Do you feel like you can be yourself at work? Or are you extra careful about what you say and how you say it? In a recent survey by JobSage, an employee transparency platform, 1,900 men and women were asked how comfortable they felt embracing authenticity in the workplace. While most respondents said they valued being authentic, 7 in 10 people said that they adopt a different personality at work than they do at home.
This is a huge loss for companies, because employees who feel comfortable being themselves at work are more likely to put in extra effort to see the team or company’s mission achieved. They are also more likely to provide different perspectives and valuable feedback.
Inauthenticity at work is a loss for employees too. Putting on a mask at work reduces your productivity and your happiness while amping up your stress levels. It can make the workday feel longer and even lead to burnout.
This article will delve into why so many of us are afraid to be authentic at work, how employers can create a psychologically safe workplace, and what steps you can take to start showing up as your true and honest self.
What is authenticity at work?
Authenticity at work is feeling safe, secure, and comfortable showing up as your whole self. You feel capable of expressing yourself in a way that is aligned with your own values, beliefs, and personality, whether you are interacting with a fellow colleague, a manager, or a client.
You may be hiding your authentic self in the workplace if you do any of the following:
- Mask your emotions
- Conform to dress codes
- Hold back from sharing your ideas and opinions
- Avoid personal topics
- Hide your culture, religion, or sexual orientation from others
Why are employees afraid to be authentic at work?
Many of us have been taught to separate our personal and professional lives. We should do as we’re told and conform to fit in. Being authentic requires you to assert who you are and what you need, but you may be afraid to do that if your superiors do not make you feel psychologically safe.
How you react to your superiors at work may be a mirror of how you reacted to your first authority figures: your parents or caregivers. If you had a parent that interacted with you kindly and rationally while maintaining their status as an authority figure, you will more likely have an easier time with your superiors. After all, your relationship with your parents provides a model for how you’ll manage interpersonal relationships later.
If you had a parent who wielded their authority over you in a way that made you feel scared or unsafe, without teaching you how to regulate your fear and anxiety, this is how you’ll learn to approach authority figures later. Your approach to your superiors can become suspicious or you may become hypervigilant. You will find it very difficult to be vulnerable and assert your needs. You may also become resentful and sabotage your work efforts.
If you had a parent who viewed you as an extension of their ego (vicariously lived through you), you can get overly focused on being competitive and constantly compare yourself to others. This can interfere with your ability to cooperate with other team members on equal terms, another indicator of inauthenticity.
Many employees are emotionally driven to take on an unsustainable workload because they are unconsciously still looking for parental approval. They do not have the ability to say ‘no’ to requests because they still fear the wrath of a punishing parent.
How employers can promote psychological safety
In some cases, employees are afraid to be themselves at work, not just because of the patterns they learned in childhood, but because of the lack of psychological safety in the workplace. Psychological safety is best described as the belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. You can be yourself without being shamed.
A lack of psychological safety in the workplace can also be a reflection of patterns learned in childhood. Employers who had ‘scary’ parents may become that type of authority figure later and fail to create psychological safety in their workplace.
Some ways employers can promote psychological safety in the workplace:
- Be engaged and present during meetings
- Allow others to share their ideas and opinions
- Resist blaming
- Be positive
- View mistakes as learning opportunities
- Be emotionally vulnerable with team members
- Avoid micro-managing
- Be open to feedback
How to be authentic at work with the Hoffman Process
The Hoffman Process helps participants investigate in detail their compulsive behavioural patterns in all aspects of life, work and career included. This involves tracing these behaviours back to the origins of their formation during childhood. Even this simple cognitive reflection can help you zoom out from certain behaviours when you are triggered at work.
The Process can also help you connect back to your essential self and values. It increases your emotional awareness exponentially so that you become cognizant of your triggers, and it equips you with the emotional resilience and tools to regulate your system. At the same time, the Process helps to increase compassion for yourself and others. Through mindfulness and experiential practices in a group setting, you learn that you are not your patterns. You have a choice over the way you want to interact with others and your subjectivity is as valid as anyone else’s.
In some cases, completing the Process will connect you with your intrinsic values, which can prompt new priorities. For leaders, this can result in an improved leadership style. Higher levels of emotional discernment might lead you to realize that your current work environment is not a good values match. The Process then provides you with the courage to make the necessary adjustments either to become an agent of change in your workplace or to find a more suitable work environment.
While it is not always possible to make your passion your career, the Hoffman Process shows you that you do not have to sacrifice them; you can learn to see your work as a stepping stone or support system and not a creative trap.
This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram.