"I'm a better manager"
: A biographic narrative study of the impact of personal trauma on the professional lives of managers in the UK

  • Amy Armstrong

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This doctoral study aims to understand how experiences of critical illness or bereavement affect the way managers view and approach their work and their relationships at work. This is an interpretative phenomenological study examining the subjective meanings of personal experience and is underpinned by biographic narratives from four participants and interviews with their nominated workplace witnesses (i.e. colleagues who worked alongside the individual at the time of their trauma). As a consequence of the findings that have emerged across this study, three contributions to theory are presented. All four participants described their traumas as a professional growth experience for themselves as managers, which resulted in self-reported and observed behaviour change at work. Consequently, the first area of theoretical contribution is a suggested extension to the post-traumatic growth (PTG) framework (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2006) with the addition of a new behavioural dimension called ‘managerial growth’, when applied to the context of ‘ordinary’ organizations. The second area of theoretical contribution arose through the reflexive process that was created during data collection where participants and their witnesses remembered episodes of compassion interaction at work. The second area of contribution thus seeks to extend the existing model of compassion at work (Dutton, Worline, Frost and Lilius, 2006), by conceptualising compassion as a dyadic process between a compassion ‘giver’ and a compassion ‘receiver’ in which the compassion receiver ‘trusts or ‘mistrusts’; ‘discloses’ or ‘withholds’; ‘connects’ or ‘disconnects’ with the compassion giver. The third area of contribution is a new conceptualisation of reflexivity, ‘three-dimensional reflexivity’ (3DR) (Armstrong, Butler and Shaw, 2013). 3DR brings together three of the elements that have been missing from critically reflexive management research; by working with multiple variants of reflexivity in the same study; surfacing different reflexive voices to guard against the researcher’s (potentially) solipsistic own; and remaining sensitive to the concept of reflexive time. In doing so, 3DR not only provides a deeper understanding of individual lived experience; it is also a vehicle in which self-insight is gained. Furthermore, by engaging in its practice, those involved in this study have developed both personally and professionally as a result.
Date of Award9 Oct 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRachel Shaw (Supervisor) & Michael J Butler (Supervisor)


  • biographic narratives
  • critical narrative analysis
  • reflexivity
  • positive organizational scholarship

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