On Authenticity At Work
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Underneath our roles at work, we are all humans. So, why are we so afraid to show up as who we truly are?
An interesting discussion came up during the ‘Evening In’ literary supper club event for women that I run as one of my ‘food for the soul’ projects. Somebody brought up the subject of authenticity at work and it turned out that everybody at the table could relate to it. Common belief amongst my guests was that they couldn’t be themselves at work. Not only did they feel they needed to play a role to be accepted and to be able to succeed, they believed that if they behaved in a natural way, they would be judged, rejected and even possibly be at risk of losing their job.
The unanimous position of all the guests spiked my curiosity and I decided to delve deeper into the question of authenticity at work. Naturally, when we are hired for a job, we agree goals with the management, and are expected to accomplish them. At the same time, do we also non-verbally agree that we can’t stand out from the rest to survive the probation period and hopefully beyond this point? Could it be that it is our own limiting belief, that if we show who we are underneath the given role, we wouldn’t be liked or might even loose our job? Are we afraid that if we show up at work as we are with family and friends we would be perceived as too soft, too wild, or too alternative? I wonder, if it is our internal judge’s voice saying that our true self is not good enough or won’t fit in, or does the way we present ourselves at work depend on a company’s culture? Let’s explore.
Hypothesis 1: What if corporate culture embraced authenticity?
‘You don’t have to fear your own company being perceived as human. You want it. People don’t trust companies; they trust people.’
What if leadership presented themselves as fully human with feelings, doubts, humour, hobbies and personal quirks? Isn’t it true that imperfections add character? Wouldn’t it be liberating for the leadership to show their true personalities and inspire others by example to step out of their ‘corporate’ shells too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see leadership encouraging authenticity, welcoming differences and embracing individuality? Many forward-thinking companies are already doing this, and the results speak for themselves. Google, Sony Pictures, Apple, to name a few, instil a culture, where creativity is not only welcomed, but is expected. People are encouraged to speak up, try things out, create, and push limits of outdated and overdone norms. People are empowered and given space to grow and expand their capabilities.
Where authenticity is embraced and not shamed or shut down, people are not afraid to be themselves. They speak and laugh freely, and they likely look forward to go to work. Where there is authenticity, there is trust, and trust is the foundation of a healthy organisation. This can be the reality of any company, regardless of the industry.
Hypothesis 2: What if individuals showed up at work as their authentic selves?
‘One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.’
Dr. Clarissa Pincola Estés
According to Human Needs Psychology, there are two main universal fears that all humans have, regardless of their cultural or socio-economic background:
I am not enough
I won’t be loved / liked
In other words, it is a fear of rejection. Although, we might not think this way consciously, often our behaviour is driven by these two fears.
The best way to challenge the view that you won’t be liked if you show up at work as true you, is to collect evidence amongst your family and friends and ask what it is that they like about you. It could be verbal interviews or a simple questionnaire with 3-5 predetermined questions that would give participants time for reflection without having to answer on the spot. A short survey like this might help shine a light on your strengths and qualities that you might have been taking for granted or haven’t thought they are worth bringing to work. Here are some suggested questions:
Which of my qualities shall I never lose?
What is unique about me?
Which of my characteristics set a good example?
Often in our personal lives we are much more ‘colourful’ as individuals. Many of us have interesting hobbies, and we are often more fun when off guard too. There is no question, that we need to remain professional at all times and strive to perform our jobs to the highest standards. But what if whilst maintaining these standards, we bring our uniqueness and creativity to work? By doing so, we are going to be much more authentic at work. By being so, we are likely to become more passionate and creative, and enjoy what we do more. We are more likely to come up with original ideas and innovative solutions. There is also a high possibility, that your colleagues will feel they can trust you more and like you for who you are as your family and friends do. Imagine, if you start being yourself and inspire others to do the same. It might be scary at first, but it might end up being the best thing you do to truly open up and blossom into your highest potential.
Perhaps, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and both companies and individuals could consider a shift in mindset towards being more open to authenticity at work?