The importance of being yourself at work

A man removing a mask of his own face

One third of our lifetime is taken up with work, but for many people their time in the office can feel distinctly uncomfortable. The reason for this? Many people feel they are unable to be themselves in the workplace.

So what does it mean to ‘be yourself’ at work? Essentially it’s the practice of authentically presenting yourself to others, both in word and action, regardless of the situation. In short, it means being true to who you are.

So why then is the act of being oneself not always seen as an acceptable option within a particular role or sector? Read on to learn more about why people change themselves to fit in and how you can feel empowered to be yourself at work.

The great ‘fitting in’ myth

The need to fit in is something we are born with, a basic human desire. We all seek acceptance and a sense of belonging. To achieve this, we may present an altered version of who we are, depending on the environment we are in, all in the name of making ourselves appear ‘more acceptable’.

However, if you feel that your true self is a mismatch with your job, trying to measure up as an inauthentic version of yourself for a significant period of time can be detrimental. Hiding your true self can be exhausting and may lead to serious dissatisfaction. This is bad news for you and the organisation you work for as unhappiness is generally linked to under-performance at work.

It’s a common misconception that being yourself at work might hamper your career progression. An increasing number of organisations are dedicating themselves to increasing diversity amongst their people, not just in terms of demographics but also in personality types and ways of thinking. They understand the value that diversity has been shown to bring to the workforce.

According to a study conducted by Deloitte, “When employees think their organisation is committed to, and supportive of diversity and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate, (83% uplift) responsiveness to changing customer needs (31% uplift) and team collaboration (42% uplift).” [1]

This is supported by Dr Katie Spearritt, a former head of diversity at Coles Group and the National Australia Bank, and now CEO of consulting firm Diversity Partners. She says “Studies have shown that having diverse thinking approaches, and demographic differences, leads to increased innovation. You’ve got people coming from different thinking approaches who are prepared to challenge the status quo and question established processes.”[2]

Understand who you are

Seeing yourself clearly is the key to embracing and expressing who you are, regardless of your workplace environment.

Your personality is a complex mix of background, culture, roles, responsibilities and interests. As well as being a finance professional, you might also be a loving parent, dedicated carer, passionate sportsperson or devoted pet-owner. You might be all (or none) of these things and more.

Understanding yourself requires self-reflection. Set aside time to identify your key values, traits, interests and ambitions. Consider from both a personal and professional point of view. Look for areas of overlap.

A 360-degree review can help form a fuller picture of yourself. How does your self-assessment match-up with the views of others? Are there inconsistencies you should be aware of? Consider preparing a Personal Development Plan.

‘Misfits’ can be successful

It can be hard to imagine being successful at work when you feel like you don’t fit in.

For many years author Lidia Yuknavitch felt like a ‘misfit writer’. “It’s the shame of not really believing we deserve to be in the room with the people we admire”, Lidia says in her TED Talk, ‘The Beauty of Being a Misfit’. “If I could, I’d go back and I’d coach myself… I’d teach myself how to want things, how to stand up, how to ask for them. I’d say, ‘You! Yeah, you! You belong in the room too!”

Role models and mentors can help you to feel more comfortable in your own skin. Seek inspiration from others in the business (or in broader society) who are cutting through the mainstream by being themselves. What can you learn from them?

Communicate clearly, but cautiously

Take time to build strong understanding with colleagues. Once trust has been established, share personal stories relevant to the task you are working on. These exchanges, over time, will build empathy and convey your true self.

Frank conversations with colleagues are also important to building understanding and trust. Remember to keep these respectful and in-keeping with the organisation’s values and culture.

Empathy should be a two-way street. You have a role to play in creating a workplace in which others can be themselves too.

Change won’t happen overnight. Small steps are OK, as long as they are headed in the right direction. Start by reveal the parts of yourself that you feel most comfortable with, or that fit best with your new work environment.

Seek out diverse workplaces

If you are finding it hard to be yourself at work, it might be time to search for a new position. This is where a good recruitment consultant, focussed on cultural fit, can help.

Look for an organisation that pays more than just lip-service to diversity and workplace inclusion. The more the versions of ‘normal’, the more opportunities to fit in.

One organisation operating within the sport and recreation sector provides new hires with a guide titled ‘How To Be A Good Listener’, encourages staff to participate in lifelong learning celebrates unique individuals at all levels of the company.

Across Australia increasing number of parents – both mums and dads – are trying to find ways to balance work life and home duties. A CFO within a leading financial organisation, for example, has negotiated a 4-day week to make time for a role as a mother, as well as her role as a business leader.

Forward-thinking organisations encourage staff to bring their ‘full selves’ to the office. Fully-fleshed diversity policies foster openness, acceptance and psychological safety – the creation of an environment where people are comfortable voicing their opinions and do not fear being judged.

Here at Moir Group we provide staff training to encourage psychological safety. “We urge everyone to their share ideas and create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up,” says director Stephen Moir. “Our flat structure creates open discussion and opportunities for different types of leadership right across the entire business,” he adds.

Searching for, or starting, a new job can be particularly challenging when it comes to feeling authentic. The employment process often has highly competent professionals questioning your capabilities, presentation, body language and appearance. Trust that letting the ‘real you’ show through during interviews is the best way to finding long-term happiness at work.

Here at Moir Group, we understand that a satisfying job is a big part of having a fulfilling life. Our consultants are focussed on finding the best cultural fit between candidates and organisations. Once we have landed you the right job, we continue to stay in touch, providing two-way feedback to help smooth the settling-in period and ensure that you are feeling comfortable in your new role.

Are you looking for a new role?

Would you like help in planning the next step in your career?

Contact us for expert recruitment help.

[1] Deloitte Report: A new recipe to improve business performance

[2] Sydney Morning Herald ‘The benefits of a diverse workplace’, February 2020

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