Previous research about the people who work with information and communication technologies (ICT) have studied this group of workers from several perspectives, demonstrating that it is important to study the information systems (IS) occupational community as such. This article presents a cultural approach to the study of the people who work in information systems. To do this, I discuss first the concept of ‘occupational culture,’ how it is different from organizational culture, and what the characteristics of an occupational culture are in general. Then, a detailed overview of the characteristics of the occupational culture of the IS occupations and a summary of recent empirical studies that were conducted are included. Finally, the implications of this cultural approach in practice and future trends are discussed.
Several studies looked at organizations from a cultural viewpoint paying attention to aspects of organizational life such as the stories people tell to newcomers to explain “how things are done around here,” the top executives’ espoused values or employees’ self reports of the informal norms (Martin, 2002). Although there are different versions of the concept of culture, there are some fundamental notions that are common between researchers. For example, there is agreement that “organizations develop distinctive sets of emotionalized, collectively held beliefs that impel members of these organizations to act in certain ways” (Trice, 1993). As such, culture can be defined as the shared philosophies, ideologies, values, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, attitudes, and norms that people have in common with others in a community (Hall, 1976; Hofstede, 1997; Trice, 1993).
Because culture within organizations is multifaceted, it includes both: the overall culture of the organization as well as subcultures shaped by the specific kind of work that people do, known as their occupation within the organization. Those occupational subcultures are influenced by the organization but they also have their own characteristics. In contrast of organizational culture, occupational subcultures cross and transcend the particular organizational culture in which those members of the occupation are embedded. That is how information technologists from different organizations share their occupational subculture even though they are also part of their own organizational culture. When referring to the occupational subcultures independently to the organizations where they are embedded, we can call them just occupational cultures.
Occupational cultures consist of distinctive clusters of ideologies, beliefs, cultural forms, and other practices that grow uniquely in the context of a particular occupation. They arise from the shared educational, personal, and work experiences of individuals who pursue the same kind of occupation (Trice, 1993; Trice & Beyer, 1993). They have the same characteristics as any culture with a different degree of distinctiveness based on the occupation.
Studying cultural characteristics allows managers and academics to develop better human resource management strategies that can influence productivity, adjustment, attitudes, and retention of employees. Table 1 summarizes the characteristics of an occupational culture based on Trice’s theory (Trice, 1993).