Falling from grace in the organization

Johnel D. Bushell (1988)

"Falling from grace" is a phenomenon that has not been systematically identified heretofore in the literature. It occurs when a person who has been previously well-respected in the organization is subtly excluded from social communication channels and is gradually demoted in the eyes of his or her peers. This loss of validation and relegation to outsider status can have severely distressing effects on the person involved in the phenomenon as well as on the organization in which it occurs. Historically, this kind of problem has been viewed as an individual's problem, with the implication that it, perhaps, results from individual pathology. In contrast, it is thought that "falling from grace" is an interpersonal transactional process which transpires between the person and the organization, with both parties sharing responsibility for its development. This theoretical dissertation addresses the phenomenon, examines the circumstances which allow it to surface, and provide a conceptualization of the process. Variables are reviewed which relate to the individual, the organization, and the transaction between them. The author discusses the merits of a transactional point of view and reviews some of the theoretical models which seem to be most pertinent to the phenomenon under discussion. "Falling from grace" is hypothesized as a process which develops in response to an individual's violation of the informal norms of the organization. As a process, it is one of continuous reciprocal influence, with each party's actions constraining the other's response. A theory is offered that combines the strength of interpersonal, attribution, and metacommunication theories. As there are various career paths that people may follow, it is also hypothesized that there are various ways in which people may find themselves "falling from grace." Four common patterns of career "falls" are identified with clinical vignettes used as illustrations. These cases are discussed in terms of the possible norms violated in each situation. The vignettes are also used to identify common themes among those who experience the phenomenon of "falling from grace." Clinical and organizational applications are suggested. Avenues for further possible research are discussed.