Business Article #6: For the Joy of Sharing

Is your identity absorbed by your profession?

By Alexis Zahner
Co-Director of Human Leaders, LinkedIn Top 20 Voices 2022, Thought(ful) Leader & Speaker
Lennox Head, NSW, Australia

Introduction by Venkat

To me, a job is a car. It takes you to places, in comfort and in good company, depending on your driving skills, clarity of the destination and preparation before the start. A bigger job means a bigger car. However, life does not happen inside a car. It happens outside of it – on the mountains, in adventure trips, at the fairs, at parties, conferences, inside hotels, bars, movie theatres, music shows, family get togethers, and so on. This analogy should serve as an effective summary of the limits to which a job must be kept in our perspective with regard to our living and life purpose.

When we think our profession as our life, it is exactly like defining the space inside the car and the ride as the life. Alexis brings an important subject here, about enmeshing oneself so much in work, that it begins to define one’s identity. The results of which are damaging and this is a common problem in many corporates as substantiated by the data presented by her. This is a must read article for professionals to ensure timely actions in case they are victim to such a delusion. The recommendations provided here are of great value to maintain one’s profession in the right perspective for mental well being and a rewarding experience of life.


Is your identity absorbed by your profession?

Does your identity feel inextricably linked to your job title? Do you lack hobbies or interests outside your work that don’t include those skills? Would your identity feel lost if you were no longer able to do your current profession? You might be enmeshed with your work.

Identifying with your work is not necessarily a bad thing – it can increase job satisfaction and meaning. However, when you over-identify with work – when you consider your work to be who you are, not just what you do – you become more likely to make decisions that damage your health and wellbeing so that you can meet the demands of your work. Combine this with a toxic work environment, where demands are high to the point of being ridiculous, and that damage to your health and wellbeing can happen fast.

Learn more about what being enmeshed in work means, and what you can do about it at on the Human Leaders here:

According to the World Health Organization, working more than 55 hours per week is a serious health hazard. And yet, many large firms still expect much longer hours from their employees. Eventually, this can damage their physical, emotional and mental health in the form of burnout. In some instances, it results in death.

While the Japanese coined a term for death by overwork – “karoshi” (過労死) – today, this phenomenon occurs globally. According to the WHO, overwork and work-related stress led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016. Some of these deaths happen years later. 

But there are also startling stories of young people working in toxic, large firm environments who die in their twenties as a result of overwork.

To this day, the practice of the ‘magic roundabout’ – taking a taxi home around 4am, having a shower and changing your clothes before returning to the office without sleeping – remains common.

This exploitative environment is depicted in HBO’s series Industry, in which a young employee dies in the very first episode due to work pressures. Human Leaders Co-Director Sally Clarke was witness to highly toxic behaviors in her early career in banking and finance law. And apparently, little has changed: numerous banking graduates corroborate the portrayal of the toxic environment portrayed in Industry. 

One issue that can lead to toxic behaviors – especially in environments where these behaviors are encouraged – is enmeshment with your job. As Sally puts it,

I knew I was causing myself harm [on the way to burnout], but I was in too deep – my whole identity was derived from that work.

Job enmeshment is more common than you might think

Enmeshment is a term used by psychologists to describe certain interpersonal relationships but in recent times has been extrapolated to the relationship we have with work.



The antidote to enmeshment

As we evolve out of toxic workplace cultures, it’s important not to simply expect people to shield themselves against enmeshment. Senior leaders need to actively, structurally encourage people to focus on their lives beyond work, and ensure people have sufficient time and means to do so.

At Human Leaders we encourage leaders to start with the following 4 steps to ensure they’re not enmeshed – and can role model this to others around them.

Know Yourself

Explore your core values, aspirations and purpose, and understand how your innate personality traits inform your leadership style. By getting to know yourself at a deep level, you empower yourself to make decisions aligned with your authentic self (and not another person’s expectations, for example). 

Prioritize your Wellbeing

Focus on and take daily action to nourish your body, mind and soul through sleep, stress, nutrition, physical activity and spiritual practices. In doing so, you create a solid foundation of health that facilitates optimal decision making.

Make your identity multi-faceted

What matters to you outside of work? What are your hobbies and interests? Which community groups grab your attention? What would you like to study that has nothing to do with your work? Attend meetings, join clubs, sign up for courses and make these an important priority in life. 

Talk about it

Speak often and openly about the things you love to do that have nothing to do with work. This encourages and inspires others to pay attention to and nourish their own non-work lives. 

In conclusion, Senior leaders need to actively encourage employees to actively adopt these behaviors – and they need to lead by example.


By Alexis Zahner
Co-Director of Human Leaders, LinkedIn Top 20 Voices 2022, Thought(ful) Leader & Speaker
Lennox Head, NSW, Australia


It’s through experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly of Leadership, I found my purpose for being; to make business better for Human Beings.

It’s my core mission to empower Leaders to be capable of human-centric Leadership through cultivating their own self-Leadership, creating the capacity to be human-first and leader-second focused in the workplace. I’m the Co-Director of Human Leaders, a peer to peer learning platform for Leadership at levels that creates a safe space for Leadership learning and evolution.


See what we do at Human Leaders at:
www.wearehumanleaders.com or reach out at hello@wearehumanleaders.com


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