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Career Advice

3 reasons to bring your true self to work

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated September 21, 2022
|5 min read

Imagine you had the chance to literally turn off “work you” or “home you” when you left either environment. 

The Apple TV+ series Severance allows workers at a fictional company to do just that. They can opt into a controversial procedure that severs their work lives from their personal lives. On the clock, they’re all business, with no memory of the world outside the office. Off the clock, they leave the work drama behind. 

The show raises practical questions about the workplace. It makes you wonder if companies really want laser-focused worker bees, or if they benefit from teams of complex individuals weaving a tapestry of experiences into decisions. 

Studies show that diverse teams yield better results and higher revenue. Embracing individuality at work — both your own and others — is important in building and supporting diverse teams. 

Here are three reasons employees should bring their authentic selves to work.

#1 Faking it is exhausting

Hiding who you are to fit into a mold at work zaps your energy. Just ask Bozoma Saint John, who’s no stranger to speaking on the importance of expressing yourself at work.

Saint John is an accomplished marketing exec and a global fashion icon who’s been profiled in magazines like Vogue and Glamour for wearing bright colors, bold patterns, and lots of sparkle at work. At 45, she already has stints as a chief marketing officer at Netflix and Endeavor, a chief brand officer at Uber, and head of marketing at Apple Music under her stylish belt. 

While clothing may seem irrelevant to job performance, Saint John would disagree.

In a 2018 NPR interview, she explained that she struggled to get comfortable early in her career when she was trying to mimic the gray-suit style of the execs she looked up to.

“None of my personality came out because I'm so busy trying to be something else,” she said. “I was really uncomfortable in it. So I spent all my energy trying not to be uncomfortable. What a waste of time.”

When a laundry emergency left her without a traditional shirt to wear to work one day, she opted instead for a floral shirt that she loved and instantly felt more at ease.

“I got a couple of weird looks, but I felt so great that day,” she said,” I literally could not go back.”

Of course, being your authentic self isn’t limited to feeling comfortable in your clothes. Saint John notes that bringing “the fullness of yourself” to work “helps with our corporate environments and allows for more diversity, not just of race and gender but of ideas and experiences.”

#2 People like personality

When you interview for a job, you want your personality to shine through. The hiring team needs to know if you’re a good culture fit, and, frankly, if they want to work with you as an individual. 

Don’t turn that off after you’re hired.

Your personality is likely to turn up in some context, either through background noise or visuals in a Zoom call or on your social media profiles. Bringing your genuine self to your work lets you play a role in shaping how your colleagues perceive you.

“At the very basic level, show a little bit of your personality so people get a better sense of who you are outside of 9-to-5 because — especially in this day and age when a lot of us are working in virtual environments and we’re in the comforts of our own homes — that personality is going to shine through regardless,” Alex De Simone, a marketing expert with Star Talk media, explained in Fishbowl’s Hardly Working podcast. 

“You might as well do what you can to curate it up front so people can get a better sense of who you are when the laptop’s closed.”

#3 Authenticity can accelerate your career 

Being your authentic self is about showing your humanity.

“If you keep things surface level and hide your true self, you might miss out on forming the type of relationships that can enrich your life and career,” Susan McPherson, a communications expert, wrote in the Harvard Business Review.  

McPherson shared Zoom exchanges about the weather as an example. Instead of announcing, “It’s hot,” or “It’s raining,” to colleagues, McPherson relates the weather back to something more personal as a way to share her authentic self. She’ll say something like, “I am not fond of rainy days because walking is the thing that has been helping me get through this pandemic. I’ve walked more than 1,200 miles since September.” 

McPherson explained that authenticity goes beyond sharing about yourself and requires listening and acting in response to your colleagues’ authenticity as well. Pay attention to their interests, challenges, and advice, and follow up. That could include:

  • Forwarding an article that relates to a conversation you’ve had
  • Inviting people to events they would find interesting
  • Circling back when you try a restaurant or class they recommended to let them know you enjoyed it.

“Being generous with your suggestions, ideas, and connections — even when you don’t need something from the other person — is one of the most powerful ways to connect,” McPherson said.

Tip: Consider the time, place, and manner 

Being your true self doesn’t mean sharing every unfiltered opinion with your co-workers or wearing something that would be unsafe for the type of work you do. In some situations, being fully authentic is not the top priority.

For example, comedian Tom Papa shares a story in his “Out in America” series about visiting Portland, Oregon. “I was picked up at the airport by an Uber driver who was wearing a welder’s mask,” he said. “This was not a costume. He said he refuses to conform to what other people expect him to wear.” 

Pape was (hopefully) making a joke, but it’s a great illustration of when authenticity (i.e., wearing a welder’s mask) literally has to take a backseat to the job. 

Context matters. “Authenticity is important,” behavioral scientist Mike Rucker wrote in Fast Company, “but a tempered approach that supports inclusiveness and emotional safety for all is warranted in the workplace.”

See if your company encourages authenticity

Think about where you land in the authentic self-debate. Look at your workplace and see if it’s a company that encourages employees to express themselves, and a place where you feel comfortable sharing your perspectives with colleagues. 

Weigh in with your experience on the Fishbowl app to discuss authenticity — and thousands of other topics — with professionals in your field. You might even find a new gig that’s a better match for you to truly be yourself. Just be sure to check out the company’s reviews on Glassdoor before you accept an offer.