Bring your Whole Self to work day

doggo whole self

On any given day, you’ll find some – if not all – of these thoughts chittering away in my mind:

  • Hey, what if I’d taken the job on that cruise ship that time?
  • Why won’t the kid go the f*ck to sleep?
  • What would my first words to Bruce Springsteen be?
  • Less than, or fewer?
  • Oh god, clowns
  • I sure wish my dog hadn’t died
  • Why does the word ‘their’ lose all meaning when you stare at it?
  • New guitar? Or new tattoo? Wait, NEW GUITAR TATTOO

Yes, those are all real thoughts. Yes, some of them are a bit personal. So why am I sharing them on a company blog? Well, I’m exploring the idea of bringing your Whole Self to work, and over the next few months I’ll be blogging about it in more detail.

First, though, here’s a little introduction based on my current understanding.

What on earth are you talking about?

In his new book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, Mike Robbins explores the idea that we should lower our guards a little at work.

He advocates an approach to work where we bring all our idiosyncrasies, doubts and creative urges with us, rather than putting them aside when we start the working day. As he told Forbes, ‘Bringing our whole selves to work means showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can.’

My imperfect response on first uncovering this idea was ‘what unmitigated SoCal drivel. Sit down, hippy.’ I had some initial doubts, let’s say. But then I recalled that the jobs, and companies, I’ve enjoyed the most have been the ones that let me feel like myself at work, even when the work itself was grim. That time I was in a back room for a fortnight unstapling the paper records of an insurance company? They gave us a stereo and let us listen to the Rolling Stones. Not too shabby.

Sure, but what does Whole Self even mean?

Just that. It’s our talents, preferences, vulnerabilities and shortcomings / lack of skills; and it’s also those chittering thoughts and what we watched on Netflix last night. It’s all of us. Allowing individuals to be (and feel) more like themselves at work will make their teams more resilient and more cohesive, the argument goes.

Plus, a Deloitte study into just how much we ‘cover’ our identities at work seems to support the idea that we’re not currently showing up as ourselves. The degree to which some people feel compelled to dial down core parts of who they are – their ethnicity, say, or LGBTQ+ status – feels out of place in the 21st-century workplace.

Who the hell cares about my Whole Self in the office?

Probably more people than you think. Robbins’ argument is that balancing high expectations of employees with an environment that nurtures them leads to more effective organisations – ones that care, and act in a caring way.

In a TED talk, Robbins also suggested that we’re more in tune with our colleagues’ travails than we might think – that the human default response when confronted with suffering is compassion, and empathy. Some might argue that point given recent news events. But we react differently to abstracted suffering and the struggles of someone we know, or feel we know – psychologists call it the ‘identifiable victim effect’ – so maybe it’s not that much of a stretch after all.

Won’t seeing personal weaknesses make people uncomfortable?

Possibly. Self-doubt, fatigue, heartbreak, depression…these are things that most of us experience during our working lives, and they’re uncomfortable things to bring to the office. No-one wants to boot up their PC in the morning over some light chat about who’s going on holiday and whose chest is currently home to a gnawing anxiety squirrel.

Or do they? What if the pressure to push those things down, put on a work mask at the door and battle through is ultimately a recipe for making them worse? What if we did talk about that stuff more?

It’s not all personal, as some of this is also about perceived weakness in our skills and gaps in our knowledge. In our desire to seem super-competent because the-robots-are-coming-and-if-you-don’t-look-busy-they’re-going-to-cut-you-fam, we maybe don’t ask for help when we could. We don’t collaborate, or open ourselves up to learning; and perhaps we should. Think about the number of times you’ve grappled with a work problem in silence, then gone home and opened up about it to friends, partners or family – what if you’d felt able to do that at work?

But do we really want to make the barrier between work and home even thinner? And I’d love to see what an undertaker bringing their Whole Self to work would look like, you hipster buffoon.

Mmm. Good points. Like I said, this is an exploration. More on dancing undertakers and work creep to follow…watch this space.

Posted on 16th August 2018 in Culture
thinkBox: edition 7

Our annual journal featuring the latest thinking on employee engagement

Order a free copy Download the PDF
thinkBites: Autumn 2017 edition

Our quarterly journal featuring the latest thinking on employee engagement

Order a free copy Download the PDF