How you present yourself at work goes well beyond your managerial style, how you dress, or what your PowerPoint presentations look like. Sure, you have certain aspects of your personality that you may amplify in the office to get ahead while playing down others, but did you know that hiding your true self could damage your professional life – whether it's because you feel pressure to perform in a certain way or because your office environment encourages a more restricted form of professional interaction. But it could pay tremendous professional dividends to bring your whole self to the office more frequently.
We spend a third of our lives working with other people in a business environment in one form or another. As the business environment shifts, and remote work becomes increasingly accepted and common thanks to the current pandemic, separating your personal self and your business self can become more difficult to do. There's simply less definition between the two. That can be a good thing, though. Here's why.
Your personal self is less sterile
If you've ever worked with someone who is "all business, all the time," you know how one-dimensional they can appear. Human beings have many aspects to their personalities, their loves and hates, and their personal preferences. Our personalities and preferences create touchpoints of relatability that make us human, approachable, and less rigid. These touchpoints help us all feel like we belong. They also help us seem less cardboard and more approachable. While it's been proven that "nice guys finish last," that doesn’t mean you have to restrict your personality to a point where you have none.
Your business self is less free to be creative
Limiting yourself to only one professional version of your personality also limits your ability to tap into your personal creativity. Often when employees feel constrained by a restrictive environment, they are less likely to speak up and take risks because they worry about being seen as unprofessional. Studies have shown that creativity thrives in an environment where people can freely exchange ideas in a space that is supportive, open, and free (or at least significantly limited) from criticism. If you don't allow your full self to show up at the office, you're likely limiting your ability to solve problems and excel creatively at your job.
Bringing your whole self to the office gives you the opportunity to excel
One of the critical factors for success in today’s business environment is the opportunity to work on projects that stoke your personal drive and light your own fire. It has been proven that when people are personally interested in a project, they tend to invest more time, effort, creativity, and innovation into it, which spells success for both the business and the employees. The challenge for managers is to match employees with the right projects that play to both their expertise and their interests, which can, in turn, make the outcomes much more beneficial for all involved.
Bring your whole self to work and increase your productivity
Some people like to work together on projects, while others prefer to have total autonomy and work alone. It all comes down to our personalities. Forcing someone who hates group work into a group can hinder creativity and productivity, which can disenfranchise employees and create blocks to business goals.
Having the freedom to work at your own pace on projects that stoke your interests while achieving the broader corporate goals is one way to ensure that you will be successful at your job. Bringing your whole self to the office, including your preferences for how you like to work (which are primarily determined by personality), can make you even more productive. As this story at Harvard Business Review notes:
"Autonomy around process fosters creativity because giving people freedom in how they approach their work heightens their intrinsic motivation and sense of ownership. Freedom about the process also allows people to approach problems in ways that make the most of their expertise and their creative-thinking skills. The task may end up being a stretch for them, but they can use their strengths to meet the challenge."
The study notes that to support employees in bringing their whole selves to work, managers should grant autonomy and not just pay it lip service. That means that as a people manager, you should not just say you believe in the idea of autonomy but actually do things to demonstrate that autonomy is encouraged by being honest about the outcomes and processes you expect employees to use to reach specific business goals.
Being able to openly discuss our differences creates a supportive work environment
I have written extensively about why diversity of voices, backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and other factors matters tremendously in today's modern workplaces. Bringing a variety of people to the table to work on any project almost always makes the outcome much better, but it also offers the opportunity to discuss our differences and embrace our uniqueness at the office. By providing a space that fosters support for diverse voices, you increase the chance for better work to take place and raise the entire workforce up.
Happiness is bringing your whole self to work
If there's any question about how bringing your whole self to work impacts work satisfaction and happiness, there shouldn’t be. A 2019 metastudy published in the Journal of Business and Psychology explains why. Researchers from all over the country took a look at 65 workplace studies where respondents said they were open about their personalities and personal lives at work. The study showed that those who show up as their full and authentic selves report being happier and more productive at work. Because these employees are open about mental health, sexual orientation, and other personal aspects of their lives, they feel like they belong and are more likely to go the extra mile for other employees as well as the company as a whole.
The researchers chalked the results up to the fact that people tend to feel more connected and like they belong when they can bring their whole selves to the office. As the head researcher said, "That powerful feeling of belonging is really only accessible to people who feel like they can be their authentic selves."
How to merge your corporate and personal selves for greater business success
While most of the research out there supports the idea that bringing your whole self to the office is one of the best ways to ensure success, there are a few things to note when deciding to merge your corporate and personal selves in an office setting.
First and foremost, it's best to find work with a company that aligns with your personal values, goals, and ambitions. When your cause and purpose align with that of the company you work for, you are more likely to be surrounded by other people who also share your vision. This builds on the aspect of belonging that we all need to feel safe sharing our authentic selves.
Second, researchers suggest that you should choose carefully whom you want to share certain personal aspects of your life with at the office. Opening yourself to a coworker or boss can feel intimidating and daunting, especially if you aren't sure how you’ll be judged or how your news will be taken. It can also be fraught since there’s no guarantee that the response you get from your coworker or boss will be positive. The best way to ensure that your news is taken well is to consider timing, location, and your audience's previous behavior patterns before sharing widely.
Third, consider what you will share. You want to share your truth without oversharing or jeopardizing your career. While it is vital to bring your whole self to the office, you might not want to discuss certain things with coworkers. Keep in mind that some topics are off the table in an office setting since they could get you in hot water with HR. It pays to be familiar with the corporate parameters of conduct and choose what you share accordingly.
Finally, it's important to rest in the power of being authentically yourself. Know that there is nothing wrong with wanting to share who you truly are with people you spend a lot of time with and that by sharing your story, perspectives, passions, and personal life, you will begin to build a relationship that could last well into the future and benefit you both personally and professionally. While there is an inherent risk in sharing your truth, there is power in being who you are and bringing your complete self to the office. We all want to feel a sense of belonging, and bringing your whole self to the office can help you create just that.