There used to be two versions of me. A work version and a non-work version. The work version was very task focused, giving away little of myself. The non-work version was….well, me.
Earlier in my career, I believed that it was necessary to adopt a professional personae, a public guise which didn’t give away much about me, about my hobbies and interests, my family, my friends. It was my understanding that this would make me more effective, more successful and more capable of delivering my goals.
I am not quite sure why. Perhaps this was a generational thing, my career starting at a time where some companies still addressed their leaders as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs.’ Perhaps it was a gender thing, believing – erroneously – that as a woman, I had to prove myself that little bit more to get on.
Whatever it was, it was wrong. As a colleague pointed out one day. ‘It’s really great now you’re just being yourself.’ And I realised that he was right. That when I was being myself, sharing my views, thoughts, and ideas, giving of myself freely, sharing information about my family, my friends, my life, I was more relaxed. I was comfortable. I wasn’t afraid of showing vulnerabilities, or lack of confidence, as this didn’t detract from my ability. In fact, it probably made me a better employee as I could be truthful about my strengths and weaknesses and be more effective in doing so.
What allowed me to be myself at work were two key things – organisational culture and leadership. To allow people to be themselves, the culture needs to be supportive, with empowering dialogue and a non-judgemental working environment where feedback is positively encouraged. The culture also needs to be built around clear standards of what is and isn’t acceptable – these can often be intrinsically aligned with organisational values or vision or mission and through policies and procedures.
And, the leadership. Leaders need to role model a way of being within the organisation, being open, honest, giving of themselves, sharing their ideas, their dreams, and revealing that they too have vulnerabilities. They also need to be robust in how they demonstrate what will and won’t be tolerated, setting the tone for the whole organisation.
Inclusivity is vital and companies must also have commitments, activities, training, and communications which support this, especially around the protected characteristics
Creating an organisation where people are empowered to be themselves has a vital link to wellbeing – we are happier when we are able to be ourselves, and indeed, more productive. And, it also supports continuous improvement as staff feel able to share their ideas, whatever they may be. This can be quite profound, as long, of course, it is followed up, where necessary, by action. It also engenders a sense of belonging which supports retention and recruitment. And it creates a more open dialogue between manager and employee.
It’s not always easy but ultimately creating a workplace where people can be themselves is better for everyone.