Authentic self | Where are boundaries drawn between being professional and personal at work?

Where are boundaries drawn between being professional and personal at work?

Remote work became a norm thanks to the pandemic – that's no secret. As we near the four-year anniversary of the beginning of lockdown, an opportunity is presented to reflect on the state of remote work today.

When we first started to adopt this style of work, most of us assumed it would be only temporary until lockdown eased and the pandemic was over. But here we are almost four years later with the CIPD reporting that 51% of businesses now offer a hybrid model.

Being on camera, remembering to unmute, blurring the background so no one could see your messy bedroom, and Zoom fatigue were all at the forefront of public discourse when the pandemic started. Now, they aren’t so much.

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Yet, one unexpected consequence of the pandemic and remote work was businesses allowing, or being forced to allow, a more casual work environment, as many exchanged boardrooms for bedrooms and dining tables. But what are the consequences of the professional world becoming more personal? And are there any benefits to employees and leaders?

The personal meets the professional

Going into an office everyday provides a literal separation between a person’s professional world and personal world. With the introduction of remote work, an employee’s professional life was thrust into their personal life, so many found balancing their work and life difficult for this reason.

Now, employees have a much better grasp on remote work than they did almost four years ago and know how to manage themselves and their time much more effectively.

Naturally, employees became more casual – both in dress and attitude – and one consequence of the merging of these two worlds was that it shed light on whether it is OK for employees to be their authentic selves at work.

In this sense, the emergence of remote work indicated a dismantling of a professional-personal divide and encouraged employees, tacitly, to be who they really are at work. There is a long list of benefits to employees being themselves at work – including being good for mental and physical health and creating a more authentic workplace – yet some experts warn that too much of this isn’t always a good thing.

In a Harvard Business Review article, business professor Lisa Rosh and psychology professor Lynn Offermann warn of the fine line professionals must tread when traversing between their ‘professional persona’ and the person they are in their personal lives. They said: “But the honest sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences at work is a double-edged sword: Despite its potential benefits, self-disclosure can backfire if it’s hastily conceived, poorly timed, or inconsistent with cultural or organizational norms—hurting your reputation, alienating employees, fostering distrust, and hindering teamwork. Getting it right takes a deft touch, for leaders at any stage of their careers.”

They say that bad leaders don’t give any of their personal selves to their workplace or colleagues, but oversharing or not being aware of important social queues can leave you in a worse off situation.

Ultimately, being yourself at work comes from a delicate balance between being authentic and being self-aware, to understand who you really are in relation to your workplace. They continue: “Authenticity begins with self-awareness: knowing who you are—your values, emotions, and competencies—and how you’re perceived by others. Only then can you know what to reveal and when. Good communication skills are also key to effective self-disclosure; your stories are worthwhile only if you can express them well.”

As remote work was thrust into our lives and homes at the start of the pandemic, the professional world by default became a lot more personal, and this was an accepted norm that was seen necessary to get through the pandemic.

But there are some challenges when bringing your ‘personal self’ to work, such as not oversharing and understanding who you are to begin with. Only when striking this perfect balance can staff be their best, most authentic version of themselves.

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