Last summer, a somewhat shocking article appeared on Huffington Post. A woman detailed how she managed to go through pregnancy, childbirth, and babyhood without ever letting her employer know. She hid the existence of her child for over six months. There were a variety of reactions to the article. Many people found it completely understandable, given the discrimination many mothers face at work. Many were simply surprised that someone could keep that big a secret even in a remote environment. A very few people wondered if the decision had been unfair to both the mother and her company. This was an extreme example of not bringing your whole self to work.
What does “bring your whole self to work” mean?
The term “whole self to work” was popularized by Mike Robbins, who gave a TED talk on it in 2015 and published a book in 2018. The concept is simple. There shouldn’t be a “work you” and a “home you,” you should be comfortable being your authentic self at work.
The tension around whether being your whole self at work is possible is having a cultural moment. In the Apple+ show “Severance,” workers undergo a procedure that completely separates their “work memories” from the rest of their lives. It’s science fiction, but many workers don’t feel the show is that far off from how they live their lives.
The benefits of bringing your whole self to work
Bringing your whole self to work has benefits for employers and employees. Organizations that create a culture that allows people to bring their whole selves to work produce better outcomes. People who are comfortable being vulnerable and open with one another collaborate better, leading to more innovative work. Employees who are not constantly working to hide something about themselves (like a child) have more mental energy to focus on their job. They can take more pleasure in their work.
How to foster an open environment
For employees to feel comfortable being their authentic selves at work, the work environment has to have psychological safety.
As a leader, you may need to practice showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that you and your employees are all vulnerable human beings doing the best they can.
There are many ways to build an open and welcoming culture. Creating space for open and honest communication, encouraging empathy and respectful conversations, empowering employees to make decisions, and celebrating company milestones and personal milestones can all lead to environments where people feel like they can be their complete selves. But much of the work in building a welcoming environment starts with the recruiting process.
It’s important to remember that people have different motivations for their work. Many people simply want to go to work and go home, and some jobs are perfect for that. People also have different comfort levels with being open and vulnerable. No matter how important an open environment is, everyone still retains the right to privacy. Having a genuinely safe environment isn’t about forcing people to share. It’s about allowing people to share to their comfort level.
It takes time
Whether it is their gender identity, their sexuality, their religion, their political beliefs, or even their reaction to a joke, many employees have spent years hiding part of who they are in a work environment. It takes time to create an environment where everyone is comfortable being their whole self. As Mother’s Day approaches, let’s all commit to making sure our work environments are places where everyone is comfortable bringing their whole self. At Brighter Strategies, we have a number of resources to help you do this. Let us know how we can help.