The importance of Authenticity is often understated in the workplace and people will feel social pressures to conform to a perceived expectation of what’s normal or desired. Yee Yewt Smart, Gagan Sangha and I conducted some research around Authenticity and Wellbeing to encourage the technical community within our business function to feel empowered in bringing their true selves to work. We’ll start by looking at definitions of Authenticity and why it’s important for employers and employees.
According to Gagan “There are several different definitions in literature for authenticity, some argue that it is another individual’s perception of oneself and some define it as the opposite” other literature states that “being authentic is living in accordance with your core beliefs and values and these come from various things, such as your culture, society, your parents’ values, upbringing and so on”. As humans on earth, we all experience a different version of reality so how can any workplace expect people to act and behave in clone-like fashion? It’s crucial that organisations respect diversity of employees to support each person in being their authentic selves. Being the ‘real you’ takes far less energy than being someone else.
Yee Yewt explains that “61% of employees cover themselves in some way. Not necessarily hiding themselves fully but downplaying aspects of themselves due to the fear of drawing unwanted attention and making others uncomfortable” but suggests that “authenticity doesn’t mean being 100% open by sharing everything, it’s about an inclusive environment where people can be genuine to express themselves” (Deloitte Study, 2013). Employees that feel compelled to hide aspects of themselves often suffer from extra stress, disengage from work and are more prone to burnout. People who feel comfortable in being their genuine selves create stronger relationships and trust with clients and co-workers, this leads me on to the importance of vulnerability and honesty.
Mike Robbins, a respected thought leader and researcher, states that “vulnerability is the key driver in human trust and connection” and that it is “the birthplace of innovation, change and risk and if we want to grow we have to be vulnerable”. It’s uncomfortable to be vulnerable and I’m sometimes guilty of worrying about what others will think if I reveal how I’m feeling. That being said, I have found that my strongest relationships have been formed with others when I have been honest about my struggles. Mike Robbins adds that “the natural human response to vulnerability is compassion.. empathy”. A 2015 study by Gentry, Weber and Sadri highlights the importance of emotional intelligence and states that “empathy is a construct that is fundamental to leadership” and is crucial in creating an inclusive and safe environment that allows everyone to be both vulnerable and authentic. A workplace that is inclusive of all employees is one where everyone has the best chance of being in control of their own wellbeing. Wellbeing is dealt with in many different ways and people have their own techniques for looking after themselves. There isn’t one method that works for all.
I feel that wellbeing and authenticity hold equal value and often go hand in hand. Wellbeing is important for performing at your best and people who are content and happy uplift and encourage others. I found that research defines wellbeing as being centred around your “physical and mental state” but more importantly “how you feel”. The CIPD conduct an annual survey focused on health and wellbeing and the statistics below are pulled from the latest study.
In terms of technology, it’s evident that it has enabled employees to stay connected which allows for flexible and mobile working. 87% believe that this ‘always-on’ culture has led to an inability to switch off, which can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Switching off is important to ensure we perform at our optimal level – however the ease of staying connected when you access work and email through personal devices such as our smartphones means it can be difficult to disconnect outside working hours.
France had an interesting resolution to tackle this and introduced a law in 2017 to ban work emails out of typical working hours – this may be an extreme solution in helping employees switch off but maybe we should all think twice before sending emails or messages late at night or at weekends as this may have negative consequences for others.
In terms of stress at work, the major issue here is the volume of work we get involved in. We often get involved with lots of stretch/side projects and take on too much. We need to feel comfortable in pushing back and taking control of our workload. I appreciate that the volume of our workloads doesn’t always come down to choice.
As a result of our internal research and our ‘being the best you’ workshop within our business function, Gagan, Yee Yewt and myself introduced ‘Doughnut Dates’ in order to help foster internal relationships and encourage people to be more authentic. We are allocating pairs of internal employees at random to meet once a month to talk about anything but work. Better relationships at work should allow people to feel more comfortable in being their authentic selves!
It’s interesting how all these concepts intertwine but it reiterates that people are the most important part of any business. Companies are usually concerned with employee satisfaction and productivity but employees will not be satisfied if they have to suppress their individuality and they will not be productive if they are not empowered to look after their own wellbeing. I’d thoroughly recommend watching the ‘bring your whole self’ video that is embedded below as Mike Robbins has some interesting stories around authenticity and vulnerability that might relate to some of your own experiences.