Exploring Identity Integration for Enhanced Workplace Performance

March 13, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-mentalhealth

Whether we should be bringing our “whole self” to work or not is often debated, but rather than argue over the question, it’s far more beneficial for companies to explore the role of identity in the workplace and how personal and professional identity are connected. The reason it’s so important is because if team members are experiencing an identity conflict, it can directly impact their well-being, productivity, and job satisfaction.

The connection between personal and professional identity

Our ‘work persona’ or ‘workplace identity’ is a conceptual idea of ourselves that we build over time, primarily based upon how we think we should act and behave in the workplace. While the organisation defines functional roles in a job description, how we interpret our position, conduct our responsibilities, and behave in a working environment can have a huge impact on our job performance, and the people around us.

Based on our assumptions and other’s expectations, we naturally highlight or suppress certain aspects of our character in front of colleagues, meaning our work and personal identities may differ. However, the two coexist and remain intertwined. Issues can arise when someone’s workplace identity is not aligned with their personal beliefs and values. In some cases, their sense of identity shifts due to changes in their personal life that can happen at any time, irrespective of where they are in their careers. Working in HR, I played witness to the resulting breakdown or change in temperament and behaviour on many occasions, and the fallout for the individual and organisation can be both challenging and distressing.

Some of the symptoms people exhibit during an identity conflict include:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Self-doubt
  • Ambiguity or doubt about their role 
  • Emotional turmoil 
  • Loss of confidence 
  • Strained relationships 

Balancing personal identity with workplace culture and ensuring employees feel comfortable fulfilling their potential is essential for employee well-being and creating a supportive, inclusive environment.

Times of change

Many transitional periods or unexpected life events can throw someone’s sense of self into confusion, and employers mustn’t ignore the individual and collective consequence. Common scenarios to be aware of include:


The transition to motherhood and parenthood in general can trigger complex feelings and mindset changes around who we were before and who we have become. A survey conducted for the motherhood app Peanut for its ‘Invisible mothers’ campaign found thatapproximately two-thirds of new mothers experience a loss of identity. This substantial change also usually coincides with time away from the workplace followed by a period of readjustment when they return. 


According to Expat.com, 35% of expats feel that their sense of identity has changed, while 40% said that a move abroad altered their priorities. This is especially true if the new country has a culture, language or religion different from that of their home country. If you are bringing in new hires from another country, consider that they may feel unsettled for at least the first year, potentially affecting their confidence at work. 

Relationship status

This is an understandably sensitive topic that sometimes gets avoided in the workplace, yet its presence is undeniable, given that over 40% of marriages end in divorce. The emotional impact separation has on an individual, plus the logistical changes in family circumstances, can all create feelings of grief, insecurity and uncertainty. Again, these feelings can often trigger an identity crisis.

Health struggles 

Poor health has a huge impact mentally and physically, affecting everything from how much time an employee spends at work and what tasks they can manage to how they feel about their appearance. They may see themselves as being able to offer less value or find it hard to focus on their usual responsibilities.

Adding identity to the well-being agenda

Supporting staff to cultivate positive self-identity is an essential component of an effective corporate wellness programme that encourages open communication. Ensure individuals know who they can speak to if they are experiencing any personal issues that could affect their attitudes and behaviours at work. Mentoring is a useful tool if people are returning to the workforce after a period away, stepping into a more senior role or joining from another country. If an employee is going through a difficult time listen to what they need, and collaborate to create solutions that can ease their transition without impacting the business. The more you can implement solutions together the better, so the staff member maintains a sense of ownership.

Formal coaching is another option that you can integrate in several ways. The individual may require some coaching to deal with the changes, develop their mindset, and rediscover their purpose. Likewise, the leadership team can benefit from coaching to help them understand their own identity, insecurities, and influence over the company culture. And group workshops are a good way to target specific segments of staff and discuss varying topics about workplace identity and alignment to personal identity. 

Companies can’t afford to ignore theconnection between identity and wellbeing if they want to facilitate progress and see their workforce thrive.

Carina Harvey

CIPD Chartered Professional and Personal Identity Coach

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