Finding Your Inner Work Identity

By Rex Huppke
Chicago Tribune.

The days after Labor Day seem an appropriate time to think about work. Not so much the stresses and drags of it all, but the actual things we do as working people.

Most of the time, either from business or as victims of rote behavior, our jobs are reduced to little more than a title. I’m a plumber. I’m a columnist. I’m a small-business owner. I’m a doctor, a chef, a cashier.

Those titles categorize workers but reveal little about the individual and his or her contributions. That’s a shame, because we live in an age when the professional and personal mix more than ever, making work identities a huge part of who we are.

So perhaps take some time to consider what you do for a living beyond the generic tag that describes your job. Not only is it a good exercise in self-awareness, a new study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the London Business School shows, but people who more clearly define their work identity are happier and less prone to burnout.

The study is called “Job Titles as Identity Badges: How Self-Reflective Titles Can Reduce Emotional Exhaustion” and was published in the Academy of Management Journal.

It explains why a job title that doesn’t do justice to the work you do can be frustrating: “Given the close connection between our job titles and our identities, job titles can affect the fundamental human motive to self-express, to communicate our identities and values to others. … Job titles serve a self-expressive function, influencing whether employees feel understood and accepted both inside and outside their work.”

The researchers looked at employees at a Midwestern chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The organization had encouraged employees to come up with their own whimsical job titles.

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