It took me a while to decide what I wanted the subject of this blog to be. I felt compelled to write about something scientific or technical to mirror the intellectual musings of those I follow on LinkedIn. However, after a few days of deliberation, I realised that neither of those concepts are really ‘me’ or reflective of the thoughts I’d like to share. It was my work alter-ego talking.
Work alter-egos - the slightly more socially acceptable and politically correct version of ourselves who make an appearance when we’re around those we work with. Don’t get me wrong, I can absolutely vouch for my work alter-ego. She can give me a sense of comfort and distance in situations when I don’t know how to behave or respond, and people probably like me a little bit more because she’s more amenable than I actually am. However, she also dampens down my personality a little more than I’d like her to. If your work alter-ego and real self align closely, then great – happy days. But what about when they don’t?
Without a doubt, the best conversations I have with those in my team are the ones we share over a drink after work. They might be telling me a funny story from their university days or revealing their uncensored, candid view of what was said in our meeting that morning. Whatever the topic of conversation, it’s over this drink that I learn more about their personality, perspective and thoughts than I did in the whole week of working with them.
So why aren’t people their real selves in work more often? Provided we maintain an air of professionalism, I see no reason why this can’t be accompanied by a strong sense of originality and authenticity. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that giving your work-alter ego the limelight for too long can be bad for your emotional well-being (Van den Bosch and Taris, 2014; Taxer & Frenzel, 2018). In fact, displaying characteristics and behaviours that do not align with those you actually want to display is listed as one of the key predictors of burnout (Van den Bosch et al., 2019).
Now, I’m under no illusions that this blog is going to spark a movement whereby we all start inviting our Friday-night selves to work with us on Monday morning. I’m also not about to start sharing my deepest darkest secrets with my colleagues, and I don’t encourage you to either. However, I do hope that it makes you ask yourself – where could I share more of my real self? Would my colleagues benefit from knowing more about me and my true thoughts? It doesn’t have to be anything revealing, but could it actually help those around you understand your actions and approach more clearly? I find that, most often, the characteristics I have become known and liked for in work are those that are authentic and true to my real self. I bet yours would be too.
Taxer, J. L., & Frenzel, A. C. (2018). Inauthentic expressions of enthusiasm: Exploring the cost of emotional dissonance in teachers. Learning and Instruction, 53, 74-88.
Van den Bosch, R., & Taris, T. W. (2014). The authentic worker's well-being and performance: The relationship between authenticity at work, well-being, and work outcomes. The Journal of psychology, 148(6), 659-681.
Van den Bosch, R., Taris, T. W., Schaufeli, W. B., Peeters, M. C., & Reijseger, G. (2019). Authenticity at work: a matter of fit?. The Journal of psychology, 153(2), 247-266.