Work flexibility and identity

Work flexibility may have an impact on workers' identity. The FAME project (Vocational Identity, Flexibility and Mobility in the European Labour Market) studied this subject between 2000 and 2003. 
Their briefing paper number 54 is specially interesting. An excerpt:

Three dominant modes of ‘strategic action’ taken by employees in forming their work-related identities have been identified:
  •       In all of the occupational groups investigated, employees were found with an affiliation towards classical types of occupational identities with a high level of identification either with their occupation, the employer, the product or the daily work tasks. For this group of employees, changes at work present a great challenge, particularly for those who do not have the means or personal resources to adjust flexibly to new demands. In this case employees typically develop a ‘retreat’ strategy by holding on to traditional forms of identification with work aimed at conserving as much as possible their current work status and job profile. This group of employees was largely resisting demands for greater flexibility with little or no inclination towards learning, career development or changing the work setting or employer.
  •       At the other extreme, highly dynamic and pro-active employees were identified, with flexible and transitional forms of work identity, who were able to anticipate and internalise the requirements for continuous adjustments and changes at work. Those were highly flexible and mobile, often combining the desired mix of technical and hybrid social skills. This group is characterised by using flexibility and mobility as instruments to actively develop their career plans and professional development. Their work identity is highly individualised, primarily based upon their personal skills, capacity for continuous learning and a project-oriented work attitude. Flexible and passing work identities were typically found among the higher qualified and the lower qualified who were holding temporary, short-term employment contracts.
  •       Between these two extremes the project identified a continuum of various forms of work identities that can be characterised as different kinds of ‘adjustment’, ‘re-definition’ or ‘cross-border’ strategies. These generally represent a more conditional form of adaptation – the individual may remain in an occupation and/or with a particular employer, but recognises that this represents a compromise rather than an ideal situation. Typically factors from outside work (family commitments, personal networks, attachment to a particular location) may ‘hold’ an individual in place. The individual may still seek to satisfy the expectations (of employer, colleagues and customers, patients or clients) of how they should perform their role, but they typically have some reservations about their work or employer. However, employees may remain in the same job for a considerable period of time, but may (internally or externally) move on if the ‘holding’ circumstances or external conditions change.


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