Perceived organisational reputation in South Africa’s public sector : employees’ narrative accounts.
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This study explored employees’ perceived organisational reputation at the City of Johannesburg. Perceived organisational reputation refers to how employees believe others outside the organisation view them because of their association with their organisation. A positive perceived organisational reputation is a powerful indicator of the strength of employees’ identification with their organisation. Furthermore, employees are the bedrock of organisational reputations, and are critical to their sustained success. Ostensibly, given South Africa’s tumultuous public sector legacy, democratic transition issues, and the numerous challenges that it currently faces, employees’ perceived organisational reputation, and hence organisational identification with their employer, has potentially been compromised. The aim of this study was to elucidate South African public sector employees’ subjective experiences and perceptions of their organisational reputation – the ‘perceived organisational reputation’. This was done in order to determine whether there were any gaps that needed to be addressed in this regard so as to cultivate and sustain their roles as credible custodians and lodestars of their public sector reputation. Fifteen participants from the City of Johannesburg, from both support services and customer-interfacing departments, participated in in-depth, narrative interviews. These were analysed using the Voice-Centred Relational Method, originally developed by Brown, Gilligan and their colleagues (Brown, Dacin, Pratt & Whetten, 1991; Brown & Gilligan, 1991). The participants were invited to relate a narrative of a time when they were involved in an incident that made them feel like the reputation of their organisation was under threat. The participants expressed a very negative perceived organisational reputation, which had consequences for their organisational identification, personal identities and self-esteem. They relayed a number of troubling reasons for this, including a perceived leadership void, and perceived corruption and unethical practices that had taken hold of the City of Johannesburg. Furthermore, employees’ negative perceived organisational reputation resulted in ‘conflicted selves’ at the City, and they therefore struggled with their connection to the City, due to factors like feeling ‘silenced’ in the organisation; experiencing judgment from their social circles because of their organisational affiliation; and battling to traverse the complex boundary between being the community and serving the community. However, these threats to their organisational identification were tempered by the enduring pride that the participants continued to experience in spite of the organisational obstacles they encountered, and a deep sense of hope that bound them to being part of South Africa’s progress as public sector employees.