Article: Can we really be our authentic selves at work?

Life @ Work

Can we really be our authentic selves at work?

Will you sacrifice authenticity for professional decorum, or risk overstepping in pursuit of being your true self at work?
Can we really be our authentic selves at work?

A meme currently circulating on social networks captures a humorous exchange about job interviews:

Them: Job interview tip? Be yourself!

Me: Be myself?? No! No! I really want to get that job.

Although this is clearly meant in jest, it touches upon an undeniable truth. Authenticity is indeed valued, yet in a professional setting, one must carefully balance personal genuineness with the appropriate tone of being, interacting, and communicating. It's crucial to understand what the reasonable limits are.

Suppose you're fortunate enough to join a company that aligns with your values and fosters a healthy work environment. Does this mean it's wise to be completely spontaneous, acting on and voicing every initial thought and feeling? Clearly, the answer is no.

Authenticity – an antidote to burnout?

Authenticity at work enhances trust, promotes open communication, and fosters a sense of belonging among team members. When employees are comfortable in their own skin, they are more likely to collaborate effectively, share innovative ideas, and contribute significantly to the organisation's objectives. However, the workplace is also a structured setting with its own norms, expectations, and professional standards.

A Gallup survey found that employees who can be themselves at work are 42% less likely to suffer from burnout. Moreover, a study featured in the Harvard Business Review highlighted that teams led by authentic leaders report higher levels of trust and respect, which correlate with increased engagement and productivity.

But maintaining authenticity in the workplace doesn’t mean eschewing professionalism in favour of personal expression, nor does it involve suppressing one's identity to fit a corporate mould. Achieving the right balance between professional decorum – though the term might sound overly solemn – and personal authenticity can be quite challenging.

Employees often strive to bring their whole selves to work, expressing their unique personalities and viewpoints. Yet, mastering this balance demands finesse, self-awareness, and a keen understanding of professional expectations.

The dangers of excessive self-expression in professional settings

It's crucial to be aware of the pitfalls of excessive authenticity in a professional context. Dr. Sarah Jones, a workplace psychologist, cautions against the dangers of oversharing or engaging in inappropriate behaviours under the pretence of being authentic. "While it’s critical for individuals to bring their genuine selves to work, it’s equally important to recognise the boundaries of professional conduct," she stresses.

Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker, supports this view: "Authenticity is not about being unfiltered or unedited; it's about being true to your values and beliefs while adapting your behaviour to meet the needs of the situation. It's about finding the balance between staying true to yourself and showing respect for those around you."

Thus, the challenge lies in navigating between suppressing one's true self to conform to corporate or societal expectations and overstepping boundaries with behaviour that might be deemed inappropriate for the workplace.

6 tips for achieving the right balance

1. Dedicate time to reflect on your values, strengths, and communication style. Understand how you can authentically express these facets of your identity at work, whilst ensuring they align with professional expectations.

2. Pay close attention to the culture and norms of your workplace. Watch how your colleagues handle professional scenarios and tailor your behaviour accordingly. This adaptation allows you to maintain your authenticity whilst respecting workplace boundaries.

3. Cultivate clear and respectful communication skills. Freely express your thoughts and ideas, taking care to consider the impact your words may have on others. Active listening is equally crucial, as it promotes understanding and collaboration.

4. Develop strong connections with both colleagues and supervisors. Establishing rapport and trust facilitates open communication and creates a supportive environment where authenticity is both valued and respected.

5. Actively seek feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors. Constructive criticism offers crucial insights into how your authenticity is perceived within the workplace and highlights areas where adjustments might be needed.

6. Commit to ongoing learning and professional growth. Enhancing your skills and expanding your knowledge base not only boosts your confidence but also strengthens your credibility and authenticity in the eyes of your colleagues and superiors.

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Topics: Life @ Work, Culture

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