Bringing Your Whole Self to Work
Let us go back to eighty years before and remember how Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, puts forward his expectations from the worker: Why is it that I always get the whole person, when what I really want it a pair of hands? It is quite likely that Ford does not seek for an answer to his question but just wonders if it is really essential that the person show up with their whole self at work. And yet, in today’s business landscape both leading-people and Human Resources and employees are increasingly putting the subject of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ out in the open. This is not surprising as the notion promises to offer multi-pronged solutions to some common problems of working life as well as help employees thrive at their work and in all aspects of life.
Discussions manifest themselves heavily in how likely it is for the employee to bring their whole self to work and whether this would create a meaningful impact over the employee and the business. Another hallmark of these discussions is the question of how to meld the individuality and professionalism together seamlessly without compromising from individual’s privacy and company’s brand promise. These are reasonable concerns. However, it is better if we attempt to crystallise what embracing wholeness at workplace does not necessarily mean.
You can show up fully at work without feeling over-exposed
Bringing your whole self to work doesn’t mean disclosing innermost secrets and emotions to your colleagues or other networks. If you feel uneasy about revealing your gender, race, sexuality, religion or political attitude, you may either share the reason for your uneasiness with your manager or HR partner, or you may keep these very private essences to yourself. However, it is important to remember that employees should be provided with an environment that supports them, and that we embrace all that make them unique, appreciating the complexity and multidimensionality of persons.
What is meant by ‘bringing your whole self to work’?
A culture of work allows the employee to be truly themselves and mitigates the pressure to leave some of their personality at the office door (or behind the screens in today’s virtual working environment). To succeed this, we need employees who are brave and enticed enough to be vulnerable, to take risks and ask for help when they need it.
Speaking of vulnerability… the word itself and its connotations may lean you into feeling a bit anxious. And this is quite expected as nobody wants to be caught defenceless to problems. However, when we espouse the glow of vulnerability we allow ourselves to articulate our inner emotions that will in the end lead us to our very essence. Ask yourself these to flee the confines of fears around vulnerability: Who are you at home? And who are you at work? If you are behaving very differently in both environments, why is that? Is it because you feel you should be playing a different role, or is it because you feel uneasy with being your true self at work? And if the latter one is true, how can your workplace improve its culture and mind-set to align the employee’s wholeness with its vision and goals?
The way Frederic Laloux explains the expression of ‘whole-self’ in his Reinventing Organizations resonates with the expectations and needs of our day’s business world.
As Laloux describes it:
“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.”
Wholeness is addressed and encouraged by Human Resources mostly to create a shared understanding and belief among senior leadership and the workforce at all levels. If employers provide their employees with such atmosphere, they feel comfortable with bringing all the elements of who they are to work—their passions and strengths, our side projects and relationships, their partners and kids. In other words, furnishing workspaces with cultures that do not flatten the individuality of the employee is key to live out authenticity and honesty as core values of our companies.
Why is trying to be more of your real self at work valuable?
Mike Robbins, the author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, believes that people should be willing to bring their entire selves to the work to thrive and sparkle professionally, especially in today's world. He suggests that if people do not abstain from bringing who they are to work and feel safe when they live their true selves, this means we have created a work of culture built on social embeddedness, relatedness and intersectionality of selves.
Robbins highlights ‘authenticity’ as the keyword in creating an environment that stimulates uniqueness and fluidity of selves. For managers and leaders seeking for a thriving workplace environment that will increase employee engagement and performance, he advises to define “high but healthy expectations” and cultivate “a growth and nurturing mind-set.”
High expectations are essential for people to thrive. However, the expectations have to be healthy - meaning we should lean on ‘excellency’ –as much as possible– to benefit from it to navigate challenging times with less stress and higher resiliency. This mind-set is critical to helping the employee to alleviate unnecessary desire to run after the impossible and to unlock their hidden potential.
A nurturing environment which hugs growth and development has to do with people feeling seen, heard, and valued - not just for what they do, but for who they are. Employees feel safe to make mistakes, ask for help, speak up, and disagree. According to Robbins, nurturing environments take the employee on a lifetime journey of compassion and empathy by making people feel encouraged and supported.
A pair of hands is undoubtedly still so precious but twenty first century jobs expect employees to bring their whole selves to work. So, is this possible? It’s not cut and dry, but the answer leans towards yes. The important point is to remember that the employee has still certain responsibilities regarding both their own personal development and their companies’ goals and vision. On the part of the employer, it is expected that companies build a culture that makes the employee feel welcomed with their whole self, and embrace diversity, inclusivity and transparency.
If understood in this way, bringing your ‘whole self’ to work is about bringing the person who we are at the moment, and also the person who transforms and evolves continuously. This is the person whom we desire to become. In this sense, bringing our whole selves to work is actually about creating cultures and environments that appreciate characteristic attributes and allow relationships to flourish. Because, those relationships will be what entice us to realise our hidden potential.
When individuals feel comfortable with being their true selves and know that their thoughts and emotions will be embraced, they take on a stunning well-being journey. It evolves into a life-long journey; each individual finds their own unique path and pace because they have been allowed to realise and integrate with their authentic selves.
Employees as a group of people endeavour to bring out their best to empower their business and collaborations across the company, however as separate individuals they have their own unique attributes and stories. Brené Brown, as an amazing story-teller, reminds us that you either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.
By Burcu Uluçay