By Steven W. Pearce
Researching this topic really touched home. As an American Muslim, I have always tried to bring my whole, authentic self to work. But it has sometimes been difficult. My wearing a kufiya (headcover) has been problematic for some employers. I have been told I could not wear religious gear, but the same company allowed other employees to wear crucifixes. I never complained, but it was psychologically damaging.
I am not the only person who has felt this way. Writer Jodi-Ann Burey gave a speech on Ted Talks in which she expounds on the difficulties that she has faced as a Black woman in America. Burey herself has faced discrimination at work for wearing her hair in a natural afro. As a result, she says that coming to work as yourself is a myth, but shouldn’t be. She gives tips on how companies can allow for people to be themselves and the benefits by allowing employees to be themselves.
According to Better Up, bringing your whole self to work means embracing authenticity at work. That means acknowledging your personality, including the quirky bits, and bringing your interests, hopes, dreams, and even fears with you, even if they don’t seem relevant to your work. They state that you’re essentially bringing your whole self-anyhow, so you might as well embrace it. By doing so, they believe that it will allow you to be your best at work. Your experiences, challenges, and unique perspectives can indeed be relevant to your work.
Business owner Susan McPherson wrote about this phenomenon for Harvard Business Review titled: How Much of Your “Authentic Self” Should You Really Bring to Work? In her article she states that, “Showing up totally unfiltered and trusting everyone who crosses your path could go downhill quickly. On the other hand, if you keep things surface level and hide your true self, you might miss out on forming the type of relationships that can enrich your life and career.” She believes that there is no “work self” but just yourself. She goes on to say that you should treat everyone you come across as a human and not just a work contact.
She also says that being your authentic self at work takes practice. A good start for building relationships is by being a good listener. This takes time and intent, but it is necessary in order to build a connection with people at your work. It is not necessary to connect with everyone, but with the right people.
Mike Robbins wrote an article for UC Berkeley titled: How to Bring Your Whole Self to Work. In it he says that in order to be at their best, employees should be encouraged and supported to bring their whole selves to work. By not doing so, an employee is stifling themselves. We ultimately bring ourselves to work anyway. He gives five specific things that employees can do to be more effective, successful, and engaged at work, while encouraging others to follow their lead:
- Be authentic: “The foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability.”
- Utilize the power of appreciation: “Showing appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships, keeping negative things in perspective, and empowering teams… appreciation is about people’s inherent value or who they are.”
- Focus on emotional intelligence: “Your emotional intelligence (EQ) is both about you (having self-awareness and being able to manage your emotions) and about how you relate to others (being socially aware and managing relationships).”
- Embrace a growth mindset: “Having a growth mindset means approaching your work and your life with an understanding that you can improve at anything if you’re willing to work hard, dedicate yourself, and practice.”
- Create a championship team: “Creating a championship team is about building a culture that is conducive to people being themselves, caring about one another, and being willing and able to do great work together.”
Robbins quotes research done by Google in which they found that the most significant element of team success is what’s known as psychological safety: a culture of trust where people feel safe to speak up, take risks, and know that they won’t be ridiculed for making mistakes or dissenting. When people in leadership positions accept these actions of speaking up, taking risks, and celebrating, it allows the team and the environment to be as psychologically safe as possible.
Since you are bringing yourself to work anyway, it might as well be your authentic self. Have no fear of your differences and understand that your experiences and uniqueness are a benefit. Be confident in your ability to be successful by staying true to who you are and your values.