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Virtual Identity Stress?

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Vodafone has an ongoing research strand called 3029 CATEGORY_ID%253D21416%2526LANGUAGE_ID%253D0%2526CONTENT_ID%253D251379 00.html Working Nation. It is a long term thing and is designed to take a look at the attitudes and trends that shape the UK at work.

So far four reports have been released under the banner. The first looked at the dilemma firm’s face in marrying the energy of youth with the experience of older people. The second tackled loyalty at work and how it is measured. The third looked at how innovation and new ideas are, - or are not - encouraged and used at work.

It is the most recent of the four, though, that has really caught my attention. It coins the phrase ‘identity stress’, which Vodafone says is caused by the fact that people adopt different identities when they are at work to those they have at home and that these can conflict.

The research report reckons 58 percent of people change their personality to help ensure they fit in at work.

I’m surprised the figure is that low, to be honest. I reckon most people will recognise this, and I’d say it is not just something that happens at work. I am sure that lots of people who don’t go out to work experience it and that many of us adopt different identities in areas of our social lives. If you belong to a relatively closed social group – a sports club, a hobby based group, an adult education group or something similar, you may project a version of yourself that differs – even slightly - in each of them.

This is natural behaviour up to a point. Most of us want to be accepted in a society or group, and we’ll go a long way to fit in. Peer pressure is a very powerful thing and from the playground to the office canteen it can be seen working if you open half an eye and look for it. It is ok to be a little bit different, but only within acceptable boundaries and people find these and then work with them.

There is a difference, though, between complying with a set of norms subconsciously or because you choose to and feeling forced to comply with norms in order to fit in.

With that in mind, some of Vodafone’s research findings could make your hair stand on end (though obviously in some working environments that would be totally unacceptable, so best not to continue reading this if you are in the office).

How about these for interesting statistics – the percentages are research findings, the hard numbers are factored up to the working population as a whole:

- 16 million (64%) of employees don’t believe in what their company stands for

- 15 million (58%) change something about themselves to adapt

- 5 million (20%) change their appearance significantly

- 3.5 million (14%) have modified their accent

- 1.5 million (6%) have concealed their religious identity

- 1 in 50 hide their true sexual orientation

It might not be a surprise, then, that the survey suggests almost one in three workers (30%) feel dissatisfied at work and almost 20 per cent are looking to move jobs.

The survey suggests that the ‘identity stressed’ take their troubles home with them. We are talking about things like low self esteem, poor sleep patterns, poor social life and generally low confidence levels.

Maybe, and this is my pop psychology effort, so forgive me if you disagree, but maybe this is all part of the reason for our increasing interest in online communities.

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