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Feelings for work affect our loyalty

Painting Igor Knez

“People who strongly identify themselves with their job are more loyal and enjoy their work more because they feel that it is a part of themselves, a part of their identity,” Igor Knez professor of psychology at the University of Gävle.

So what do you do then?

Igor Knez does research on the identity and how one identifies oneself in different situations. He suggests that work plays a central role in our lives, that it is one of our purposes in life. One works and works and identifies oneself with one’s job.

“Often when one meets old friends it takes only a few minutes before the question comes up: “So what do you do then?”

“Your work indicates your financial and social status. Work has an enormous importance, and you are evaluated according to what you work with. Even as a child we get asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We identify ourselves with our work

The work-related identification can be defined on three levels, where one develops a kind of loyalty and identity.

  • At the organisational level
    “I like the organisation that I work for. I am proud to work there and try at every opportunity to tell people how great it is at my workplace.”
  • At the working group level
    “I identify myself with my colleagues and it is there my loyalty lies. Colleagues mean a lot to me.”
  • Professional identity
    “I identify myself primarily with my work. The most important thing for me is to do my job and advance in my field.”

Feelings always go first

The first thing that happens when one starts to develop identification with work is the feeling of closeness/belonging, one establishes an emotional connection to work. Later job-related memories and experiences establish further identification.

“But feelings take precedence over intellect. I like it, I love it, this is a part of me, it belongs to me, a feeling of ownership. Then the intellect 'kicks in' and adds to it. You cannot create anything, like anything, if your feelings are not included from the beginning – that’s the point. You even have to work for a certain length of time, to be able to establish that emotional connection.”

He compares it with the feeling when one moves to a new city. How many times have you needed to go away on holiday before you can feel that when you get back, you have come home?

The memory reinforces the emotion

The stronger the emotional connection the more the intellect, thoughts, memories and experiences become connected to it and become a part of it.

“The one presupposes the other. When I get strong feelings for the job then I use memories to boost them and that is what I share with others when I describe my fantastic job and /or workplace.”

“On the other hand if you do not identify particularly with your work, then you don’t think that there is anything much to talk about.”

Working overtime and for free

The stronger the sense of identity you feel then the more motivated you are. People who identify strongly with their job work overtime, feel more fairly treated regarding salary and career, and can in addition work well under stress. They feel that work, the working group is a part of themselves, a part of their identity.

“The more work becomes a part of yourself the more positive you are about things in your environment. Even experiences of fairness are affected.”

Changes adversely affect the loyal employees

The other side of the coin is that if one, for example, restructures the organisation and splits up a group of colleagues that identify strongly with their job, then the employer can have problems with those individuals.

“Building up the connections of loyalty between colleagues is a difficult process and it takes time. There is a risk that certain people will demonstrate and even sabotage the work; retaliate because “one has not understood that one destroys a well-functioning group!”

In the case of redundancies those who have very strong identifications with the job will feel the worst about being laid off. Whilst those with strong professional identity will think that it is a pity, but quickly look for another job where they can use their skills.

“Also, interestingly enough, those with lower education often have a stronger organisational identification than those with higher education. They find it more difficult to change jobs and are more dependent on and more loyal to their organisation.

Employers unaware

Many employers and managers are completely unaware of these mechanisms. How we function psychologically at work and how one should develop and combine people in order to get the most well-functioning work environment possible.

Being aware of this is important when one reorganises or restructures. How shall we coordinate everything? What company culture exists, which identifications, which groups do people belong to, and which loyalties do they have?

“The management draws 'boxes' to reorganise colleagues when a restructuring is on the cards and believe thereby that it is all fixed. However, it can take several years, with a lot of gnashing of teeth and great expense before the new organisation has settled down and started functioning!”

“Be careful when reorganising a workplace, see the value of that which has already been created. Take it into account and allow the co-workers be a part of the change. Give them the possibility to create the new groups and loyalties,” says Professor Igor Knez.


For further information, please contact:
Igor Knez, Professor of Psychology at the University of Gävle
Tel: 026-64 81 11
Email: igor.knez@hig.se


Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Painting: "People on a quest" av Igor Knez

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2016-04-13
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)