Ideal Outcomes

Why the Workplace is Better When We Dare To Be Ourselves

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

In a world dominated by conformity, increasing automation, and digital conversations, it’s more important than ever to embrace our true selves in the workplace and let our personalities shine. As an employer, there are many reasons why you should want your employees to dare to be themselves at work, including increased creativity, personal fulfillment, innovation, and genuine human connections.

But what does it mean to be your true self at work? Merriam-Webster defines authentic as being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In the workplace, it means employees need not pretend to be someone they aren’t. Rather than having two separate workplace and non-workplace personas, people can relax and be themselves.

4 Advantages of Authentic Self-Expression in the Workplace

Let’s explore why encouraging people to be their whole, true selves in the workplace is good for your employees and your business:

1. Greater Creativity

When people believe that they can be themselves and that their ideas and opinions are welcomed, they feel like they’re active participants in their jobs. They’ll be more motivated to look for new ways to solve problems, come up with better approaches, and pitch creative ideas to their managers.

2. Boosted Employee Morale and Productivity

Employees who know their organization cares about self-expression and staying true to their beliefs are more likely to feel fulfilled. Consequently, they’ll be more satisfied in their job, confident in their abilities, and likely to reach their full potential.

3. Personalized Customer Experiences

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: a customer service agent that makes our day, whether it be by injecting a dash of personal empathy into the conversation or taking the time to dig a little deeper into our query or concern to make sure they’ve understood our issue from all angles so they can find the quickest possible solution. When your employees are free to be themselves, they’ll be more likely to add a genuinely positive human touch to their service, making your customers feel like they’re getting the VIP treatment.

4. Mistakes Become Learning Opportunities

Even the most diligent employees sometimes make honest mistakes. And that’s OK. When your people are encouraged to be authentic, they’ll be more inclined to acknowledge any errors and move quickly to fix them. This opens the door to opportunities for learning and growth.

How to Empower Employees to Be Their True Selves

Here are our top tips for encouraging your employees to be their authentic selves in the workplace:

Lead by Example

It’s natural for successful leaders to radiate a certain level of authority, but it’s important not to hide who you are. If you want your employees to feel safe sharing their stories, tell some of your own. Make mention of a few things that are important to you outside of work, such as your family, pets, or a favorite hobby with your teams from time to time.

Focus on Creating Psychological Safety

Leaders play a significant role in establishing an environment of psychological safety in which employees feel safe to speak up without fear of repercussions. One of the best ways to achieve this is to admit your weaknesses and share some of your own mistakes and what you learned from them. Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela said it best: “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Remind your employees that you don’t expect them to be perfect—they just need to try their best and keep learning.

Keep Your Promises

Do what you said you were going to do. Ultimately, your word is your bond; if your team sees that you’re always reliable, they’ll emulate that behavior. When you’ve entrenched a belief in your trustworthiness in their minds, they’ll gain more confidence in airing their true opinions.

Say “Thank You”

When you’re trying to encourage your people to be their true selves at work, make a point of finding them doing great work and saying “thank you.” Send an email. Call them up. Praise them in front of their colleagues. Taking the time to acknowledge employees’ accomplishments will build their confidence, making them more engaged and productive.

Be Alert to Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is a prejudice individuals hold about certain groups of people that they aren’t consciously aware of having. The following strategies can help ensure your business cultivates and sustains a culture of acceptance:

  • Running assessments such as the Harvard Implicit Bias Association Test (IAT) can help you realize that everybody, including you, has hidden biases. Once everyone is aware of biases of which they’re unaware, they’ll be less likely to let them affect their workplace behavior.
  • You could also run unconscious bias training programs that allow individuals to uncover their biases in a non-confrontational manner and give them tools to help them reduce and manage them.
  • A person’s unconscious bias towards a particular group can be reduced by greater interaction with members of that group, so make a point of setting up project teams that include individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Normalize Talking about Challenges

Taking care of people when they need it most is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. Wise words indeed from Sheryl Sandberg. Make sure your company is a place where it’s OK to display human frailty, such as talking openly about struggles with mental health, relationship issues, or burnout. Let your teams know that you understand they aren’t machines, and it’s normal for their cognitive capacity to be affected by such issues from time to time. Encourage everyone to speak up if they ever hit a particularly rough patch and ensure that managers have the skills they need to engage team members in supportive conversations.

Let’s All Be Ourselves in the Workplace

We can all be a little afraid of being ourselves sometimes, especially if we have concerns that it could impact our careers. As an employer, it’s vital that you encourage your team to feel comfortable, relax, and express themselves. When leaders dare to be themselves, employees feel empowered to behave in the same way.

Values help leaders and employees hold each other accountable in a neutral yet meaningful way and instill a shared pride. Download our free Develop a Values-Driven Culture tool now to learn how you can develop a culture based on your values.