Organizational Socialization

Organizational socialization (OS) is the process through which a newcomer to an organization transitions from outsider to integrated and effective insider. This longitudinal process includes the acquisition or adjustment of shared values, attitudes, skills, knowledge, abilities, behaviors, and workplace relationships. Organizational socialization occurs whenever an employee crosses an organizational boundary. The OS research mainly focuses on transitions across the organizational boundary; but OS also occurs for functional and hierarchical transitions, such as lateral moves, promotions, and international transfers.

Process Approaches to Organizational Socialization

Organizational Actions

John Van Maanen and Edgar Schein (1979) developed a model of OS tactics, based on the premise that newcomers’ learning is dependent on the process as much as the content. They outlined six tactics that organizations use to influence newcomers to adopt certain role orientations. The six tactics, each of which is bipolar, are

  1. Collective-individual
  2. Formal-informal
  3. Sequential-random
  4. Fixed-variable
  5. Serial-disjunctive
  6. Investiture-divestiture

These tactics have also been categorized as institutionalized (collective, formal, sequential, fixed, serial, and investiture) or individualized (their opposites). Institutionalized tactics are associated with a range of positive outcomes including lower role ambiguity, role conflict, intent to quit, and anxiety; and higher levels of job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and task mastery.

Preentry Organization Socialization

Preentry or anticipatory socialization occurs during selection procedures in which applicants are exposed to certain aspects of the employing organization. This allows applicants to develop more realistic expectations of working life in the organization. Realistic job previews (RJPs) have been proposed as one formal method by which to effectively achieve preentry OS.

Insider Actions

Newcomers regard organizational insiders such as managers and peers as more useful sources of knowledge and support than formal orientation programs.

Insiders help newcomers to adjust by providing information, feedback, role models, social relationships, and support, as well as access to broader networks and other work-relevant resources.

Newcomer Actions

As part of the OS process, newcomers experience surprises where their expectations are not matched by reality. Surprises may be in relation to their actual role through to the organizational environment. These surprises require newcomers to employ sensemaking strategies, with this research developing from models of employee information seeking, with evidence for newcomers using a range of strategies including overt feedback requests and covert monitoring. Seeking information more frequently overall is related to positive outcomes. Further, newcomers show relatively stable information seeking behaviors over time and choose strategies and sources according to the type of information sought, but observation is the most common strategy.

Content Approaches to Organizational Socialization

Newcomer Learning

Recently, researchers appear to agree that learning is the key element underlying OS. To date, five information-based models of OS content have been developed, with associated measures. The domains included in these models have included task, role (or performance), group processes (also defined as a social or people domain), organization (sometimes broken down further into aspects including history and language), interpersonal resources (or coworker support), training, and future prospects.

Proximal and Distal Outcomes

A number of outcomes have been proposed as reflecting OS success. The most common outcomes have been distal and measured at the individual level and include greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment, reduced anxiety and stress, and a lower intention of leaving. In the last decade researchers have increasingly focused on proximal outcomes that more directly reflect socialization itself, rather than its effects.

These outcomes include various types of knowledge (see Newcomer Learning earlier in this entry), task mastery, role clarity, social integration, and performance.

Individual Differences Affecting Organizational Socialization

The OS research in the last decade has begun to investigate the influence of individual differences. Research has found that newcomers with high self-efficacy and behavioral self-management tend to use more independent strategies and have better OS outcomes. Further, extraversion and openness to experience are associated with higher levels of proactive socialization behavior, such as feedback seeking and relationship building; and proactive personality leads to more positive proximal outcomes such as task mastery and social integration.

A few studies have looked at newcomers’ values during OS and found that those with better objective value fit showed quicker and better adjustment outcomes. The small amount of research on socio-demographic variables has shown minimal effects: Work experience is associated with better outcomes; female newcomers report lower self-efficacy, higher self-punishing behavior, and poorer treatment by colleagues relative to male newcomers.


  1. Cooper-Thomas, H. D., & Anderson, N. (2002). Newcomer adjustment: The relationship between organizational socialization tactics, information acquisition and attitudes. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 75(4), 423-437.
  2. Cooper-Thomas,    D.,   &  Anderson,   N. (2005). Organizational socialization: A field study into socialization success and rate. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 13(2), 116-128.
  3. Morrison, E. W. (2002). Information seeking within organizations. Human Communication Research, 28(2), 229-242.
  4. Van Maanen, J., & Schein, E. H. (1979). Toward a theory of organizational socialization. In B. M. Staw (Ed.), Research in organizational behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 209-264). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

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