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Rationality, experiences or identity work? Sensemaking of emotionally tense experiences of organizational sustainability

Bhavesh Sarna (Bhavesh Sarna and Tiina Onkila are both based at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.)
Tiina Onkila (Bhavesh Sarna and Tiina Onkila are both based at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.)
Marileena Mäkelä (Marileena Mäkelä is based at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland and School of Resource Wisdom, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.)

Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN: 1747-1117

Article publication date: 1 November 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

Although emotional tensions related to organizational sustainability have been identified, little is known about how employees aim to resolve such situations. This study aims to explore how employees use sensemaking to resolve emotionally tense situations concerning organizational sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors studied a case in which, while employees attached positive emotions to organizational sustainability, external stakeholders viewed it negatively. Specifically, the study analyzed how employees used sensemaking to resolve such tense experiences and how this sensemaking eventually influenced their actions. To this end, the authors interviewed 25 employees at an energy company who had experience participating in its sustainability work.

Findings

The analysis revealed three sensemaking mechanisms for resolving emotional tensions related to organizational sustainability caused by discrepancies between external reputation and internal personal experience: rational sensemaking, experiential sensemaking and identity work. The complexity of sensemaking was reflected in the mixed-use of these three mechanisms, as employees constantly moved from one to another.

Originality/value

This study demonstrates employees’ tendency to defend their positive emotions about their organization’s sustainability in tense situations. It further provides insights into related sensemaking processes and shows how they can result in different levels of action.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) under grand No. [40169/10 and 40170/10], the Finnish Work Environment Fund, and the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland under grand no. [320205].

Citation

Sarna, B., Onkila, T. and Mäkelä, M. (2021), "Rationality, experiences or identity work? Sensemaking of emotionally tense experiences of organizational sustainability", Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/SRJ-05-2021-0205

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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