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How to be authentic at work; in a world of conformity

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In recent years many of the largest and most progressive companies have advocated and embraced the concept of authenticity and the need for employees to bring and remain authentic on the job.

But even at the start of the hiring process, job seekers know that they have to play the game of conformity to be hired in the first place. Conformity dominates both our personal and professional lives and we are all navigating the thin line between conformity and individuality in our daily interactions. Conformity is perfectly natural. As in many respects we are all conditioned to seek acceptance as well follow the consensus of a group.

Individuality, also comes naturally to us but from a very young age we have been taught we must curb our spontaneous desires so that society does not label us as eccentric or weird, simply because we fear being alone.

These aspects of societal conditioning inform many workers that it is a given to mask their true selves at work. Organizational actions also confirm that conformity gets rewarded: as It's the "culture-fit" employee that gets the job, promotions and receives the pay raise, and we believe that person is vastly different to our true selves.

Why We Hide Our True Selves

Conforming is the safe way for employees to make a good impression. We want to fit in because we feel that our real, authentic self will not be accepted by others and to succeed in the workplace. A model employee is usually depicted as someone who adopts the company's dominant values, and it is that person who gets rewarded.

We choose not to show our authentic selves as well when the environment does not allow us to freely speak out and express our concerns. How can we feel a sense of belonging if we feel that we could be punished for standing out too much or go against the status quo?

It's also more difficult for those in the minority. Think of the women who may work in male-dominated departments or industries. If the majority of employees does not match your authentic self, how can you go against the way they choose to do things?

Even our culture predisposes us to conform. With a strong communal mindset in Asia, many are taught since childhood that conforming is a sign of respect. And this plays out when entering the workforce as there is a deference to those in positions of authority.

However, when the self-outside work and the self at work have very little in common, a cognitive dissonance causes employees to experience heightened symptoms of depression. Having to pretend to be someone you are not creates a barrier that prevents you and your colleagues from forming real bonds.

Moreover, conforming takes a great amount of mental energy to keep up and your mental health will suffer in the long run. Eventually, hiding your real self-morphs into a sense of shame. We become embarrassed to even show our real selves at work.

If we want to be at our best, we must integrate enough of our work persona to what we consider our true selves. Aligning our internal self with our outward behavior is known as authenticity.

What It Means To Be Authentic

Being authentic at work brings us a sense of well-being. When we are free to act on our values and what we believe in, we feel satisfaction and become highly engaged in our work. Studies on authenticity at work have found that this emotional improvement increases productivity by up to 12 percent.

Authenticity means allowing yourself to expose your personal side. It's being vulnerable but on your own terms. You don't hide your identity and beliefs. And you have no need to compromise on what you think is right. Keep in mind as well that being authentic is not an excuse to hurt others but rather as a way to foster deeper and equally authentic bonds at work.

In a way, we associate authenticity with being morally good. An authentic person won't be manipulating you so the people around him or her are more willing to trust them. Most consider the authentic individual to be one that is not motivated by getting ahead of everyone else or seeking attention.

How To Be More Authentic at Work

If you feel ready to take on the challenge, you have to first address what holds you back from displaying your real self. Which values and beliefs have you had to hide? Think of which ones are considered non-negotiable where you won't stand down for anything related to it.

This is about knowing your threshold for authenticity since you don't have to divulge all aspects of your life. Just start with the ones that matter to you the most. It's still important to keep some boundaries to protect yourself. There is no need to be careless with information that may affect other people in your life.

So what should you be more open and vulnerable with? For one, you can let go of keeping a "perfect" version of yourself who has it all together. Don't be afraid to talk about mistakes you've made and be humble in your shortcomings. Everyone has their bad days and when we share them with our colleagues, we form a bond through an understanding of what the other is going through.

Being authentic means being open to others' authenticity as well. Don't fake your interactions and genuinely try to listen to what they have to say. With this, you can generate better thought-out feedback for your colleagues, and they can also come to realize that you are being straight with them as well.

We have to admit that becoming more authentic at work is not easy for everyone. Female employees and those of minority groups should not have to shoulder the burden to be more authentic when companies do not create a safe space for them to be authentic in the first place. However, as individuals, we can test the waters for our sakes, and begin creating connections that can spread the message of authenticity slowly, but surely. 

Half the Sky's mission is to supply the tools that can give every woman the ability to build a successful career and be fully prepared for the future of work. So, that they can lead a healthy, prosperous and more balanced/blended lifestyle of their choosing.  By building your confidence, you’re setting foundations to empower yourself and your career.  The world is your oyster, and it starts with you. 

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half the sky (HTS) is a career platform for women connecting you to career opportunities at companies that care. Providing you with information, tips and strategies to navigate the rapidly changing workplace.

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