Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work: good idea or a can of worms?

We’ve all read the data that tells us that the so-called Millennials – those born between the mid-1980s and late 1990s/early 2000’s – are a different breed of people with very different demands from their work life and their career.  One such difference is that Millennials (on average) were raised to believe that who they are matters.  They also tend to stay with their employers for an average of 2 to 3 years, looking for organisations whose values align with their own and where they can contribute while remaining true to their identity.  These people are unlikely to bond with a company logo; they are much more likely to connect with an industry or a company that meets their needs to bring their whole person to work.

Companies who want to retain the workforce of the future will need to adapt to this radical change from ‘business as usual’ and find ways to not only let their employees be individuals but learn to leverage that as a competitive edge.

So what exactly is the current norm? 

Statistics show that many minorities, including women, feel that they cannot be fully themselves at work if they want to fit in.

A corporate culture that forces individuals to conform to one set standard is surely missing a trick!

When we feel that we don’t need to hide a part of who we are, we feel happier at work and, as a result, are more productive and effective.  We contribute with the benefit of our full experience and thinking, with richer ideas, solutions and enlightened innovation.

As Frederic Laloux says in his book  Reinventing Organizations:  “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.”

How can companies encourage a culture that invites the whole person to work?

Of course, it’s not easy to go from a culture that requires conformity to one that respects and values individuals.  Role-modelling an environment in which we can feel comfortable to be who we are is difficult, but that’s how it needs to start.

Our company leaders need to show us that sharing work life with our families and friends is acceptable; a manager whose office includes photos of his or her children, spouse, dog, etc.  is more likely to come across as a person who puts value on life outside work.

Managers who are gay should openly talk about their partners and make it clear that there is no stigma attached to one’s sexual orientation.

Supervisors of different racial backgrounds should openly talk about the various ethnic cultural traditions and celebrations in which they regularly participate and thereby show us how to appreciate the different backgrounds we all come from.

Senior women should exhibit and promote the additional values, behavioural preferences and soft skill that women tend to enjoy (like empathy, collaboration, transparency) as additional pre-requisites to routinely required technical abilities.

Every role model who allows himself or herself be vulnerable at work, who opens up about his or her life after the working day and who offers kindness to others at work invites us to behave similarly.  Gradually, small shifts in behaviours will have a big impact.

Want to learn more about how to encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and how to benefit from that as a business?

Come to our Flagship Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions! on 21 June 2017.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you will meet role models, be inspired by those who have found strength to share their hidden talents and learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  Meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women – a mentoring charity with 20,000 female mentors.  Meet the athlete who, having reached the top of her own ambition, is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Meet the man who calls himself a feminist and who –as a senior management consultant partner – is using his influence to help professional women get ahead.  You will also meet some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people – who are changing the world, one person at a time.

Join us for this and more!