Professional network identification: Searching for stability in transient knowledge work

Robert C. Litchfield, Giles Hirst, Daan Van Knippenberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Precarious employment arrangements are increasingly common for knowledge workers, which challenges the construction of traditional work identifications. As transient work crosses both organizational and professional boundaries, individuals may seek stability in their self-definitions by identifying with core, repeated elements of the temporary relationships that they form again and again in their work lives-a notion we capture in proposing the concept of "professional network identification" (PNI). Developing the concept of PNI, we describe how it establishes coherence in self-conception in an environment of weakening traditional identifications. Relative to traditional forms of work identification, PNI leads individuals to engage with and disengage from relationships more swiftly, to prefer transient over more stable work relationships, and to be less constrained by the norms, values, and interests of a specific organization, profession, or relationship at work. This benefits individuals and organizations by facilitating productive outcomes in transient knowledge work, including proactive behavior and creativity. Because it reflects a fundamental untethering of individuals and organizations, PNI may also motivate individual behaviors that may be difficult for employers to anticipate or understand, particularly where it concerns the management of knowledge resources.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)320-340
    Number of pages21
    JournalAcademy of Management Review
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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