The Value of Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work

Whole Self

“Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work.” 

 ~ Frederic Laloux: Reinventing Organizations  

A few months ago, I started watching ‘Severance’, a gripping ‘Black Mirror-esque’ sci-fi series from Apple TV. The premise is around office workers who voluntarily undergo a procedure (offered by the corporation) to surgically divide their memories between their work and personal lives. When the employee starts work, they only have work memories and no recollection of who they are in their personal lives, and vice-versa when they leave work. Initially, it’s seen as logical and mutually beneficial in that one’s work or life can’t encroach on the other. The result, however, is a sterile, procedural and sinister workplace where relationships are shallow, creativity is absent, and meaningful conversations can’t and don’t exist. 
 
Well, this is a bleak way to start a blog! What’s my point you ask?
 
There are still organizations out there that believe our personal lives and work lives should be separate. That emotions have no place at work. Just a few months ago, we had a company reach out to Fluency about providing leadership development training. The caveat? The training needed to separate work issues from personal issues and ideally avoid emotional stuff. That “soft stuff” was a no-go area for some of the leaders who continue to cling to and perpetuate an outdated command-and-control approach. We respectfully declined. Bringing our humanity to leadership is at the heart of what we do. It’s where we start.       
 
We bring our humanity wherever we go
 
Where there are people, there are emotions.  If we all checked our emotions at the metaphorical workplace door, there wouldn’t be excitement, creativity, passion, meaningful collaboration, or deep relationships. There also wouldn’t be conflict, which is all about emotions.  And before you think that is a good thing, we need healthy conflict — asking questions, challenging approaches, offering alternate options -– to create, innovate, and get to the better ideas and processes. Being agreeable all the time is artificial harmony or, at worst, toxic positivity. And that’s not a good thing.   
 
What would it look like if we could truly bring our whole selves to work? Our authentic personality, experiences, cultural views, perspectives, humour and creativity. What if we could freely express our emotions and share our concerns, doubts, and ideas without worrying about being judged, dismissed or punished? 
 
Showing up as our whole selves requires psychological safety
 
For people to be able to do this, organizations need to create psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, the leading authority on the topic, defines psychological safety as, “the shared belief that the workplace is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”  The belief we can show up as our whole selves without fear of retribution. And it’s up to leaders to create that environment.  (For more on that topic, read our past blog Five Ways Leaders Can Build Psychological Safety).  
 
There’s numerous studies and mounting evidence to show that when psychological safety exists and people can show up as their whole selves, key things like productivity performance, well-being, and engagement are improved. People are also generally better able to solve problems, address conflicts, and reduce the influence of the loudest voice in the room. 
 
Let’s redefine what it means to be professional
 
Frederic Laloux, author of the book ‘Reinventing Organizations’, says in many organizations bringing our full personality to work isn’t appreciated.  “There’s an expectation we show up at work with a professional self-mask. But it’s not our whole self.”
 
He explains that the word ‘professional’ implies control, resolve and determination. Traits that are rational, accepted, and a little detached.  Professional doesn’t allow for emotions like caring, vulnerability, intuition, or compassion. These are the emotions that build connection and relationships and seek inclusivity. 
 
So, what if we don’t fit into this narrow view of what it is to be professional and instead acknowledge our emotions and bring our whole selves to work?  The fear is all hell will break loose because people won’t behave and will bring their worst selves their jobs.  The fear is work will become one big therapy session and nothing will get done. And fear is why we resist change.  
 
Yet there is little evidence to support that fear. In fact, the opposite is true.  The workplace becomes more authentic, engaging, inclusive and productive. 
 
What if we reframed what ‘being professional’ looks like in broader terms? What if it meant being respectful, conscientious, and authentic?  Both rational and emotional?  Ah, that feels better. 
 
What does it mean to bring our whole selves to work?
 
Mike Robbins, author of the book ‘Bring Your Whole Self to Work’, says, “Bringing our whole selves to work means acknowledging that we’re vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can.”
 
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.”
 
Bringing our whole selves to work is about being real, stepping into courageous conversations and naming emotions that might be getting in the way of results and progress.  
 
Here are three ways leaders can encourage people to bring their whole selves to work:
 
1. Lead the charge: Change always starts with the leader. We can’t ask people to do things that we aren’t willing to do ourselves. We need to role model the behaviours we want to see.  While we need to lead, we also need to be real and vulnerable without oversharing.  As Laloux says, “To suggest we have all the answers, never have self-doubt or bad days, is to deny our humanity.” He also says that vulnerability doesn’t make us look weak; in fact, it makes us look human and relatable.  A leader who can bring their whole selves to work creates psychological safety and opens the door for others to do the same. 
 
How easy would it be for you to bring your whole self to work? What might hold you back?
 
What would being real and vulnerable do for you and your team?
 
2. Get to know people as people: When we see the humanity in others and understand who they are, how their identity shapes their lives, and what is important to them, we can connect and build trusting relationships. Yet so much of our communication today in the remote/hybrid work environment is transactional rather than relational. Conversations are all about the work and not about the human doing the work. A recent McKinsey report called “Great Attrition or Great Attraction. The Choice is Yours”, says the factors that are most important to employees that employers overlook are being valued by their leaders and organizations and having a sense of belonging.  We show we value people by getting to know them as people.
 
How well do you know your team members as people?
 
What’s one action you can take this week to get to know one person on your team? 
 
3. Seek out diverse perspectives: We bring only one perspective to the table yet, getting to the best idea or solution requires multiple voices and perspectives.  What would it look like to fully appreciate what people bring into the organization; their diverse perspectives, cultures, ideas, and experiences, and invite it in? When leaders don’t lead with their opinions and instead step into curiosity, invite input, listen, and collaborate, they maximize what their team has to contribute.  Ensuring all voices are heard is how you build inclusive cultures where people feel they can belong. 
 
How often do you seek out diverse perspectives?
 
What ideas could you generate with more diverse thinking?
 
People are yearning for authentic, empathetic, and effective leaders who embrace all that people have to contribute. And by creating workplaces that make it safe for people to be fully-themselves, the great attrition will become the great attraction.   

 

 

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