Original Research

Reflections on shifts in the work identity of research team members

Rina A. Smith, Anne Crafford, Willem J. Schurink
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 13, No 1 | a664 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v13i1.664 | © 2015 Rina A. Smith, Anne Crafford, Willem J. Schurink | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 September 2014 | Published: 02 June 2015

About the author(s)

Rina A. Smith, Centre for Work Performance, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Anne Crafford, Centre for Work Performance, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Willem J. Schurink, Centre for Work Performance, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Orientation: This study explores shifts in the work identity of individual members of a research team.

Research purpose: The aim of the study is to explore shifts in work identity experienced by individual research team members during a project wherein they were studying work identity themselves.

Motivation for the study: This study seized the opportunity to do research on the shifts in work identify experienced by researchers whilst they were studying work identify as part of the South African–Netherlands Project for Alternatives in Development. This allowed the researcher the rather novel opportunity of conducting research on researchers and resulted in the project as a whole occurring at a dual level of analysis.

Research approach, design and method: Using thematic analysis methodology in the context of qualitative field research, 10 semi-structured interviews were conducted with five participants, all of them part of the research team who were themselves involved in conducting research on work identity. The sixth member of the research team, who is also one of the authors of this article, presented data related to shifts in her own work identity in her dissertation as an autoethnographic account. For purposes of this article, she is referred to as Participant 6. Given the multiple research team members, each one of whom constituted an individual case, the researcher made use of a multiple case study approach whilst focusing on the intrinsic case. The holistic nature of description found in the case study involved every aspect of the lives of the research team members. Analysis was done by means of content analysis.

Main findings: In exploring the shifts in work identity experienced by individual research team members, it was discovered that finding meaning and purpose in the professional activities participants engaged in was of critical importance. Contextual realities and the way in which individuals approached the possibility of shifts also seemed to play a significant role. Both these aspects influenced the possibility of engagement with new peer groups, contacts and role models to explore various aspects of self in order to make a transition or shift. The findings lastly emphasised work identity as fluid and as entailing an element of performance. Irrespective of their life and career stage, all participants were engaged in processing possible selves.

Practical/managerial implications: This study has implications for organisations looking to improve productivity through an understanding of work identity. The broader project originated from the premise that work is central to building individual identity and is influenced by job and individual characteristics. It is proposed that these factors could influence work performance and, accordingly, impact on organisational performance.

Theoretical contribution: An application for shifts in work identity is done by positioning such shifts in a framework proposed by Ibarra. The study confirms that the proposed framework is suitable for application to shifts in work identity


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