Man at laptop with head in hand looking fed up

Bring your "best self" not your "whole self" to work

Some character traits are better left at home

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Man at laptop with head in hand looking fed up

It is a phrase that has grown in popularity among those determined to recruit and retain the best of the best.

Bring your “whole self” to work – in other words, your authentic self or the real you – is becoming a familiar catch-cry in recruitment ads, on company websites and at job interviews.

Yet to do so can be a career-killing move.

No one in the workplace really wants to see all of you; they just want to cherry pick the best bits.

The idea of bringing one’s whole self to work is based on the well-intentioned but flawed idea that workplaces will be more productive and harmonious if colleagues understand each other, which includes becoming better acquainted with everyone’s personal side.

At a first glance, the argument is persuasive. After all, we should be more relaxed in the workplace when we are not pretending to be someone we are not.

But being our whole selves might also open the office door to a raft of other attitudes, behaviours or beliefs that are best kept away from the workplace.

What happens if the “authentic you” happens to be someone who likes to use vulgar language to express their thoughts or is a person who prefers coercion over collaboration to get things done?

Consider, too, what might happen if you share religious beliefs with your colleagues that are out of step with your organisation’s values.

And what if your generous whole self is a little too forthcoming when it comes to sharing with your boss some of the deep holes in your recent performance and those gaps become a very serious part of your annual performance review?

People are a medley of characteristics. Some of those traits are outstanding, some are good and others are downright bad. It is obvious that many of our less-desirable attributes should be kept well away from the workplace.

If everyone brings their whole self to the office, a workplace could easily become a hornet’s nest of competing and conflicting views as well as unwelcome behaviours, where individuals offend and take offence.

But if you should not bring your whole self to work then what bits should you turn up with? The answer is the best or most suitable parts of you.

All of us need to have both a work persona and a non-work persona.

While the two might overlap a little, most of your colleagues will likely want to steer clear of at least some elements of your non-work persona.

On the one hand, your work persona will show your attention to detail and proficiency at punching out a well-written report or presenting to others.

And on the other hand, your non-work persona might illustrate a tendency to waste endless hours on social media, a failure to manage your finances or an unwavering devotion to fanatical religious orders.

Next time you hear someone say that you should bring your whole self to work, resist the call.

What they really mean to say is bring your “best self” to work – not the complete you.