12 November 2021

How and why you should bring your whole self to work

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the term ‘bringing your whole self to work’ before, as it gets thrown around quite a lot. So, what is it, and should we do it? According to Mike Robbins, the author of Bringing your whole self to work, ‘the foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability’.

The author goes on to say that it’s about showing up to your workplace with more of your humanity and feeling free to choose what you reveal about yourself.

Making adjustments
Bringing your whole self to work can be a daunting prospect for some people. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that certain behaviour and parts of our personal lives are not appropriate for work, so changing can be hard. What might be welcome news is that bringing your whole self to work isn’t about saying whatever is on your mind including offensive and unhelpful comments and behaviour, but instead about bringing your whole lived experience to every situation. This includes empathy, inclusion and sharing personal experiences when they can be helpful to a situation or someone else.

It’s no secret that many people can be scared of voicing their opinions in group settings, and this has a tendency to lead to a company or meetings full of “yes men”, which isn’t helpful for developing ideas. More and more companies are made up of diverse workforces, so employees sharing their experiences and speaking up can help improve a concept or perhaps prevent pushing out communications or product names that may be offensive to a subset of people.

Judgement-free environment
If a company wants to foster an environment where employees are encouraged to be their authentic selves, they need to feel safe to do so. If workers feel they might face judgement or repercussions, they won’t speak up, which can lead to less ideation, collaboration and even a myriad of cultural problems in the workplace.

It takes everyone
Encouraging people to be themselves has to be more than just words in a manifesto and it must start at the top. The former CEO of one of Australia’s big 4 banks used to send regular emails to all staff where she’d talk about her family life as well as business-related updates. This helped to create an environment where employees felt they could talk to their superiors about personal topics when the CEO of the company was divulging hers.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable
Another example of being your authentic self is showcasing vulnerability, where appropriate. Admitting you got something wrong and apologising can be powerful admissions. It shows that you’re human and that you have faults. Making mistakes, provided you learn from them is a very important part of growth. It allows trial and error and fosters an environment for new ideas to flourish.

Saying ‘I don’t know’ can also be powerful. We’re programmed to think we can’t admit we don’t know something in a professional setting, often bumbling together an answer we think the questioner wants to hear. Admitting you don’t know shows you can admit to not knowing everything and it might lead to someone else who does know speaking up in a meeting. You might then learn from that person and the business can benefit.

Pick your people
You may have close friends at work who you know very well, and sharing intimate details about your life may be a regular occurrence. However, expressing a personal opinion or story in a meeting or in a setting where not everyone knows you well normally won’t be appropriate. Where, how and with whom you share personal information comes down to judgement. Robbins says that it involves using basic emotional intelligence, ‘which is relatively easy to understand, but again, more challenging to practice. You’ve got to read the room.’

Removing the divide
Some people like to have a buffer between their personal and work lives. It has been rather normal to have a persona at work and one at home. However, this can be extremely exhausting. While there are times leaving personal drama at the door is prudent, being transparent to a boss or colleagues when your personal life is taking a mental, physical or emotional toll on you can be beneficial.

If you’ve lost a friend, having family issues or going through a breakup, for example, letting your boss or those at work know may help them treat you in an empathetic way and perhaps provide some additional support or flexibility.

BetterUp’s ‘Bringing your whole self to work – should you?’ blog suggests you shouldn’t be changing your personality for work, and that if you’re enthusiastic and outgoing at home, that’s the way you should be at work around your colleagues too. According to the blog, ‘maintaining two separate selves is exhausting, even more so if we have to actively hide parts of ourselves. If we separate our emotions and attitudes from work tasks, we risk becoming detached on the job.’

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