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Bringing Your Whole Self To Work is Overrated


We continue our “Overrated” series. The driver behind this occasional collection of blog posts and podcast conversations is this: There are commonly passed around ideas that in the end, are less than helpful. These ideas, shared in every form, from bumper stickers to mantras to memes, contain elements of accuracy. Yet, they fail to deal with the complex nature of work and relationships. So, in the end, we call them “overrated.” Today we suggest that in the end, Bringing Your Whole Self to Work is overrated.


The Rise of “Bringing Your Whole Self To Work” 

Bringing Your Whole Self to Work is an idea that is fueled by at least three work culture realities: 

  1. A respect for diversity 

  2. The rise of authenticity as the highest importance

  3. The blurring of the lines between work and personal life created by the Post-Pandemic work-from-home trend


Diversity: As nonmajority groups have lobbied for rights and recognition, they have fought for respect for their dress, speech, and honor holidays that honor the communities with which they identify. Interestingly, Christians are fighting for the same rights and the ability to gather with other believers and contribute to company progress in ways overtly connected to their faith. Everyone is unique and wants to express that uniqueness at work.


Authenticity: Merriam-Webster has chosen “authenticity” as the word of the year. The term means “being true to one's self, spirit, or character.” Many people, in practice, seem to interpret this as “letting my whole, unfiltered self hang out” and expecting everyone to accept that self and approve of that self. “Don’t judge” or “no judgment” gets passed around frequently. Think of Senator John Fetterman demanding to wear shorts and a hoodie to the floor of the United States Senate. Think of the rage posts on your favorite social platform. “Here I am, world, accept and support me as I am.”


Blurred Lines: The third force converging here is the blurred line between work and home created by post-pandemic remote work. On a recent get-acquainted call with the executive team of a large business, our team noticed that one person was at his vacation home, and another was interrupted by her cat. We are peering through our Zoom cameras into people’s lives; the veil between work-life and personal-life is pierced, and it can create an expectation that we share all of our lives with our work colleagues.


What “Bringing Your Whole Self to Work” Get’s Right. 

The Bringing Your Whole Self to Work thread gets at least three things right:


  1. Human: We all crave being seen, valued, and appreciated. This is why giving a colleague praise or thanks for something specific they have done lights up their dopamine receptors and creates joy. We also have lives outside of work that impact our presence at work. As we like to say, everyone’s behavior makes sense within their story. In one sense, your whole self is showing up at work whether you want it to or not.

  2. Trust: We work better with people we know and trust. So if I am not burning energy on filtering myself and you are not burning energy on filtering yourself, we speed up our ability to collaborate and keep the focus on getting great work done. If I feel that you are disingenuous, or hiding something, my defenses go up and I’m less likely to build healthy trust with you.

  3. Diversity: Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones. Study after study has proven that a high-trust diverse team outperforms a high-trust homogenous team. As Christ-followers, we should know this is true: we have the body of Christ model of unity in diversity (1 Cor. 12-14) and the racial and cultural diversity of the redeemed community (see Rev. 7). A diverse team is more likely to get the best ideas on the table for fulfilling the mission of the organization or business. 


As potentially helpful as these notions are, they don’t rescue Bringing Your Whole Self To Work from our overrated rating. 


Why “Bringing Your Whole Self To Work is Overrated.  

There are two reasons: 1) Bringing Your Whole Self To Work almost always leads to foolishness, and 2) work is value creation, not just self-expression.  


Foolishness.  

First, we turn to some of the biblical wisdom literature. 


Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)


When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)


A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)


Don’t you know this to be true? The person who has a few too many and says too much at the office Christmas party is the “talk of the town” for months or years. The colleague who rants and raves about the boss, the vendor, or whomever they deem inferior becomes persona non grata. While we may theoretically like the idea of letting our thoughts fly, we don’t respect the people who do.  


Secondly, we are supposed to care how our behavior and words impact others. We are even supposed to care what they think of us. While the opinions of others must never trump God’s opinion of us, if we can, we should get along with everyone. 


Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:17-18)


Instead of demanding others listen and like you, do what is best for them. This is a mindset pivot from the current cultural ethos and a liberating one. Who would you want to work with or for? The person who is so demanding they let every aspect of their life and values be displayed, approved, and encouraged, or the person who is respectful of you, sensitive to your values and desires, honoring your concerns first. Bringing Your Whole Self to Work is the “me first” ethos of our times, vulnerable to narcissism and foolishness. It also seems to miss the point of work.


Work is About Value Creation

Work is one way we express ourselves. As a means of self-expression, it has limits or boundaries. No matter what work you do–for-profit, nonprofit, social sector, religious work–work is the application of human talent and effort to produce results. Our hope for each person we work with and influence is that they will find work in keeping with their gifts and talents, meaning their unique capacity to create value. Then the following proverb will be true: 


Do you see a person skillful in his work? They will stand before kings; they will not stand before obscure people. (Proverbs 22:29)


No organization can survive and thrive if it fails to produce outcomes or results. Your work is where you use your unique mix of talent and experience to contribute to surviving and thriving. Expecting work to be the platform where you showcase your whole life is expecting too much from your job. And it may even jeopardize the success of the venture in which you work.


Conclusion

Bringing Your Whole Self to Work puts the focus on you–“my job is my platform for self-expression.” Like many grievance-based mantras, it pushes us into constant and distracting scorekeeping. “Am I being my whole self or something less? Is my whole self being accepted or not?”  


Bring your unfiltered value-creating self to work. Bring enough of your personal life and deeply held values to accurately portray yourself to your colleagues And spend more of your time focusing on 1) helping your team win, and 2) being curious regarding the “selves” of your colleagues. You’ll make a consistent and significant contribution to your team’s success, and you’ll create space for others to express their God-given uniqueness.  


 

Listen to our podcast episode on this topic, "Bringing Your Whole Self to Work is Overrated":



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