In Search of the Self at Work: Young Adults' Experiences of a Dual Identity Organization


Anteby, Michel, and Amy Wrzesniewski. 2014. “In Search of the Self at Work: Young Adults' Experiences of a Dual Identity Organization.” Research in Sociology of Work 25: 13-50. Copy at
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Multiple forces that shape the identities of adolescents and young adults also influence their subsequent career choices. Early work experiences are key among these forces. Recognizing this, youth service programs have emerged worldwide with the hope of shaping participants’ future trajectories through boosting engagement in civically oriented activities and work. Despite these goals, past research on these programs’ impact has yielded mixed outcomes. Our goal is to understand why this might be the case. We rely on interview, archival, and longitudinal survey data to examine young adults’ experiences of a European youth service program. A core feature of youth service programs, namely their dual identity of helping others (i.e., service beneficiaries) and helping oneself (i.e., participants), might partly explain the program's mixed outcomes. We find that participants focus on one of the organization’s identities largely to the exclusion of the other, creating a dynamic in which their interactions with members who focus on the other identity create challenges and dominate their program experience, to the detriment of a focus on the organization and its goals. This suggests that a previously overlooked feature of youth service programs (i.e., their dual identity) might prove both a blessing for attracting many diverse members and a curse for achieving desired outcomes. More broadly, our results suggest that dual identity organizations might attract members focused on a select identity, but fail to imbue them with a blended identity; thus, limiting the extent to which such organizations can truly “redirect” future career choices.

Last updated on 04/28/2016