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Authenticity is being your best authentic professional self

A balance between bringing your 'whole self' to work and professional standards must be maintained

Employers must strike the right balance between allowing colleagues to bring their whole selves to work and ensuring professional standards are maintained, according to Sandra Henke, group head of people and culture at Hays.

Henke spoke on the importance of supporting employees to be themselves at work, reflecting on how much more frequently candidates of all demographics ask questions around Hays' D&I policies at interview stage.

“It’s around 10% [of candidates] now, where it used to be 0 to 5%,” she told HR magazine.That’s about people finding out not just ‘will I fit in?’ but also ‘do you [the employer] value creativity, difference, the opportunity to bring something slightly different?’ That’s what’s driving that question even from people not necessarily identifying as part of a minority group.

“The real challenge is crafting a sentence or two that captures the essence of your culture,” added Henke in regards to how to answer this question from a prospective employee.

However, she said HR teams and managers must be clear right from the beginning, and throughout induction processes, that being authentic doesn’t mean compromising professionalism. Specifying what is and isn’t acceptable right from the off rather than presuming someone just ‘gets it’ is particularly important in empowering staff from different backgrounds, who might not have had the opportunity to learn certain behaviours before.

We are not in a position to say: be whoever you want to be,” said Henke. “We can’t have people with a face tattoo interviewing a client, for example. I feel authentic in my tracksuit but I wouldn’t wear it at work.”

Explaining why certain standards are important to the business is key, said Henke:It’s ‘this is who we are as an a organisation and this is what our customers want from us'. Then you’re not saying to someone ‘you just don’t look right'. You have to link it to the higher purpose of the organisation.

“It’s about: how do we achieve something together? It’s not about oversharing intimate details of your life and not as a leader feeling you have to overshare,” she added. "So authenticity is about being your best authentic professional self."

Henke also spoke on the challenge of equipping people to be resilient enough to embrace rapid change. HR can play an important bridging role here, communicating the change in a non-threatening, supportive way.

“The emotional aspect is so key, and often the people agitating for change are the ones not very good at communicating that,” she said. “These are the people who aren’t scared of the change; they’re like: ‘the future’s here and it’s really exciting! What do you mean you’re scared by it?’

“So HR has to consider how we plan to deal with that for a generation who have worked in and are used to much more stable environments. How do we equip people to lead and embrace change?”