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Inclusion Series: Identify vs. Job

What role does your job and employer play in how you identify yourself with others?

Chances are, if you met me at a social gathering in the past several years, I was the one that asked about who you worked for and what you did in the first 5-10 minutes. I chalked it up to having the curiosity of an HR professional, always interested in people’s jobs and employers. Some of that may be true, but I did not realize the deeper truth until recently, near the 25-year mark of my career.

The truth is that I asked these questions because I have heavily tied my own personal identity to my job and often to my employer. I saw it as a measure of my success, and something needed to establish credibility with new people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with tying some of your identity to your profession or employer. The challenge is when other aspects are overshadowed, creating an imbalance.

It took for me to be in a transition after leaving my last full-time role to realize how much this was affecting my life. By tying myself so closely to my job, I was neglecting many other aspects of my actual identity. Being a father; a husband; a Latino to name a few. I was often letting my professional identity take over in my personal life, which meant I regularly carried the stress of work while I was home engaging with family members. The impact to individual stress is often written about such as in the below articles from Harvard Business Review (December 2019) and Psychology Today (March 2019).

The other side of this coin is how people show up to work… Individuals who over identify with work and job may fail to bring 100% of themselves to work: some because they place too much emphasis on the job; others because they don’t feel safe in being their true authentic selves at work. Consider this from an inclusion and diversity perspective. Even in diverse organizations, there are people that regularly “code-switch” to fit in to the organizational culture.

In a world of free agents and a highly mobile workforce, how many people over index their identity with their employer and job? Might be time for everyone to rebalance.

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