6 ways HR and People teams can support employees to bring their whole selves to work

John McNamara
Published on 4th September 2020
4 min read

Not long ago, you’d start your workday by polishing your shoes, buttoning up your shirt and walking through the front doors of your workplace wearing a steely expression.

Then, when you arrived home, you’d become yourself again. You would talk openly with your friends and family, and truly be yourself.

All that has changed now; not just because the global pandemic has displaced many of us from our normal workplaces – but because of a rising trend in which employees are feeling more and more empowered to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.

Becoming your whole self: using authentic communication to build psychological safety

In her bestseller, ‘Lean in’, Sheryl Sandberg defined being your “whole self” as feeling empowered to use “authentic communication” in the workplace. Sandberg defines authentic communication as not just stating opinions as facts, but rather stating beliefs and then the facts to back them.

Doing this encourages workers to build connections with one another on a personal level, improving cohesion between teams by allowing members to speak openly about their beliefs.

Over time, this method of communication can help to build what’s called “psychological safety” between team members and throughout your organization, meaning employees feel free and secure sharing ideas and concerns, without being judged or criticized.

They went on to discover that: “Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives,” according to a blog post by Julia Rozovsky.

Thus, the benefits of encouraging employees to feel like themselves spans across the board, from higher retention to improved performance.

The question now is, how can you build a culture within your own organization where employees feel empowered to be their ‘whole selves’? Here are six tips…

1. Make your workplace inclusive

One of the major societal themes of 2020 has been the hard-fought campaign to end racial injustice.

It’s highlighted that there’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to making working environments truly inclusive – and this goes far beyond the ordinary perception of diversity.

Becoming truly inclusive means encouraging diversity of thought throughout the entire employee journey, allowing them to share their experiences, and encouraging others to listen and engage.

The best way to start to achieve true inclusivity is to adapt your company culture to facilitate psychological safety.

2. Establish boundaries

Many employees may at first feel intimidated by the idea of being their “whole self” at work. It may take time for them to come out of their shell and start to express themselves more openly – especially if they’re worried of the repercussions of being themselves.

As a HR and People leader, you can facilitate this change by establishing clear boundaries and reminding your people what behavior’s appropriate.

For instance, it’s one thing to encourage healthy debate among teams so long as conversations are focused toward achieving a business objective or drive better cohesion and understanding between teams.

However, you may like to draw the line at employees bringing their own beliefs into a meeting – especially if they’re not open to criticism and discussion about such ideas, or their ideas are particularly controversial.

3. Get rid of outdated policies

Once you’ve established the boundaries needed, it’s time to re-consider the rule book.

While things such as a company dress code may seem natural in the workplace, employers are increasingly looking to empower employees’ freedom of expression – and employees in turn are choosing jobs that offer flexibility.

Therefore, doing away with outdated policies will not only offer staff the flexibility to be their whole selves, it may help your organization to attract and retain top talent, too.

4. Lead by example

In his Ted Talk, Dan Clay spoke about his experience of his whole self being discovered by people at his company – and what a liberating experience it was.

“When your true self is a little non-traditional,” he muses, “how much of it can you really bring to the office?”

As a People leader within his organization, Clay’s behavior and mentality helped to establish a standard which encouraged others to follow suit.

“There’s no one way to be a leader,” he says. “It’s about finding your strengths and finding ways to amplify them.”

Clay’s message is that, if you and other leaders within your organization become your whole selves, your employees will feel empowered to do the same – and rather than vulnerability leading to negative effects on performance, it’ll actually increase cohesion and openness.

5. Create a culture of celebration

Many workplaces in Western countries celebrate holidays like Christmas and New Year, but ask your Social Media Manager and they’ll tell you that, somewhere in the world, there’s a different celebration every day.

What better way to keep your organization’s spirits high, while also promoting a culture of inclusivity and diversity – not to mention grasping a valuable opportunity to help your workforce learn more about each other’s cultures – than by encouraging your people to recognize and celebrate holidays from different cultures and traditions?

Whether it’s taking part in Pride, Diwali or any other significant day, there are all sorts of fun ways you can make everyone feel included.

6. Consider social spaces in the workplace

If your employees find it difficult to socialize outside of working hours, you can still help them to socialize at work.

Creating a ‘break-out’ space in your workplace is a great way to encourage employees to interact. It’ll offer employees the chance to express their personalities and opinions outside of their day-to-day job.

It’s entirely possible to facilitate these kinds of casual hangouts during the working week using digital technology, if your employees are currently working from home.

Gallup found that those who have a best friend at work are 63% more likely to be engaged in their job. While employees can’t always have a best friend at work, giving people the space to nurture friendships can only have a positive impact on their complete experience in the workplace.

Ready to create a workforce of ‘whole selves’?

Progressive companies have already adopted the idea of bringing your whole self to work. It’s helping them to stand out when it comes to attracting talent, as well as improving retention strategies and even developing talent pipelines.

So, what are you waiting for – how will you empower your people to bring their whole selves to work?

Bringing your whole self to work is just one of the many ways the world of HR is changing. Discover everything you need to know about the future of HR in the research report on The changing face of HR.

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