Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Management

First Advisor

Adam Grant

Second Advisor

Nancy P. Rothbard

Abstract

The limited organizational scholarship on past adversity has characterized it as something to cope with, positing that how past adversity is perceived is key to employees’ coping effectiveness (Nurmohamed et al., 2021; Stephens et al., 2015; Vogel & Bolino, 2020). Conversely, lay theory suggests that “what does not kill you makes you stronger.” Through this dissertation, I aim to provide empirical evidence for this claim in an organizational setting. To do so, I draw on positive identity growth theorizing (Maitlis, 2009; 2020) to empirically examine the organizational benefits of identity growth after experiences of overcoming adversity. In doing so, I introduce a new concept to the organizational behavior literature, an “overcoming adversity identity,” which is when an experience of hardship, whether singular or continuous, has been redeemed in the eyes of the person with that experience, thereby becoming a positive part of that person’s identity. Through two longitudinal studies and one randomized experimental intervention, I find promising evidence that having a stronger overcoming adversity identity is associated with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intellectual character enrichment (the tripartite model of character; Park et al., 2017). I also find some evidence that suggests that this character enrichment, in turn, is positively related to extra-role performance and in-role performance, and negatively related to burnout. Implications and future directions are discussed. In conclusion, this dissertation provides preliminary empirical evidence to suggest that indeed, what does not kill you can make you stronger.

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