Bring Your Whole Self to Work: Cliche or Call to Action?
‘Bring your whole self to work’ is an invitation that many companies in corporate America extend to their employees. Every company is traveling a unique D&I journey, but common among all experiences is the belief that embracing this cultural ideal is a competitive advantage to becoming (or remaining) a top employer and industry leader. Leaders are embracing the promise that a sincere commitment to D&I can bring to creating a workplace where you are valued for who you are and the talent you bring to our business.
Why is this important?
The foundation of inclusion is authenticity. Research shows that employees invest extra energy covering aspects of themselves and their lives out of fear: fear of being judged, fear of being excluded, fear of not being heard, fear of not being valued, and even in some cases, fear of losing their jobs. Since Americans spend more time working than any other activity, it’s important that the energy we invest into our work is positive, edifying, and sets you and your teammates up for success. One thing I know for sure – fear has never produced positive results for me or my team.
The traditional workplace culture sends subtle messages about what’s accepted, respected, and valued. These messages come through loud and clear, especially to those who fall outside of the normative standard. Unfortunately, these cultural micro-messages usually reflect personal preference, not requirements outlined by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values.
When we cover based on the preferences of others (usually communicated by people of influence and in power), we generally guard themselves against authentic human relationships that form at work, thereby keeping us at arm’s length from integrating our work lives in a way that’s meaningful, fun, and fulfilling.
People cover (or underemphasize) their family arrangements, veteran status, disabilities, pregnancy status, socioeconomic backgrounds, faith, relationships, ages, and political affiliations. They augment their hair, religious dress, accents, mannerisms, and many more aspects that make us who we are. And when we diminish these parts of ourselves, we diminish our whole selves.
‘Bring your whole self to work’ is not a license to overshare and disclose intimate details of our lives around every watercooler in the office. It’s also not an invitation to wear your tie-die shirt while meeting our customers, crochet during a meeting, or otherwise let your freak flag fly. Within our workplace, we have freedom within a framework, and that framework is important. It outlines the expectations and norms we will maintain in order to properly function as a business. It is shaped by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values – the requirements of being part of any great team.
It’s the freedom within the framework where the invitation to be our whole selves is extended. We are made up of a multi-dimensional mix of passions, purposes, and pursuits. When we check these aspects of ourselves at the door, there can be real costs:*
- Cost of Energy
- The energy we spend trying to cover up our uniqueness is energy that we no longer have for our work, our family, our friends, or our communities. We have less to contribute.
- Cost of Ability
- The very aspect of your identity that you’re covering just might be your secret weapon for success and greater contribution, or it might be the key that unlocks potential in a coworker.
- Cost of Burnout
- Lying by omission about who you are can contribute to anxiety and a sense that your life is dis-integrated, that work is something separate from your “real” life.
The result of ‘Bring your whole self to work’ ultimately will vary from person to person based on a variety of factors: trust; relationship with leaders and coworkers; tenure with the company; age; and ultimately, the desire to accept the invitation. However, if you’re open to accepting this invitation, here are some ways in which you can bring your whole, best self to work and create an environment where others can do the same:
- Take time to self-reflect and consider what aspects of your life and your self are fundamental to who you are. If these elements of your personality, life, or character are intentionally hidden at work, consider probing more as to why.
- Build trust with your team by consistently responding to challenges and conflict with courage and transparency. Trust is built through positive interactions over time.
- Practice constructive curiosity with others. Setting an example of your openness to others’ areas of difference signals to others that it’s safe for them to be authentic in relating with you, within the respectful and appropriate boundaries of a working relationship.
- Understand the difference between support and agreement. We do not have to agree with one another 100% of the time in order to fully support one another. We tend to like and affirm people with whom we agree, and conversely, distance ourselves from people with whom we disagree.
As you contemplate the invitation to ‘Bring your whole self to work’, I will leave you with powerful insight from the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux:
“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”
*Credit: www.eryceyl.com with list of costs associated with covering.