In case you missed my interview with friend and fellow coach, Greg Storch last week on his show “The Weekly Roar”, we discussed the importance of being your authentic self at work.
Many of us have a work persona. Maybe you really feel most comfortable wearing t-shirts and flip flops, but your workplace forces you to wear suits every day. This concept of authenticity also applies to being of a different race, gender or orientation. Perhaps, you’re an African American female and you don’t feel comfortable wearing your natural hair to work because it doesn’t seem as acceptable. An interesting study by Deloitte found that more than half of us cover up some part of our identity at work to try to fit in, with underrepresented groups like the LGBT community, African-Americans, women and Hispanics feeling the most pressure to “cover” aspects of themselves.
We’ve all heard that maxim, “keep work and personal life separate”. But why? Does it make sense to keep the two worlds totally separate when the average person spends almost 90,000 hours of their lifetime at work?
It was Carl Jung that described how certain “masks” we put on in various situations (such as the side of yourself you present at work, or to family) are called personas. The persona allows us to interact socially in a variety of situations more easily. It can be beneficial in terms of allowing us to adapt but is it healthy to wear that persona at work all the time?
Mike Robbins, author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, describes the costs as being lack of engagement, lack of productivity, and diminished well-being. Employees can’t operate at an optimal level when they are constantly worried about fitting in and saying the right thing. So, what are the barriers preventing people from being their authentic self? It starts with fear—fear of judgment, fear of making mistakes, and fear of losing our jobs and financial security.
Sometimes when we try to appear to have it “all together” it backfires. Dr. Patricia Thompson, corporate psychologist and the President of Silver Lining Psychology, talks about her experience in the Corporate world as an African American woman, “Although I was seen as smart, capable, and competent, I was also seen as hard to get close to and difficult to read. As a result, by not being authentic, I was actually making myself more likely to be perceived as a member of an outgroup, due to the invisible boundaries I had erected.”
It’s up to employers to become aware of this and try to create environments that are more focused on authenticity and humanity. But what can you do as an employee? Should you be your authentic self at work? The short answer is yes. Take it from me, it’s EXHAUSTING not to be able to be your true self 100% of the time. That’s not to say that you need to reveal all of your deepest darkest secrets to everyone from the CEO to the janitor, but if you start opening up to your co-workers, that will encourage THEM to open up and will change the company dynamic entirely. Mike Robbins calls it the “authenticity equation”:
Honesty – Self-Righteousness + Vulnerability = Authenticity
How to be your authentic self at work
It might feel scary at first to open up at work, but I suggest you just start by taking small steps:
- Be willing to be vulnerable: Share more of your feelings and personal side at work. You might be surprised at how receptive your co-workers will be.
- Have difficult conversations: Don’t be afraid to have those difficult conversations with your manager. Maybe you need to start leaving earlier to pick up your child from daycare, or you need more flexible hours to care for an elderly parent—once you start engaging in these types of conversations, you’ll open the door for others to respond in a supportive manner.
- Ask for second opinions: Truly authentic leaders don’t assume they have all the answers but instead ask for input from others, so they have clarity on all potential outcomes of a particular decision.
- Seek and/or become a mentor: seeking or being a mentor can help you and others navigate the corporate waters so that you can enable each person to bring his or her whole self to work.
- Start an authenticity journal: Keep track of times when you feel like you can’t be authentic and see if you see any patterns emerge. You might realize that you are being overly cautious or that your organization really isn’t that inclusive.
If you do find that your values do not align with your company, it may be a sign that it’s time for you to find another environment where you will feel more comfortable.
So, next time you feel like checking your authentic self at the door, instead wear it proudly and see what happens. You might be surprised at how empowered and liberated you will feel.
What small step will you take this week to be your authentic self at work?