I recently complimented my assistant on her totally cute skirt and top and she remarked that’s it’s the most comfortable thing she has that she could wear to work that isn’t pajamas.
And this got me thinking about inclusion and the concept of bringing your whole self to work that Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Lean In fame spoke of at a Harvard Business School commencement address in 2012.
Does bringing your whole self to work mean you should be able to wear your pj’s?
What about using the same potty mouth at work you use with friends on Friday nights after 2 margaritas?
Is it ok to talk about having a same-sex girlfriend or the fact that you don’t celebrate Mother’s Day (or any holidays for that matter) because you are a Jehovah’s Witness?
Can you really stay home because your child is sick or should you “cover” yourself and call in claiming you are the one with stomach flu so as not to call attention to be a parent?
The real question: are people really that open and without judgment that being myself will not get in the way of my being able to advance my career?
Back it up Sista!
I remember a time in a team meeting where my bosses’ boss asked for some help on a project. In the meeting, I made a suggestion and said I’d gather the info and give it to him the next day.
In my one-on-one later that day I was called out by my boss who asked if I was trying to go around him. Was I trying to get on the good side of his boss?
What? Not in the least. My whole self is here to serve. When someone asks for help I will if I can. Its just part of who I am. No ulterior motives whatsoever!
It seems that company politics stepped up and my whole self needed to back up.
And what happened to me after that? I began to hold back in meetings. I no longer was sure what I should and should not say. I did not feel comfortable offering help. I also noticed that I was not having as much fun.
A 2018 poll by Gallup on employee engagement found that 51% of people are disengaged at work and 16% are actively disengaged meaning they are actually toxic to the team.
I would argue, based off my own experience, that being in an environment where you have to tackle negative politicking on a regular basis, hold back on your ideas and questions, don’t feel safe to challenge the status quo…where you essentially are asked to not bring your whole self to work…contributes to overall employee disengagement.
And employee disengagement means less productivity, more turnover and less innovation. Oh yeah… and less fun!
Leaning in to wholeness
So, what did Sheryl Sandberg mean when she made the term “bring your whole self to work” a company culture priority?
When you ask people what they think the phrase means there are two schools of thought:
1. Bring your whole self to work means to leave your baggage and messy home stuff at the office front door and focus on work when you are at work. In some ways this makes sense. If you have ever been in the office when someone is always bringing the drama it is a major distraction, lowers everyone’s productivity and sucks the joy out of the workplace. At the same time, if you are struggling with an at-risk child or a sick pet can you be fully present to your work when you are operating on top of what is really happening in your life?
2. Bring your whole self to work also means not feeling like you have to suppress who you are in order to fit in. You still follow social norms at some level but you also are not afraid to voice your opinion in a meeting. Your personal values align with your company’s values in such a way that you take pride in the products or services you are providing and are not afraid to say it. You might not be able to wear pj’s to work but tattoos, gauges, flip flops or a hajib are all cool. You can express all your feelings in a responsible way without fear of reprisal.
Being able to be vulnerable at work, to tell your truth and to have feelings means you are being authentically you.
When your inner self is aligned with your outer experiences then you are experiencing wholeness. And that means bringing your whole self to all areas of your life.
One of my all-time favorite movies is The Iron Giant. And one of the reasons I love it so much is the ending. SPOILER ALERT: just when you think the giant has been broken to bits and lost to the world forever it begins to put itself back together. And you can too.
Your whole self awaits.
Where do you fall on the Whole-Self scale?
Approaching 100%: You feel comfortable speaking up. Your clothes fit who you are. The company culture and mission are aligned with your values. You feel safe at work. You feel whole-you can breathe all day every day.
Most of the time: Overall you feel you can speak your mind…You wish the company allowed a more flexible schedule or better training opportunities but you are growing, you do not feel the need to hide or cover who you really are.
Some of the time: If you are honest, you know you are holding back. You have changed what you wear or something else about how you physically present yourself to fit in. You often stay silent even though you want to speak up. You may be experiencing self-doubt. You don’t feel relaxed until you walk out of your office and are on your way home.
25% or less of the time: You are experiencing regular physical symptoms you cannot explain like low-level anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, crying jags, etc. You feel like a rat in a cage. Like the Iron Giant-disconnected pieces of yourself strewn about. You can honestly look around your office and say “these are not my people”.
What you can do about it:
If you are approaching 100% wholeness- fantastic! Keep smiling. Keep shining. People are going to want what you have. Take a look around. Can you reach out your hand and help others experience wholeness as well? Practice active listening. If you see someone who seems disengaged connect with them. Make an introduction. Offer to be a mentor.
Most of the time: Reconnect with your why. You know what you do. You know how to do it. Now, why are you doing what you are doing? By reconnecting with your why you can make sure that you are saying yes to things that align and no to the things that don’t. And watch your engagement jump to new levels.
Some of the time: The universe is talking to you. Something is off-kilter. Maybe it is related to the practical like the location of the company, a role that is not challenging you, your salary is under-market. Or maybe there is a spiritual disconnect. Your values do not align. You feel under-appreciated and expendable. Dust off that resume, find a coach, go to a networking event. Take some action to get your juices flowing and then make an exit plan.
25% or less: First things first-take care of you. Quality sleep, light exercise, get a physical, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, meditate. Find a coach or therapist. Quit that job if you can afford to do so and do it NOW. This really is an inside job first and foremost. Time to get centered and make choices based on what really matters to you. Your life depends on it.
Ready to reconnect with your why and bring your whole self to your work. Let’s talk. Set a career strategy session today and put yourself back together.