This, That (and More): Navigating Multiple Work (& Outside Work) Identities
Work and workplaces are becoming increasingly complex. This means that employees have to now navigate through various complexities, wear many hats and manage multiple work identities. They are also experimenting with side gigs outside for various reasons such as building more skills, earning a side income or even following a hobby.
Enough has been said and done about a person juggling their multiple identities at work and in their personal life (let’s say as a leader and as a parent). But what about the engineers who are also doubling up as technical experts or people in the gig economy who are UX/UI designers by the day, developers during the evening and brand strategists at night. Or a lead marketeer who also runs an informal angel group at work.
Today, it has become critical to be able to manage one’s multiple identities. But how does that impact one’s performance?
The Impact of Bringing Multiple Identities at Work
The impact of this would depend on how harmoniously those identities align with each other. If you can construct your identities in a way that they complement each other, then that will have positive consequences.
The tricky part is to identify if your identities are harmonious and can help you navigate between the different roles you play at work and outside. More often than not, deciding this is a natural process and not a conscious effort. This means that what might be an advantage to someone, can appear as a roadblock to another.
For me personally, writing “Scale It Up”, my weekly newsletter, while having a full time day job feels very harmonious. I believe that I am able to utilise the learnings from my writings at work effectively. At the same time, work gives me opportunities to figure out topics to write on! So for me it's about finding a balance between my employee and writer identities.
As leaders it becomes our responsibility to identify multiple identities of our team members and help them amplify those which can support their holistic development. In fact the positive impact of multiple identities have been linked to affecting an employee’s happiness at work and consequently reducing the chances of someone leaving the organization.
Should You Cultivate Multiple Identities at Work?
The short answer is yes!
Work will not always be fun. It will sometimes feel monotonous or sometimes a heavy lift. Therefore it is important to cultivate multiple identities at work and in adjacent areas, so that they come together to support you harmoniously. Some identities that you may have at work include being a manager, reporting to a manager and being a peer. Along with that, you could build identities by taking on special projects or by including yourself in cultural activities at work. Now imagine if you are having trouble in managing your teams and that is demotivating you, your success in your identities would help you to keep your motivation levels high. This will provide you with energy to try to solve the issues with your team.
I have often heard people saying “I am not enjoying work”. When I would ask what part of their work they were not enjoying, the answers would become much more specific - their relationship with their manager, or performance of their team or some specific cultural aspect at the company. My advice at that point is to invest in areas at work in which they are actually enjoying, so that they can utilise the energy generated out of those interactions to solve the areas which are not working out for them.
The key takeaway here is that multiple identities can be very powerful to make work enjoyable, even if all parts of work are not perfect.
What can Leaders Do?
Wear your multiple identities on your sleeve!
As dramatic as it may sound, the only way to motivate your teams to develop multiple identities is to show them that it really works. Tell them about the other projects you are leading, things you are doing outside your formal work, the different skill sets you identify with and how all of these are transferable skills that complement each other contributing to your success.
As leaders we have the dual responsibility of managing our own identities and also to identify and nurture our team’s multiple identities in order to get the best results.
What are you doing to build your own and your team’s multiple identities?
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