Monday, 18 November 2019

When Work overturns Identity

Career identity has been defined as "dynamic multiplicity of personal (in contrast to social and cultural) positions or voices regarding work" (Meijers & Lengelle, 2012, p. 1). Our professional identity comes from "constructing a sense of causality and continuity about one’s career path" (Meijers & Lengelle, 2012, p. 2). We bring 'ourselves' to work: our "experience, training, abilities, knowledge, effort, quirks, and passions' (O'Brien, 18 June 2019).

Superficially, it is very easy for all of us to conflate our personal value with our work identity. We can get so sucked into our work roles so much that all we see is the work or tasks in front of us. However, sometimes we can have deep damage to our professional identity - others' ability to see that we can perform in our area of expertise - that it can take a lot of digesting.

Take, for example, the following case. Kim is a professional engineer who progressed into management over a number of years, and has been managing the engineering team for some time. Following some changes in senior management, the organisation is restructured. Kim is demoted to a much lower level role, with someone who was once a subordinate now managing the engineering team. Worse, Kim has no warning of the impending role change until the change arrives.

Needless to say, Kim is wounded and bewildered. Due to the unexpected nature of the demotion, the impact this has on Kim is profound, with deep damage to career identity. While we all possess multiple identities (Super, 1985), Kim values professional identity above all others. Such a significant work change diminishes Kim's sense of self. Repairing this will require deep reflection and many well-structured counselling sessions to appropriately process, over a considerable length of time.

All too often, however, those in this situation do not seek professional career advice. The resulting damage to identity can lead to other issues in both professional and private lives, sometimes - due to the mid-life timing of the shift into management roles - manifesting as "midlife crises".

If you know someone in this type of situation, recommend they see a professional career counsellor.



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