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Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work

My employer, like many, is very keen to encourage employees to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. The idea, I have always assumed, is to encourage honesty, openness, trust, and respect. It is, I’ve long thought, supposed to signal that each of us is about more than our work lives. Everyone ought to feel welcome, and no one ought to face discrimination based on personal characteristics.

I’m not especially keen, though, on the particular phrase. Nobody really wants to deal with my ‘whole self’ at work. No-one really wants to put up with me having a senselessly grumpy morning. Nobody really benefits from knowing about the entirety of my life outside work, not least because it’s sometimes inconsistent with the advice I give in a professional capacity: we’re none of us saints. What everyone really wants is a reliable, personable, moderated professional—which of course is best achieved without feeling the need to hide aspects of who you are.

Sometimes, I get frustrated with the poor expression of these ideas, which often descends into something close to parody. My employer ventures so far into questionable lifestyle topics from time to time that I included a (surprisingly tricky) ‘Intranet or Goop?’ round in our Christmas quiz. I fear that cack-handed attempts at inclusivity like this undermine the wider aim: I probably end up rolling my eyes more often than I should.

An article in the latest Kinfolk helped me to re-connect the rhetoric with the underlying goals and possible alternative actions. We all want to work in a psychologically safe environment, one which fosters:

the feeling that you can speak out, push back and open up without the risk of punishment or humiliation, whether explicit or indirect.

I can see how valuing the ‘whole person’ becomes shorthand for that—and also how that shorthand generates nonsense that is unrelated to the underlying idea. The underlying idea remains valuable.

Actions speak louder than buzzwords. Generous parental leave policies, for example, may encourage parents to be more frank about their struggles with childcare; while a diverse C-suite and targeted hiring and retention strategies may show people that difference is valued.

I’m lucky that my employer does a lot of these things exceptionally well… so maybe I should give them a break on the well-meant, harmless nonsense that comes along with it.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , , .

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