Organizational assimilation is a necessary process that benefits both organizations and newcomers. Some perceive assimilation to be a negative necessity in organizational life. This unenthusiastic view stems from a conceptualization of assimilation as newcomers conforming to existing organizational norms and rules, thereby stripping neophytes of their individuality. Essentially, newcomers are coerced into conformance by more powerful organizations. However, as will be discussed, assimilation involves not just newcomers’ adjustment but also involvement from others within the organization, especially the immediate work group, a recursivity entailing mutual acceptance.
Assimilation is the process by which individuals become integrated into the culture, social network, and role system of an organization. Fredric Jablin has argued that assimilation is largely a mutual communicative exchange whereby individuals accept the rules and norms of organizations and begin to identify themselves as being a part of their organizations. Karen Myers and John Oetzel’s model of organizational assimilation depicts six processes associated with transitioning from outsiders to insiders. Becoming familiar with others enables the development of productive working relationships. Acculturating and adapting refers to learning about the culture and normative behaviors and adapting to them. Becoming involved causes newcomers to feel like contributing members. Feeling recognized by others confirms the new members’ value to the organization. Learning job skills enables members to feel productive in their new roles. Finally, role negotiating involves attempts by the newcomer to revise the role and its associated performance expectations.
Jablin’s definition and the Myers and Oetzel model suggest that while assimilation may require newcomers’ adaptation, others in the organization must be involved in socializing newcomers and accepting them into the organizational social system. Although newcomer adaptation is central, others in the social system also are dynamically involved in training and introducing newcomers to the culture and normative behaviors. Most important, incumbents are involved in accepting newcomers into the organizational system. Without such acceptance, established members are unlikely to make extra efforts to enable newcomer integration, such as introducing recruits to crucial social knowledge and involving them in group interactions, helping newcomers to feel that they belong. Stated differently, new members cannot “integrate” without acceptance from others in the group and organization, who also must adapt to newcomers to enable their assimilation.
Others in the organization, and in particular in the immediate work group, have the ability to either accept or reject the newcomer, thereby enabling or disabling the process. For example, imagine a new employee who has just joined an organization and wants to fit into existing organizational social circles. He may sincerely want to assimilate, attempting to adopt normative work habits and generally behave like the others in his immediate work group, but until he is accepted by fellow workers, he cannot assimilate. The newcomer’s opinions might not be solicited, and he might not be included in work group conversations. Until the new recruit receives accepting communication from his peers welcoming him into the social circle, he will not be integrated into the social network. Therefore, newcomers do not assimilate in a vacuum; rather, assimilation requires mutual acceptance on behalf of the newcomer and incumbents in the organization or group.
In this sense, there is a “duality” to organizational assimilation. The significant practices bound up in assimilation (newcomers’ uncertainty and cultural alignment with the organization coupled with group/ organizational members’ acceptance and adaptation) are accomplished through underlying structurational principles (conformance; socialization turning points, such as intern reviews; organizational knowledge and routines, etc.), which do not merely enable the assimilation practices we observe but also recursively reproduce the structures involved to produce and transform them.
As new employees assimilate, shaping their behaviors to “the ways things are done” within the organizations serves a larger, essential function. Recruits bring with them behaviors and assumptions acquired from previous work and life experiences and thus can bring about positive changes to the organization. They can be sources of novel ideas that bring about change in perspectives, behaviors, and goals within their work groups, even throughout the organization. Of course, novel perspectives and behaviors can also impede effective coordination. To ensure the organization’s long-term success, organizations must train and mold recruits into valuable assets that will benefit the organization and also blend into the existing culture. Therefore, organizations introduce newcomers to “the way things are done” with the dual purpose of shaping newcomers into loyal members and easing coordination of activities between new and existing workers.
Integrating into an organization involves learning how to perform necessary job duties, but equally important are recruits’ needs to reduce uncertainties they feel during entry and to determine how they can assume desired organizational roles. These uncertainties often surround more subjective aspects of getting along in the workplace, such as behaving in accordance with existing standards of behavior, customs, politics, and generally accepted ways of thinking and feeling. Grasping and accepting what is considered “normal” inside the organizational culture is a significant part of assuming new organizational roles. In fact, in some cases, recruits seek out and desire more structure and guidance to help them resolve ambiguity and learn how to behave and communicate.
In conclusion, organizational assimilation is a necessary process that involves acquiring shared member understandings in order to perform in ways that will contribute to organizational practices. Acquiring this knowledge enables new members to reduce the uneasiness of transitioning into organizations. At the same time, incumbents permit assimilation by accepting newcomers as fellow organizational members. Thus, assimilation is more complex than newcomers’ abandoning individuality and succumbing to organizational requirements to be accepted. Instead, organizational assimilation is a recursive process involving newcomers and others in the organization. Mutual acceptance enables newcomers to become integrated into the organizational system and assume full membership.
- Jablin, F. 2001. “Organizational Entry, Assimilation, and Exit.” Pp. 732-818 in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication, edited by F. Jablin, L. Putnam, K. Roberts and L. Porter. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Louis, M. 1980. Surprise and Sense-making: What Newcomers Experience When Entering Unfamiliar Organizational Settings. Administrative Science Quarterly 23:225-251.
- Myers, K. 2005. A Burning Desire: Assimilation into a Fire Department. Management Communication Quarterly 18:1-41.
- Myers, K. and Oetzel, J. G. 2003. Exploring the Dimensions of Organizational Assimilation: Creating and Validating a Measure. Communication Quarterly 51:438-457.