What Is Occupational Identity?

By David Ferris; Updated July 05, 2017
Woman working in home office smiling at camera
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Many people work a 9-to-5 job, but that doesn't mean they become a different person as soon as they punch out, or step into a work identity the moment they don a uniform or business suit. "Occupational identity" is a sociological term that describes the degree to which your self-image is attached to your career. It can reveal a lot about both human psychology and workplace social science.

Positive Identity Construction

Occupational identity can serve to bolster your general self-esteem by serving as an avenue for validation by others (and, in turn, self-validation). Occupational identity can also give individuals a fuller sense of "self" by providing a character or personality type with which to identify. Positive identity construction can act advantageously as a cyclical effect wherein people seek out strong job values, which in turn boosts their self-esteem, which thereby encourages them to seek out better occupational values.

Societies and Institutions

Occupational identities are, according to a 2008 University of Iowa report, highly socially recognized and institutionally clear. Therefore, the ideas associated with occupational identities are more easily understood and accepted across social groups and institutions. Occupation can serve as a more clear-cut source of self-identity. The clearly defined roles that exist in the work world reduce the kind of identity confusion that arises when people define themselves based on more fluid associations outside of the workplace.

Consistency

One characteristic of occupational identity is consistency -- the notion that the consistency of work will produce a consistency of self. Work, by nature, is routine, both day to day and over the long term, in the case of those who hold the same position for many years. The repeated rituals, processes and routines of work lend themselves to a more solid identity that builds up with the occupation over time. A 2007 paper published by AUT University demonstrated this fact in its analysis of people whose occupational transitions impacted their sense of who they were, initiating a "process of reconstructing their lives by linking their past and future occupational self."

Resilience or Burnout

Occupational identity can relate to a person's success within an occupation and help predict whether he may achieve resilience or suffer burnout over the long term. According to a Yale University report in 2008, occupational identity can give rise either to "professionalization" or to "occupational stigma." This, in turn, leads to a process of "experienced meaningfulness" that results in either "engagement/resilience" or "burnout/turnover."

About the Author

David Ferris started writing professionally in 2006 and has been published in several newspapers. He has worked in a variety of fields including education and law. He strives to one day be an authority on all subjects, great and small. Ferris has a Bachelor of Arts in political science.