H. (1993), “Emotional labour in service roles: the influence of identity”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 88115.

Beugré, C.D. and Liverpool, P.R. (2006), “Politics as a determinant of fairness perceptions in organisations”, in Vigoda‐Gadot, E. and Drory, A. (Eds), Handbook of Organisational Politics, Edward Elgar, Northampton, MA, p. 124.

Bozman, D.P. and Kacmar, K.M. (1997), “Cybernetic model of impression management in organisations”, Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, March, pp. 930.

Gardner, W.L. and Martinko, M.J. (1988), “Impression management in organisations”, Journal of Management, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 32138.

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