It’s no shock that the past two plus years has shaken both employee and employer paradigms of work. Since 2020, an emphasis on DEI (or DEIJ, or DEIB) – whatever your acronym – has put more awareness on the part of the powers that be that they need to make some pretty drastic changes to the workplace.
The shift towards distributed work, focus on mental health and wellness, and changing both gaping and subtle inequities in organizations are steps in the right direction. But who benefits? Is it the leaders at the top patting themselves on the back for flexible work cultures and gym memberships? Is it one’s ability to share about their personal situation at work and get support? Is it just lip service or real, sustained action?
And to what end? What should the goal of work be in 2022?
I recently read a provocative article in the NY Times article entitled “Do Not Bring Your Whole Self to Work.” Hold the phone!? This was against everything we’ve been told about what the modern workplace should strive to be. The author explains:
The problem is for many people, it’s no more comfortable dragging the whole kit and caboodle into the workplace than it is showing up every day on a relentless basis. Nor is it necessarily productive. Not everyone wants their romantic life, their politics, their values, or their identity viewed by their colleagues as pertinent to their performance. For some people, a private life is actually best when it’s private.“
This makes me think about common work tropes like “be vulnerable” or “be your authentic self.” While I fully support these concepts in theory, they are so overused without much systemic support that they almost become just an eye-roll moment.
So how do we bridge the divide between being vulnerable/authentic and oversharing/making someone else feel uncomfortable? How do we encourage inclusivity and mental health/wellness without making work like a family? Work isn’t necessarily about staying comfortable, but nor is work a therapy session.
Small organizations are especially susceptible to walking the fine line between the professional and personal as small workplaces can seem like family. While it’s noble to feel like family with your colleagues, the reality is that family can’t fire you. And when we get into familial dynamics at work, we enter ambiguous territory about what it means to be supported at work.
By no means am I advocating that we revert to becoming cold, “professional” automatons. In fact, I think creating workplaces that celebrate strengths, are adaptable, and relationship-focused are what we should be striving for. After all, we spend over a third of our adult lives at work. So why not help people flourish?
4 Ways to Help People Flourish
Here are some considerations to help your organization help people flourish and navigate the delicate balance of “bringing your whole self” to work:
1. Be Clear about Expectations
Often, we don’t know what we need to be clear about what inclusive work culture means or how an organization expects (or doesn’t) to support an employee’s mental health. For example, do you expect employees to share about their personal lives? What constitutes oversharing? What support is the organization able to provide and not provide? Easier said than done!
2. Help New Employees Onboard with These Expectations in Mind
Being new to an organization, especially a distributed organization, is challenging at best and and a total disaster at worst. Help new hires succeed by working with them (or having them work with a coach) on the unwritten rules of the organization.
3. Revisit Work Culture
Culture needs to (and will) evolve over time. Revisit what is working and not working, and what is implicit that needs to be explicit. You will make mistakes, so be transparent about them and learn.
4. Remember that Everyone Needs Belonging, Safety, and Dignity
No matter what your culture is now or will be, use these values as a pillar. What actions or inactions do or do not contribute to belonging, safety, and dignity?
This is complicated stuff. But being a great leader in 2022 requires that we navigate this complexity and continually adapt. If you need a thought partner about how to do this for your organization, my “door” is always open.