From childhood, we’re often told to “just be yourself,” yet as adults, especially in the workplace, this advice becomes more complex. Balancing personal authenticity with professional demands can be challenging. Our desire to fit in, be accepted, and find success can come with the pressure to conform in order to achieve these goals. But there’s no greater benefit to your health, well-being, and happiness than living an authentic life.
What is authenticity?
Being authentic doesn’t mean removing your filter, wearing your heart on your sleeve, or spilling your life story to everyone the moment you meet. Rather, it’s about consciously choosing actions and behaviors that align with your core values.
What are core values?
Core values act as your internal compass, guiding your behavior and life choices by defining what you consider ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ They represent your ideal behavioral standards. For example, you may value courage, gratitude, sustainability, family, self-reliance, and frugality.
At its core, authenticity is a state of being where you possess the self-awareness and autonomy to consciously make choices that are in balance with your core values, beliefs, and psychological needs.
Why authenticity at work matters
Have you ever felt like you’re just playing a role at work, smiling on cue and mirroring others rather than being yourself? This gap between your true self and the persona you adopt can be deeply uncomfortable.
As a result, those who are wear a mask at work are less engaged, committed, and more likely to leave. It’s no wonder – compromising your core values is inherently unsatisfying. Inauthenticity at work will exhaust your energy and emotions trying to fit in. Eventually you may find you don’t even want to fit in.
Embracing your personal values in the workplace can transform your experience by making your work more satisfying, boosting your overall well-being, and empowering you to form deeper connections. By focusing less on conformity and more on what genuinely matters to you, you’ll find greater joy and meaning in your contributions.
Why is it hard to be myself at work?
Several barriers can block your way to being authentic at work. You may feel success has to look a certain way, whether in the way you dress, what you talk about, or how you behave. Being authentic requires vulnerability, and it’s common to fear judgment, misunderstanding, or concern that authenticity may cost you more than you’ll gain. If your core values don’t align with the values of the company, it can feel risky.
Example of core values not aligning with company values
Let’s say being a dedicated parent is central to your identity, and you cherish spending quality time with your children. However, in your workplace, there’s a prevailing culture of ‘always-on’ work ethic, where employees boast about their long hours. This environment makes you hesitant to share your value of family time, fearing it might be seen as a lack of dedication and affect your chances for promotion.
In any environment, especially the workplace, there is a ‘threshold of authenticity.’ This is the level of authentic engagement that is beneficial to your well-being. It may not always be safe or helpful depending on the work culture, so if your workplace has a lower threshold, you can find other contexts to align your actions with core values outside your professional life.
Finding the right context to express your values outside of the office
The workplace probably won’t be an area you can fully express all your values – that’s okay. Consider someone who deeply values political involvement and civic engagement, but their day job doesn’t provide an avenue for this interest. They can participate in their local political scene by volunteering for political campaigns, attending town hall meetings, or joining a community advocacy group. They might also get involved in voter registration drives or become a part of local grassroots organizations that focus on issues they care about. This way, they stay politically engaged and contribute to the democratic process within the appropriate context.
What it means to be authentic within a professional context
So, how can you ensure your outward behavior is in sync with your internal sense of self in the workplace? Remember, it doesn’t mean trusting everyone with all the intimate details of your life or baring your soul. It’s identifying what’s important to you and determining how much you can integrate those values into your work life and other areas.
1. It starts with self-awareness
Practicing mindfulness helps strip away the noise of others’ expectations and goals for you, allowing you to become in-tune with what you truly want and value. Plus, strengthening your self-awareness equips you to become more conscious of moments you’re behaving in ways that don’t align with your true self.
2. Choose how to express authenticity
Authenticity is practiced differently by each person. Someone may value the clothes they wear, others may believe in integrating their personal and professional life, and others may express the value their culture holds by decorating their space with art or other cultural pieces. You can choose how to express authenticity in a way that is meaningful to you.
3. Find ways to act on your core vales and beliefs
Use self-awareness to identify your core values and beliefs, then think of ways to act. For instance, if you’re passionate about sustainability, consider weekend volunteering for environmental causes, researching and suggesting ethical office products, or initiating a recycling program at your workplace.
Embrace your authentic self at work, but do so with mindfulness and awareness of the threshold of authenticity in your workplace. Navigating workplace authenticity is about understanding how to express values while considering the professional context.
Don't shame yourself for surviving
It’s important to acknowledge that authenticity in the workplace isn’t always feasible or safe for everyone. Situations may require mechanisms like masking and code-switching as essential tools for navigating certain environments. If you find yourself adapting in these ways, remember, it’s not a failure of authenticity, but a means of survival. There’s no shame in protecting yourself when circumstances demand it. Instead of directing negative feelings inward, use that energy to work towards a future where you can fully express your true self, both in and outside the workplace.
Life Happens. We're here to help.
Life happens, and navigating it authentically can be a journey full of discovery and growth. If you’re exploring ways to enhance your authenticity, both personally and professionally, remember that your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through EFR is here to support you. We offer a range of tools and resources designed to help you uncover and embrace your true self, leading to a richer, more fulfilling life experience.
Consider starting with life coaching – it’s an excellent way to gain clarity and direction on your path to authenticity. Our coaches are here to guide and empower you in this journey of self-discovery.