To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s a lot of chatter these days on “being your most authentic self” at work. Ever since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave an inspiring speech to the class of 2012 at Harvard Business School about taking the time to have genuine interactions with your coworkers and clients and bringing your “whole self” to work, the “authenticity” movement she coined has been spreading across the country like wildfire.
But what exactly does it mean to be your “most authentic self?” And aren’t we, as employees, supposed to hide our emotions when in a professional setting? Breakthrough research is showing that in our tech-driven 21st century, it pays to be genuine.
Being Authentic Makes You More Productive
Mike Robbins, a thought leader, sought-after speaker, and author of four books, including his latest, Bring Your Whole Self to Work told Forbes contributor Henna Inam that:
“When we don’t bring our whole selves to work we suffer – lack of engagement, lack of productivity, and our well-being is diminished. We aren’t able to do our best, most innovative work, and we spend and waste too much time trying to look good, fit in, and do or say the “right” thing. For teams and organizations, this lack of psychological safety makes it difficult for the group or company to thrive and perform at their highest level because people are holding back some of who they really are.”
Additionally, new research published in the Journal of Business and Psychology also proved that employees are more productive when they are free to be themselves.
The study’s research team, made up of researchers from Rice University, Texas A&M University, University of Memphis, Xavier University, University of California-Berkeley, and Portland State University, worked together to analyze 65 workplace studies in which individuals were open about their identities at work. The researchers looked at specific stigmatized identities and found that those who showed up to work with their authentic selves were found to be more efficient in their jobs, and generally more optimistic.
Think about it—if you’re not spending time worrying about hiding certain things about yourself from your coworkers and employer, you have more time to focus on your work to-do list.
Being Authentic Makes You Feel More Connected
“Feeling like you belong is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior,” says Eden King, Ph.D., associate psychology professor at Rice University. “That powerful feeling of belonging is really only accessible to people who feel like they can be their authentic selves.”
Dr. King says that having an internal sense of belonging is what makes us feel comfortable being ourselves around our colleagues—but for people who face certain stigmas in the workplace, it’s instinctual to hide that identity while at work.
“Our findings suggest that being authentic is particularly important for people who would otherwise feel like they have to hide something,” she explains. “It is stressful and depleting to have to hide something important about who you are.”
By taking on a certain level of vulnerability, employees can free themselves from damaging thoughts such as self-doubt and imposter syndrome, and make those sought-after close connections at work.
Being Authentic Lowers Your Stress Levels
The stress that psychologist Dr. King touched on above, which often leads to the lingering anxiety of being accepted, is backed by research as well. Studies show that pregnant women in the workplace often face significant challenges and stigma once they notify their managers—and some cities are even passing new laws to prevent individuals from facing racial discrimination at work because of the style of their hair.
When the pressure’s off of you to pose as something you are not—even if it’s something as simple as keeping your dietary preferences a secret—you feel more relaxed and comfortable. Stress can be a drain on mental health, so staying true to you can help your brain (and therefore you) stay healthy.
Being your most authentic self in the workplace doesn’t mean that you overshare details of your personal life or succumb to emotional outbursts. Instead, it means being open, honest, and engaging with those around you. When you feel like you can be true to who you are, you’re more likely to be comfortable with your coworkers and confident in taking on tasks and growing in your role. Without the stress of hiding who you are, you’re free to focus on other meaningful things, such as closing a deal, preparing a presentation, or finishing a high-stakes project.