On Rules, Values, and the True Self
The concept of authenticity, or being true to the self, has received sustained interest and inquiry for centuries with a particular swell in recent years, as values-driven notions of sincerity, genuineness, and truth abound. Extant definitions of authenticity abound, although the idea that authenticity denotes alignment between one’s individual prioritization and outward enactment of specific values—particularly when held values may contradict organizational regulations—remains overlooked. In an ethnographic study of a highly regulated service environment, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, I find that employees embedded in service roles experience values tensions of various types (service, humanity) which challenge their ability to adhere to personal and organizational values and expectations. These tensions are manifest during episodic work tasks, wherein the prioritization of particular forms of values (dignity versus efficiency) results in markedly different approaches for completing said tasks. Further, the tension that individuals may experience between their ability to enact individually prioritized values may result in transgressing regulations in favor of satisfying personal values, even to their detriment. This study offers several contributions to literature on authenticity and values, suggesting that various manifestations of the authentic self are possible in regulated environments which depend on the degree to which individuals experience tension between personal and perceived organizational values. Further, I suggest that, due to these possible (mis)alignments, organizations may either constrain or enable the enactment of an individual’s authentic self.