Being Authentic at Work, Part 3 of 3

Google “authenticity at work,” and you get over 90 million hits. It’s clearly a topic that many of us care deeply about, and the advice on the subject is broad and contradictory (be yourself, don’t be yourself). Being inauthentic, as I described in part 1 of this series, can lead to stress and burnout. Sometimes, as I described in part 2, we need to adapt by revealing less of ourselves. This blog will look at what leaders and organizations can do to foster authenticity.

There are countless reasons people don’t feel comfortable being authentic at work, but many boil down to fear: fear of losing status, fear of rejection or isolation. These fears are significant, since threats to our status and belonging can trigger our fight or flight response – our brains experience these threats as if they were threats to our very lives. When fear of losing status led me to downplay and even hide my family responsibilities at work, the strain of bridging the ever-widening gap between my work self and my non-work self nearly led to burnout. That didn’t benefit me or my employer.

Individuals can only go so far in bringing more authenticity to work. But leaders can foster a culture where people feel freer to be themselves. Does this benefit the company? If being authentic means expressing every passing thought and feeling, or never pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, then probably not. But if being authentic means feeling comfortable expressing and finding ways to live our values, then the result is greater engagement and productivity.

Fear of losing status is common in organizations and teams that are highly competitive. Competition can, of course, motivate us to do our best. But when competition exists between members of the same team, it can also lead to lack of trust – and inauthenticity as a form of self-protection. Fear of isolation or rejection can happen when we fear that our values or interests are too different from those of our colleagues. So we suppress parts of ourselves to get by, yet feel the strain of inauthenticity.

Leaders can help in the following ways:

• While you may not be able to change a compensation structure that puts people in competition with each other, you can design team objectives that require people to work together and share information. If you focus on your purpose – serving your customers – you can rally people around the greater good.

• Diversity is the very quality of a team that gives it its strength. Recognize and publicly seek out diverse viewpoints that feed effective debate and decision-making. Use meetings to make decisions, and send out reading material ahead of time so that people who process information internally can fully contribute.

• Acknowledge that time spent recharging, in whatever form it takes, enhances work performance. A rich and satisfying personal life isn’t just nice to have – it’s actually the foundation of high and sustained work performance and satisfaction.

Creating a more authentic environment takes time, but it’s well worth the investment of time and energy. What other ways have you seen organizations foster authenticity?