The Weirdness of Juggling Many Different Roles at Work

Jessica Brown in NY Magazine:

HatsIt’s very likely that, even in the last 24 hours, you’ve switched so seamlessly between being a friend to an employee, boss to parent, or customer to neighbor, that you didn’t even notice yourself doing it. We all switch between multiple roles in a given day, requiring us to draw on different aspects of our personality, and even alter how we talk. (If you spoke to your newborn baby the same way you greeted your boss in the morning, for example, you’d probably be sent home to rest up.) One place most people juggle different identities is at work. Maybe you belong to a few different teams, for example, or maybe you both do and teach your job at the same time, like a doctor who also teaches medical students. Or you might have two or three different jobs entirely; perhaps you work part-time in a coffee shop to fund your freelance endeavors or tech start-up. Even within one role, you might be a supportive co-worker one minute, and deal-clinching boss the next, all before your morning coffee.

But while this constant juggling sounds exhausting, it doesn’t necessarily harm us, according to a study recently published in the journal Academy of Management. There are two main responses to identity-switching, according to Lakshmi Ramarajan, one of the study’s authors. Some of us will experience what she calls “identity conflict,” where we find it difficult to manage multiple identities, whereas others have “identity enhancement,” where different roles are seen as being complementary to each other. Ramarajan, from Harvard University — along with co-researchers Steffanie Wilk from Ohio State University, and Nancy Rothbar, from the University of Pennsylvania — argues, perhaps unsurprisingly, that your experience hinges on your outlook. Seeing multiple work identities as good for each other can help you be more productive and feel more motivated at work. Seeing your different identities as being in conflict with each other, however, could be putting a downer on your day.

More here.