November 27 2022 10:18 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

‘Do not bring your whole self to work’

asian man father work from home
(Photo: Envato Elements)
For those lucky enough to have worked from home over the past two and a half years or seven years or whatever it was, it is back to the office time. We are finally returning to the office and in real-time, at least until the next wave hits. And some people cannot wait.اضافة اعلان

But for those less excited, reluctant to face the creepy supervisor they have been avoiding, the department suck-up they have been talking about, the portion of the job they have been faking, here is a nifty tip for easing the transition: Do not “bring your whole self” to work.

That is right! Defy the latest catchphrase of human resources and leave a good portion of you back home. Maybe it is the part of you that has grown overly attached to athleisure. The side that needs to talk about candy (guilty). It could be the getting-married part of you still agonizing over whether a destination wedding is morally defensible in These Times.

Leave those things behind and I promise: No one in your workplace will miss them. And remember, it works both ways. Anyone worth sharing a flex desk with is not someone you want to see every last ounce of either. They, too, can reserve their aches, grievances, flimsy excuses, and noisy opinions for the roommate, the pandemic puppy and the houseplants.

You may be unaware of the prevailing “whole self” fashion. Perhaps you managed to skip that human resources module, or you work at a small outfit, one unencumbered by systems, strategies, and sweeping philosophies.

So what exactly does it even mean? According to TED talker and corporate consultant Mike Robbins, author of a book called — that is right — “Bring Your Whole Self to Work”, it means being able “to fully show up” and “allow ourselves to be truly seen” in the workplace. Per Robbins, it is “essential” to create a work environment “where people feel safe enough to bring all of who they are to work”.

Bringing the whole self is a certified buzzphrase at Google and encouraged at Experian. An entire issue of the Harvard Business Review has been devoted to the subject. In this new workplace, you do not have to keep your head down and do your job. Instead, you “bring your whole self to work” — personality flaws, vulnerabilities, idiosyncratic mantras, and all.

Perhaps you have heard of whole self’s cousin, the “authentic self,” also urged to head into the office. According to BetterUp, which bills itself as the first Whole Person™ platform, “that means acknowledging your personality, including the quirky bits, and bringing your interests, hopes, dreams, and even fears with you, even if they don’t seem relevant to your work”.

In other words, for the world outside the HR department, the phrase “bringing your whole self to work” is almost guaranteed to induce a vomit emoji. Rarely has a phrase of corporate jargon raised so much ire and rolled as many eyeballs with everyone I have talked to about the subject.
In this new workplace, you do not have to keep your head down and do your job. Instead, you “bring your whole self to work” — personality flaws, vulnerabilities, idiosyncratic mantras, and all.
And yet. In recent years, the “whole self” movement has gained momentum in part because it dovetails with fortified corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Both purport to make employees feel comfortable expressing aspects of their identity in the workplace, even when irrelevant to the work at hand.

Comfort sure sounds nice.

The problem is for many people, it is no more comfortable dragging the whole kit and caboodle into the workplace than it is showing up every day on a relentless basis. Nor is it necessarily productive. Not everyone wants their romantic life, their politics, their values, or their identity viewed by their colleagues as pertinent to their performance. For some people, a private life is actually best when it is private.

So here is an alternative: Let everyone bring only — or at least primarily — the worky parts. You remember those fragments: the part that angsted over every resume punctuation mark and put a suit on for the first interview, the part whose mom urged her to put her best face forward in the workplace? It is that old-fashioned thing we used to call “being professional”. Heck, it is the you you were for your entire corporate history, until the prevailing HR doctrine abandoned buttoning things up.

But “bringing your whole self to work” is a cheap benefit — easier for employers to provide than, say, a raise — and one vague enough to be largely meaningless. Nor is it available to the majority of the American workforce. Nobody is asking a line worker or customer service representative to add more personal vulnerability to the enterprise. For most gainfully employed people, it is not work’s job to provide self-fulfillment or self-actualization. It is to put food on the table.

After all, the office is not the only place you exist — why should they get to have all of you? If you only bring the best parts of you or at the very least, the part of you that does the actual work, you are more likely to get rewarded for it.

Nor is it fair to ask the workplace to deal with all your hopes, dreams, and problems. Not everyone is comfortable having their co-workers know so much about them. As the co-author of a recent paper out of Wharton (“OMG! My Boss Just Friended Me: How Evaluations of Colleagues’ Disclosure, Gender, and Rank Shape Personal/Professional Boundary Blurring Online”) noted, “there’s a tension that people have between this exhortation to bring your whole self to work, to connect, to be a part of things, but also to keep a separation between your personal and your professional life.”

Think of this as your chance to redraw those lines. Bring back a little healthy compartmentalization. You need not go all-out “Severance” and slash your brain in two halves just to get a little separation between work self and not-work-self. It is not about being fake or hiding who you are. It is just about keeping some things to yourself.

Let this be a reprieve for workers as they re-up their subway pass and pack leftovers lunches. It is tiring being all you, all the time, with all people. People are exhausted! And they are scarcely even commuting yet.

Think, too, of this additional benefit: Now you have an excuse to get your work self out of the house. Some people there may actually be sick of that person.


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