CAREER DEVELOPMENT / JUN. 28, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Why you Should 'Bring Yourself to Work'

millennials at work

The idea of ’bringing yourself to work’ - allowing yourself to really be yourself at work - holds that people work better when they feel able to be authentic in the workplace. In all teams, and particularly in customer facing and service industries, employees who feel confident enough to let their personality shine through at work are better able to build rapport and trust with colleagues and customers, leading to better business and a more enjoyable environment.

The antithesis of the oft pictured regiments of suited business people trooping into work in identical offices looking for all the world like clones, nothing more is required of employees than a degree of openness and to accept the idea that work colleagues can also be friends. This simple and relatively ’soft’ sounding approach, can, however, have genuine ’hard’ business benefits.

Progressive policies

In most workplaces, the concept of ’living for the weekend’, toiling for five days a week in a thankless job, guarding against interactions with colleagues, and allowing no mixing of business and pleasure, is not the reality - and is certainly not encouraged. Good businesses have approached this issue on a corporate level, putting plans in place to allow employees to socialise with their colleagues beyond the office Christmas party. Google, famously, offer amongst their impressive employee perks, free food for colleagues to have up to all three meals a day in work. Whilst this is a massive financial and time benefit to employees, it also naturally creates more interaction time for colleagues who choose to come in for breakfast or stay on for their evening meal. The relationships built during this time will increase team working and help the office dynamic - benefits which are priceless and far outweigh the company investment.

Of course, the same thing happens at smaller businesses and in individual teams across the world, with dress down Fridays, team breakfasts, works nights out and sporting and social events. These is the glue that binds teams and helps us enjoy our working hours.

The benefits of "bringing yourself to work"

The benefits of this approach to work have their roots in trust. We work best in teams of people we trust, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to trust people we do not known a personal level. In ’The Trusted Advisor’, David Maister describes his mathematical approach to analysing trust - the trust equation. Trust is built up of credibility, reliability and intimacy, and can be undermined by a degree of ’self orientation’. Credibility is the extent to which one’s experience and credentials can build trust, and reliability is the simple fact of having delivered previously on promises. Where ’bringing yourself to work’ comes in, is in contributing to intimacy and managing the impact of self orientation in the work place.

Intimacy is a word not usually used in a work context, and yet it is what businesses seek with their customers, and what makes good teams great. It is simply an understanding of the individual beyond the surface level, which allows businesses to understand what customers really want, and bosses to know what buttons to press to motivate their team. There can be no intimacy without a degree of openness in the workplace, and a sense that everyone can be their authentic selves.

Self orientation is the element which can undermine the whole trust equation - someone can be completely credible and reliable, and even to a degree have intimacy with a team member, but if they appear to be motivated only by what they have personally to gain from any given situation then they do not ultimately win trust.

This model rings true for many - although rationally, in a work scenario the credibility and reliability of a fellow team member or boss should be the only things that feel important, it is unusual to really trust someone we do not consider ’likeable’. It is more unusual still to trust someone when we doubt their motives, and as such ’bringing yourself to work’ becomes essential to the success of individuals and teams in the modern workplace.

How to ’bring yourself to work’

So, showing your colleagues a bit of personality is essential to succeeding in any role. People exert far more discretionary effort when they have a personal relationship with a colleague or the boss who is giving them tasks, so if your employer encourages socialising outside of work hours, through social events, sports or hobby clubs, consider joining those that are of interest. Do not force yourself into things you’re not genuinely interested in - if you dislike running, you should not be signing up for the triathlon club - the point is to be authentic, but to lower your guard enough to build bridges and deepen relationships.

Of course, in work, conversations will naturally arise about family, home and interests, and some relationships will grow entirely organically - the more tricky ones are those where no natural rapport is forthcoming. In this case, attempting to build some bridges tentatively is still worth the effort, even though it may feel rather hard work. If you have colleagues like this, make a point of talking to them instead of sending emails about work - picking up the phone or walking to their desk is infinitely warmer and more likely to build bridges.

What to watch

Even for the most naturally outgoing, knowing what is appropriate, and ’safe’ to share with colleagues who you may hardly know, is a social etiquette conundrum. There is a fine line to be drawn between talking openly about issues you are experiencing outside of work, and outright moaning, for example. Similarly, gossiping about others in the workplace is dangerous and can leave you with an unattractive label.

Conflicts can also arise, for example, if you know someone is lying about something, pulling a sickie or otherwise being dishonest. Social media makes this all the more likely, as your Facebook friends are also colleagues but may post publicly details they would not want the boss seeing - pictures of a wild night out drinking cocktails before calling in sick, for example. What you keep to yourself and what you report is a personal decision, but do not put yourself at risk of being embroiled in real disciplinary issues by becoming an accomplice to serious deception or theft. Thinking carefully about who you befriend and follow on social media, and steering clear of the gossip is a much easier approach.

The outright benefits of ’bringing yourself to work’ - the freedom to be your authentic self in the workplace, and the increase in trust this brings, both within teams and with the customer, makes it well worth thinking about how much you share and how relaxed you are with your colleagues. If you shy away from unnecessary social contact with workmates outside of the office, you may be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact on both your work and social life that ’bringing yourself to work’ can have.

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