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  • audreybevan

Bringing your whole self to work

I don’t believe in bringing your whole self to work.

1) We have personality traits that are just not tolerated in the workplace

As a child, I was forgetful. I was the type of student who misplaced the assignment and the notes from the class. I can only imagine how my friends felt when I repeatedly lost our joint assignments… Frustration is most likely an understatement!

Since then I have learnt to get organised in my professional life, but my private life is still work in progress.

Friends and family are willing to accept our flaws. Employers and colleagues expect productivity and a job to be done well. This is why there is less tolerance for personality traits which do not support a high performance.

2) Not everyone wants to and can bring their whole selves to work

When things are getting hard at home, work can feel like a peace haven where you can forget what is happening in the rest of your life for a moment. Letting the employee decide what to share in the workplace also shows support to their wellbeing. Take a person who is caring for a sick parent/ partner/ child, they might tell their manager but in my experience most people then want to get to work and think about something else for a while.

In addition, an employee would only share with their manager and colleagues the meaningful things going on in their life, if the following is met:

- They trust the individuals won’t think any less of them

- They get emotional support from their colleagues

- They won’t be penalised for it

Not every team and manager is capable of meeting these three criteria, which means employees cannot be expected to be open about their private lives. A great example of this is the frequency of women who hide their pregnancies for as long as possible to ensure they don’t miss out on opportunities.

3) It takes confidence to show people the entirety of who we are

Being your whole self comes with accepting that you may be different to others. Accepting that and embracing it to the point of bringing your whole self to work can only come with great confidence. Confidence is impacted by the following factors:

- Seniority – A junior staff is unlikely to want to change the status quo that was set up by more senior staff. First of all they may not know what a professional environment is supposed to be like, but mainly they want to make a good impression and grow their career.

- Diversity – If the majority of your staff have the same cultural background, speak the same language, have had the same/ similar education and have similar personality traits it is very hard for someone to behave differently.

- Tolerance – If a manager/ organisation uses points of difference to penalise an employee, the behaviour they are teaching their employees is to conform. On the other hand, if managers encourage dissident opinions and show curiosity towards a variety of backgrounds, it shows employees that their manager values their difference.

- Experience – Most employees have learnt through school, their friends, their families and previous work experience what is appropriate to do and say. Unlearning some of these behaviours to tolerate others’ whole selves (rather than the polished version that is expected) and be comfortable with taking down these filters themselves is a tall order.

So before you declare that you want people to bring their whole selves to work, have a really good think about what you really mean. Here are a few suggestions:

- If you mean ‘it’s ok to not be at the top of your game all day every day’ then talk about wellbeing and what you do to support a healthy work environment.

- If you mean ‘ we value your opinion even if it is different to ours’ then just say that.

- If you mean ‘we want diversity because we genuinely believe that it will make us better’ then talk about your DEI strategy.

The key here is to say what you mean rather than use an all-encompassing term which is prone to misunderstandings and turns people off. The more authentic you are in what you say and how you behave, the more employees will replicate that. Afterall isn’t authenticity at the core of what you meant when you said to bring your whole self to work? s


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