Are You Building a Positive Work Identity?

Interview with Laura Morgan Roberts

Posted Feb 09, 2019

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How do you identify yourself at work? Is it as someone who enthusiastically engages in what you do each day? Who looks for ways to keep growing your talent and skills? And are your work colleagues perceived as allies to be supported or treated with the wariness deserving of competitors? Do you bring your best or your worst self to work most days?

“When you have a positive work-related identity, you feel more positively about your sense of self, strengths, virtues and capabilities, and your potential for growth and development,” explained Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts from Georgetown University when I interviewed her recently. “And you have a firm belief that you are able to make a meaningful contribution to the world in which you live.”

Your work identity is how you define yourself through your engagement with various aspects of your work, such as your occupation, work-roles, and organization. And by intentionally shaping this identity through positive emotions and positive relationships, you can enhance your self-worth and sense of belongingness, and also build your inner resources so you can continue to explore, grow, develop and do great work. Research suggests that the more positive your identity is, the more likely you’ll be to act in positive ways, better deal with challenges, and be able to identify and seize new opportunities that come your way. 

Laura has found that there are three components that make up a positive work-related identity: 

  • Your unique constellation of background, attributes and characteristics are valued and affirmed by yourself and others.
  • Your opportunities to make meaningful contributions that serve you and strengthen others around you. For example, showing compassion to others is likely to build your connections, nurture relationships, and engender prosocial behaviors further in the workplace.
  • Your ability to tap into your aspirations to grow and become better, so you can keep offering up the best version of yourself.  

Finding opportunities to be authentic about who you are and how you can positively contribute can help you build a strong personal brand that is believable and respected by others. Your actions are more motivated by your virtues, and you’re more likely to be perceived by others as someone who is credible, trustworthy, and adding value.

“When your best self becomes the cornerstone of your personal brand, you can use the synergy of your internal positive identity and your external brand,” said Laura. “This helps you have the greatest positive impact.”

How do you build a positive work-related identity?

Laura shared the G.I.V.E model developed by herself and colleagues to construct more positive work-related identities:

  • Growing Self. Be aspirational and at the same time humble in your intentions to develop yourself. Being more intentional and deliberate about growing your psychological well-being by such things as tapping into positive emotions and building positive relationships that can enhance your sense of self or belongingness, and equip you with the resources to continue to explore, grow, evolve, and develop to be the best version of yourself.
  • Integrated self. Find ways to align your authentic self with the responsibilities of your work role. It can be difficult to have a positive sense of self in the context of work if you feel you need to suppress or tuck away core or valued aspects of your identity. Look for opportunities to strengthen and engage that helps to enhance yourself and others around you. How can you bring the multiple dimensions of your authentic self—your unique perspectives and experiences—into the context of your work to create value?
  • Virtuous self. Carve out a space in the universe where you make valuable and significant contributions that are meaningful for you and also strengthen those around you. Engage in noble and virtuous actions that reflect your strengths of character, and provide affirming and positive feedback that can help others to acknowledge and understand their sources of strength.
  • Esteemed self. Tap into the need to experience being affirmed as a person of worth. Unfortunately, however, many managers can avoid giving praise even more than giving negative feedback. You can use the Reflected Best Self Exercise as a tool to help you gather stories from people in your personal and professional life, know how you make valuable contributions to the world around you, deepen your understanding of your esteemed self, and to guide you through creating a portrait of your best self.

Laura also points out, however, that bringing your best self to work takes a willingness to be authentic, to speak up, to make mistakes and be imperfect. So, it helps to have a psychologically safe workplace where diverse opinions and experiences are heard, there is an openness to challenging the way things are done, and the courage to be vulnerable, admit mistakes and listen to others from across the organization.

Creating safe spaces that support others to develop a more positive work-related identity starts with developing your own. After all, if you don't have a set of positive secure beliefs about your own sense of significance and worth it can be challenging to develop this in others. But when you’re able to draw on the best of yourself, and the best from others, and from the diversity represented within your organization, can allow everyone to bring to your table a broad perspective that can help your organization develop new solutions to old problems.

What can you do to make your best self the cornerstone of your personal brand?