How important is the concept of workplace identity in coaching?’
Workplace identity is a fascinating subject and can pose some interesting challenges for us in coaching. We can probably all relate to the many roles and identities we assume in life such as daughter, father, friend, helper and so on. Workplaces typically shape our identity and we can assume additional labels and roles, some of which may be self imposed, earned or bestowed upon us, such as leader, team member, IT professional, technical whizz etc. These identities can be helpful in distinguishing someone from the crowd and opening up opportunities, but can also present challenges, particularly when organisations or circumstances change. It is here that coaching comes to the forefront.
If someone has a workplace identity which becomes obsolete, through restructure or technological changes in the organisation and this is imposed or unexpected, they can experience considerable distress and anxiety. Redundancy is an extreme example where someone may lose status, identity, professional relationships and financial continuity etc. and this can impact heavily on their sense of worth and self esteem.
Supporting individuals to maintain a sense of perspective on identity during change is key. This can be done through exploring what has changed and what hasn’t, what the person has gained and lost from the situation in its broadest sense. It may also involve re-enforcing the importance of other roles and identities. This transition can be tough when someone has “over-identified” with a particular role and is disproportionately defining themselves in one way. Here coaching support and sensitive but strong emotionally intelligent challenge can be liberating and extremely effective.