Identity in the workplace

The employer is the “commander in chief”, the person who organizes tools for production of goods or for supply of services by means of his own financial assets. He pilots his own concern by leveraging the available gears: the workforce amongst all.

by Rosario Imperiali

People are an essential requirement for an economic enterprise. Employer and employees are both fundamental to any concern, each of them with its own identity. An economic entity always needs somebody who governs it and somebody else who sustains a paid effort aimed at producing benefits for itself.


The work activity is acquired by the employer through an agreement with other people in exchange for money. The barter between work force and remuneration is the legal justification for the creation of specific rights in favor of the entrepreneur. First of all, the right of a correct fulfillment of the job: a proper performance by his own workers. Nothing is different – one would say – than what happens in the market place when a person or an entity pay for a service rendered by a third party. At the workplace, however, the employee delivers his working activity as part of the employer’s organization and this makes the difference. Workers spend a great part of the day at the work site under the directives of their employers. This means that the profile of the “employee-worker” – during work time – blends with that of the “employee-persona” pertaining to any individual at large. And exactly this coexistence of the two facets of the “employee-worker” and the “employee-persona” that makes the issue of identity at the workplace equally essential and complex. In summary, the question is to ascertain whether individuals have a right to their personal identity with in their dimension as “workers”. Or, rather, it is to establish whether the above mentioned barter of work in exchange of remuneration has somehow compressed the employees’ right to their identity.


But how can we define the term “identity” and why is this question relevant to the success of a business? Identity is the consciousness of one’s own self, because consciousness – as philosopher Locke wrote – is the feature which characterizes a given person at one time. And “personal identity” is the condition under which a person is said to be identical to himself or herself through time. By recognizing that each worker has a right to his own identity, a reasonable expectation for employees to be the same person both outside and at the workplace would be acknowledged. The assertion of the employee’s right of being the same person (personal identity) does not jeopardize, however, the equally fundamental rights of employers to direct workers’ activity and, finally, to receive a proper performance. These rights, in fact, being substantially of an economic nature, might impinge on the “employee-worker” profile of the individual, while the other aspect of the “employee-persona” should not suffer any interference. In other words, a developed workplace does not constrain the personality of their workers; thus leaving a significant amount of freedom in how they construe their cognitions, motivations, and behaviors in various situations. By enjoying this freedom – even when framed around principles and policies determined by the employer on how to behave at the workplace – workers feel they are fulfilling themselves by doing the best they are capable of doing. They are able to realize their own’s full potential. This is why in the policy statement of the National Career Development Association – a US entity whose aim is to promote career development throughout the life span we read that “work is a major way for individuals to recognize and understand both who they are and why they exist in terms of making contributions to society that bring personal meaning and satisfaction to them.”


Illustration by David Johnson, Windham, USA

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2011