As a coach, I’m a huge advocate of allowing the whole human to come to work. What do I mean by that? Whether you are a parent, a spouse, a carer, a vegan, a yoga enthusiast, or love to do extreme sports in your spare time you shouldn't have to suppress any part of yourself when you go to work.
I believe everyone should feel comfortable enough to be open about who they are and not feel pressured to put a mask on every time they face their co-workers or boss.
Bringing your whole self to work:
There is also a huge benefit for both the employee and the employer as it has been proven in various studies that people perform a lot better and are more likely to stay with a company if they feel free to express who they are.
In a large-scale study of over 3,000 employees conducted by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behaviour and heart disease in employees. Stress-inducing bosses are literally bad for the heart, according to Harvard Business Review.
This hit home even harder for me when I was interviewing one of my new team members last month. I was striving to ensure I created a safe space for her to talk through what she enjoyed, when she made quite a revelation and told me she didn't tell her last employer she was pregnant, as she thought it would somehow influence their decision on what she was capable of achieving.
I can't even imagine how much stress and pressure that would have put on her, especially when expecting something as magical as a baby. It also saddened me to think that even though we are in 2022 some of us still feel our performance in the workplace will be judged if we expose who we really are.
As we chatted more she told me it was a real typical big boy’s world type of business and that's what held her back from letting them know her true situation. Please note that I’m not insinuating that the business world is full of chauvinistic male characters who lack any care because that’s just not the case or even what this article is about.
While businesses are increasingly working to ensure they have equality across the board and environments free of prejudices, there is still a long way to go before people will say they feel safe to be themselves at work, a sad fact given how much time humans spend in the workplace.
"Even though we are in 2022 some of us still feel our performance in the workplace will be judged if we expose who we really are."
My colleague said perhaps if she’d told them they might have been amazingly supportive. But the point is she didn’t feel she could, she didn’t feel safe enough to do that.
So what was it that made her feel like she couldn't be open about her life and situation?
“Have you still not told your work you're pregnant?” was the running joke amongst her friends. They found it even more mind blowing when they learned that she had booked 14 days holiday leave so she wouldn't look like she had fallen off a cliff when she was checking in for a c-section.
During the pandemic it was easy to hide the pregnancy due to video calls. As her pregnancy progressed, she had this belief that being pregnant would make her the weaker link and thought they would be watching out for submitting work late or making silly mistakes.
She never said no to taking on new clients, attended late-night team meetings, stayed up until 1am finishing off work and even took client calls on a Saturday.
The steely determination she used to achieve her daily workload suddenly made me realise that it didn’t have to be that way. Yes, she could conceal a pregnancy, keep it together in a high-paced business world, create work clients loved, show up on time and never miss a deadline - but she was not truly happy working in this sort of environment.
A lack of self expression is one of the greatest human issues because so often we want to avoid conflict and disappointment. We have not been coded how to express ourselves without encountering other people’s opinions and being made to feel wrong.
We get caught up in false narratives about how we should be and what responses we think we’ll encounter and this makes humans defensive and guarded.
Humans are guarded in various ways depending on the environment they find themselves in from holding back on sexuality, gender preferences, unusual hobbies, past failures, religious beliefs, family dynamics, fertility issues, the list goes on.
The only way forward is through a good old dose of acceptance and empathy and this is hard in a world obsessed with right and wrong and where so often opinions get collapsed as facts.
I will continue to strive for the whole human to be allowed to show up, both in my own business and what I teach my clients for theirs. The level of empathy we have for each other, directly correlates with the level we hold for ourselves.
Next time you find yourself holding back on admitting who you really are and what you really need, take a moment to ask yourself why you are making yourself wrong in some way and check in on what you are actually covering up.
Polly Bateman is a mindset coach