Bring the real you to work

Bring the real you to work

Authenticity at work

Suppressing feelings at work could exact physical and psychological costs, both on the individual and the organisation. Istock image

For Zoom meetings, most of your colleagues dress down. You, however, are more formally turned out, a dab of lipstick and mascara included. Should you tone down your make-up and appear more casual so that you look more like your colleagues?

At work, your entire team is cricket-crazy. So, when the IPL season arrives, you dread lunchtime conversations that literally replay the previous night’s match. You force yourself to watch a few overs every night, so that you at least know which teams were playing when your colleagues dissect the match.

Instead of trying to chime in with small nuggets you picked up while skimming the sports news, should you let your peers know that you aren’t a cricket buff?

In an interview in The Harvard Gazette, Business School Professor Francesca Gino argues that just as we celebrate diversity at the workplace, we also need to embrace authenticity so that people can bring their “full self forward.”

Being authentic at the workplace involves expressing your identity, the real you, without necessarily leaving a part of yourself at the door just so that you “fit in” with your colleagues. When authenticity is prized, employees are emboldened to express their individual opinions even when their views go against the tide.  

Advantages of authenticity 

Through her research, Gino finds that authenticity confers many advantages to both individuals and organisations. One study concludes that being authentic during job interviews makes people more likely to land jobs. In another study, when entrepreneurs project their real selves, they are more likely to land venture capital funding. Gino also observes that when people practice authenticity at work, they are more engaged, less likely to quit and forge more meaningful bonds with their colleagues.

In her book Rebel Talent, Gino argues that being authentic also entails revealing your vulnerabilities. Instead of putting on a façade of perfection, she finds that when people in positions of power expose their flaws, other people relate to them more easily.

In a study, Gino finds that when firefighters are given case studies of more accomplished firefighters who committed mistakes on the job, the novices do better on a post-training test. Likewise, surgeons learn more from each other’s errors as opposed to their untarnished accomplishments.  

Be respectful

While Gino advocates being more authentic at work, she cautions against misinterpreting the term. By no means is she suggesting that you do whatever you want, like showing up for work in your pajamas. Neither does it imply that you simply say whatever is on top of your mind without thinking through the consequences of your words or actions. Further, being authentic doesn’t entail believing that your ideas are superior to others. Being respectful of others and following rules of decorum don’t make you inauthentic.  

But if you are suppressing a part of yourself that is a fairly significant feature of your identity just to be like everyone else, then it could exact physical and psychological costs, both on the individual and the organisation.

Insomnia, headaches, chest pain, anxiety and distress are linked with being inauthentic.

Further, Gino notes that when we interact with someone who is suppressing their feelings most of the time, we experience a spike in blood pressure, which possibly signals our unease. Gino cites the result of a health survey conducted at an Australian hospital.

Interact authentically

When nurses and doctors were allowed to express their true feelings to each other during private interactions, away from patients’ or the public gaze, the members of the medical team were able to deal with slights from patients more ably. Being able to interact authentically with their colleagues allowed them to recoup from the emotional stresses of their job.  

So, what can you do to bring a more authentic self to work?

First, carve time out to reflect on your values, goals and priorities. Instead of giving into stereotypes and limiting yourself by norms and strictures, whether set by others or yourself, develop the courage to express facets of yourself that don’t necessarily conform to societal expectations.

Rather than trying to hide your weaknesses, don’t feel inhibited to display your strengths. In fact, see if you can craft your role at work so that your talents, skills and expertise shine through. According to Gino, when companies highlight and capitalise on the individual strengths of their employees, their personnel are less obsessed with what others think of them and are more likely to work towards realising their best selves.

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