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Authenticity in the Workplace: Do You Really Need to “Be Yourself” at Work?

Many of us adopt a professional persona while at work. We often feel that in order to be professional and presentable, we have to adopt traits and behaviors that are not necessarily representing of our true selves. This tendency is also known as impression management; at work, we constantly attempt to monitor and control the way we are perceived by our others, and this often requires us to censor ourselves.

The issue of authenticity at the work place touches the lives of business owners in two ways. First, In order to run their business, business owners work closely with many different people. Whether it’s employees, suppliers, customers, or business partners, business owners often feel that they need to put on a different mask for each person they work with. Second, in many cases business owners are also business leaders, hence they shape the organizational culture of the business and decide whether self-expression and authenticity is one of its values.

This issue has been widely researched in academic literature, but findings are mixed.

On one end, research conducted by the University of Houston in Texas and the University of Greenwich in London shows that authenticity at work is not at all correlated to the well-being and job satisfaction of the worker. The research did suggest people are the least authentic at work, in comparison to authenticity with their partner, parents, and friends, but this did not at all affect how happy they were with their lives and their jobs.

On the other hand, a Harvard Business School study suggests the contrary. Its findings about socialization in the workplace show that while promoting employees’ self-expression at work may seem to conflict with organizational control, it has beneficial effects. The researchers found that supporting employees’ self-expression can reduce turnover and increase productivity and job satisfaction.

I’m a strong believer in combining academic knowledge into the business world, but in this case there are no straight answers, and I am not surprised. Authenticity in the workplace is all about balance; some self-expression is needed in order to bring out the best in a person, but too much of it might lead to loss of control, which will eventually hurt the business. Finding that balance between clipping the wings and flying free is what you, the business leader, are there for.

Based on: Robinson, O. C., F.G. Lopez, and K. Ramos. “Should you bother ‘being yourself’ at work? Relationships between social context, authenticity and wellbeing.” University of Greenwich. 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

Cable, D. M., F. Gino, and B. Staats. “Breaking Them In or Revealing Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomer Self.” Working paper. 10 September 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

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