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You Are What You Work: Does Your Job Define You?

You Are What You Work: Does Your Job Define You?

What’s the first thing you ask when you meet someone new? The most likely answer is ‘what do you do’?

Work is inextricably linked to our identity. We are often attracted to a particular organisation or job role based on our personality because it plays to our skills and values. Our workplaces breed a certain type of mindset, and our jobs are often a measure of our social value. But who are you when you’re not at work?

A 2016 survey by Centre for Future Work found that, on average, full-time Australian workers perform more than five hours of unpaid overtime per week - either by staying back at work, taking work home with them or working through lunch breaks.

We live in a world of information overload, with many employers expecting us to be available 24/7. Our electronic devices ensure we can never truly ‘tune out’, and we increasingly use them to work outside of office hours. The 21st century workplace means we are constantly connected and always switched on.

Even when a company promotes generous work-life balance policies and allows for flexible working hours, employees can still feel pressured to work unpaid overtime or excessive hours in order to show their dedication and commitment, and to avoid appearing less committed than their peers.

Organisational Psychologist, Dr Melissa Marot, says the type of work we do and the culture of the organisation in which we work significantly shapes us. We form a habitual way of thinking - a specific psychological approach to work. This is important because certain kinds of mindsets make people work better in certain kinds of jobs. For example, someone who is slightly scatterbrained might find a workplace that values speed and accuracy helpful in improving their efficiency.

But it can also be detrimental to our health when we take that fast paced, high stress environment home with us. The psychology inculcated by our jobs doesn’t stay at work, and with over 20 per cent of Australians working more than 50 hours per week, and 60 per cent us not taking regular annual leave, sometimes it seems nearly impossible to know who we are without our jobs.

So how can we stress less when we’re not at work? It’s important to develop a healthy work-life balance and to stick to it. Deliberately set time for self care and time with friends and family, and avoid checking emails when not at work. Infact, turn your electronic devices off when you’re not at work.

Try to focus on what you’ll do outside of work as opposed to what you won’t do. Rather than thinking ‘I won’t focus on work’, which is a negative goal, frame your thoughts in a positive way and think about the things you will do instead of working. This type of thinking helps us to form habits, as habits are most easily formed when you perform an action, not when you avoid them.

Engage in more leisurely activities, like sport, reading or catching up with friends, and give yourself time to unleash your creative side. Importantly, try to define and understand who you are and not just what you do.

Our job doesn’t have to define us. As long as we can pay the bills, and find meaning in our work, what we do for a living isn’t always what matters most. Our purpose isn’t defined solely by what we do behind our desks. What’s important is to find what really makes us happy, how we can contribute to society, and to spend time doing what we love.

As the American Poet Maya Angelou famously refrained, “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life’.”

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