Each workplace has its own set of cultural norms, expectations, and values. Oftentimes, employees feel pressured to conform to those ideals for the sake of winning favor with their bosses and colleagues. The problem with this tendency is that it can lead to an uncomfortable dissonance between an individual's professional persona and their authentic self. On the other hand, failing to conform to corporate standards could translate to ostracization from the group, decreased productivity, and even termination. Thus, authenticity in the workplace is a difficult but worthwhile venture–– and here is how you can achieve it.
There are a number of studies that show a link between authenticity in the workplace and greater overall job satisfaction. Higher rates of job satisfaction correlate with fewer sick days and increased employee productivity compared to their less satisfied counterparts. Therefore, it is beneficial for employers and employees alike to direct efforts towards becoming more authentic at work. Additionally, authentic employees create room for more intimate interpersonal relationships. With the heightened demand for collaboration in office settings, establishing strong bonds amongst colleagues can be integral to success.
Put simply, authenticity means being yourself and showing your true colors when you’re at work. Displays of authenticity come in many different forms, but it is essential to identify which one feels right to you. For example, some people use clothing as an expression of their identity, whereas others choose to share their personal experiences as a means of connection. Regardless of how you choose to convey your authentic self to others, remember that authenticity is based around your core values–– the non-negotiable aspects of your identity that, when compromised, make you feel unhappy.
While authenticity can yield extraordinary results in both personal and professional settings, that is not to say that all behaviors are acceptable under the guise of “being authentic.” Greater Good Magazine (GGM) highlights the value of asking yourself these questions as they relate to your core values and authenticity: “are your core values functional? Do they compromise relationships? Is there any bias connected to them?” GGM continues, “If they are dysfunctional, then it is time to reevaluate them and develop new core values, understanding that it may take some work. Core values are the basis of our habits and are therefore difficult to change, but it’s necessary if those habits (although authentic) are working against you.” Having this foundational understanding of yourself will help you present the healthiest version of yourself to others.
It is also important to note that being authentic for the sake of being authentic is not actually authenticity. Exaggerating a story to be relatable or including a personal anecdote where it does not apply will only alienate your peers. That is where social cues and timing are crucial components of authentic interactions. If you are struggling to identify when it is an appropriate time to share in a work setting, you can take this interactive quiz.
There is always a certain degree of risk involved with being yourself at work because it requires vulnerability. However, the degree of risk is not the same for everyone. On average, marginalized groups are subjected to harsher scrutiny for their displays of authenticity. This is evidenced by the fact that many natural Black hairstyles, the use of African American Vernacular, Chicano English, and other dialects are deemed “unprofessional.” If you would like to be accepted at work for your authentic self, you must first be willing to accept others for their authentic selves.
Leaders are often the driving force behind workplace cultures, so having a leader committed to inclusivity is paramount. If you are in a position of authority at your workplace, the best thing you can do to encourage authenticity is to welcome feedback and honest communication. People who are scared to say their opinion in a staff meeting are unlikely to share what they did over the weekend or object to an injustice in the office. This perpetuates a culture of silence and superficiality rather than freedom and authenticity.
To conclude, being your authentic self in the workplace can drastically improve your overall well-being, so do not be afraid to put yourself out there and allow others to see the real you. If you are in a role that forces you to choose between your authentic self and your professional persona, perhaps it is time to get a new job.
Also read: Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life-Balance