You’ll spend 80,000 hours at work.
Being able to act yourself is, therefore, pretty darn important. It’s exhausting if you feel the need to wear a mask.
How can you ensure you act yourself? And – as a positive force at work – how can you help others to do the same?
Let’s first define what ‘bringing your full self to work’ means. It’s never feeling like you need to hide parts of your true self.
It’s about cultural acceptance.
Culture is pervasive, influencing all it touches. If you don’t gel with the culture, you’ll experience friction in many areas. Work just won’t feel right.
But assimilation isn’t the answer. You don’t need to mirror the culture or be a carbon copy of everyone else. You just need to feel accepted for who you are.
You’ll bring your full self to work if you feel like you enhance the culture and that people think it’s that little bit better because you’re there.
It’s about having confidence in your own strengths and weaknesses.
Do you feel the need to play down your weaknesses and play up your strengths?
This happens when you feel unsafe at work. It’s difficult, not to mention stressful, to present this false picture over time.
But when you feel safe to express yourself, you’re driven by confidence and acceptance rather than fear and shame.
And that encourages you to be honest about what you can and can’t do. This is good for the organisation, good for your career and good for your wellbeing.
It’s about respecting yourself (and others)
Work is about unique human beings coming together, all bringing their inherent imperfections along for the ride.
When we reduce ourselves – or others – to cogs in machines, we forget that everyone is unique and imperfect and we start to expect non-human outcomes from people.
But when we respect both uniqueness and imperfections, we remember that work is a collection of individuals trying to create something bigger than themselves.
And that encourages us to stay loyal to our uniqueness and imperfections. And to respect everyone else for their own.
It’s about working in patterns that suit your physiology, lifestyle and preferences.
Some people are morning people, some aren’t. Some need a longer lunch break to recuperate. Others hate getting out of the ‘flow’ of work and love working through lunch.
Bringing your full self to work is about feeling empowered to work a pattern that suits both your natural tendencies and your lifestyle.
These may change over time.
If you become a parent, for example, you need to feel able to shift your working patterns temporarily to be able to better cope with this massive change in your life.
Four steps you can take to bring your full self to work – and help others do the same
Seek feedback and do good work, because high performance unlocks the confidence to act yourself.
When you know in your heart you’re doing a good job, you feel able to be yourself.
When things are going wrong, you tend to retreat inside yourself because you’re looking for a safe psychological space. You may even begin to think that people are judging you or don’t like you.
Make doing good work a priority. Get clarity over your goals. Work hard at meeting them. Seek feedback so you can improve in every sphere of your working life.
And help others do the same. Offer constructive feedback, delegate to challenge people and don’t skimp on skills development.
Seek to understand people’s strengths so you can align appropriate work for them.
Build good relationships with those around you, because understanding and acceptance is built on connection and open conversation.
Unfortunately, silence can breed uncertainty and distrust. It shouldn’t, but it can, which makes ongoing connection so important.
The more your manager sees you delivering results and the more they understand what makes you tick, the more they are likely to accept your way of doing things.
Build better relationships with colleagues too. It’s easier for them to accept your working patterns if they understand why you need to come in late and leave late.
And, on the flipside, they will themselves feel more able to be themselves at work if you’re building an open dialogue with them.
The more you present a human front at work, the more others will ultimately feel able to do the same.
Always respect other people and their way of working – even if it doesn’t look like what you consider to be ‘ideal’.
As you respect yourself and your unique needs in terms of working patterns, make sure you take a positive approach to others.
Empower them to be the best they can be, rather than to be a version of themselves that pleases you.
A common cognitive bias is valuing your own patterns above others. Fight hard against this tendency.
The more you accept and value other people’s ways of working, the more they’ll thrive.
And so will you, because you’ll naturally accept yourself more.
Help create a welcoming and accepting culture. It helps you feel valuable. And it makes people comfortable.
As discussed earlier, culture is very pervasive. But it’s also very malleable, because it’s made up of the actions, feelings and behaviours of individuals.
If you’re in a leadership position, being openly accepting of uniqueness is very important, because you set the tone for your team or department.
And if you’re not in a formal leadership role, make sure you empower others, such as by being flexible to support their working patterns.
By welcoming and accepting others, you will get the same back and if everyone does it, culture is positively affected.
But also, if you’re actively and positively thinking and contributing to culture, you feel more like a genuinely paid up member of the community.
And that sense of belonging, of course, makes you feel empowered to be yourself at work.
Self-care is a huge part of authenticity and having the confidence to bring your full self to work. What does it mean? How can you do it?