Pallavi Pinakin explains how leaders can create genuine work environments

As regards workplace success, we typically focus on qualities such as passion, dedication and confidence with not much mention of authenticity. However, forward-thinking organisations and leaders have begun to recognise the power that lies in being authentic.

It means being true to yourself and not wearing a mask.

Research shows people are most productive when they feel empowered to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. As human beings, we all want to be respected and appreciated for who we are. A workplace that allows self-expression and diversity earns the loyalty of its employees.

At a time when boundaries between personal and professional lives are more blurred than ever, the freedom to be authentic has become critical. During virtual meetings at home for instance, people’s private lives tend to make an occasional appearance on screen – such as a toddler wandering in or a pet dog barking in the background.

Leaders who value the concept of the whole self will take such incidents in their stride and perhaps even turn them into moments of connection. But others may be overtly disapproving or harsh, and cause employees to feel embarrassed, ashamed or angry.

Along with boosting wellbeing, acting authentically in the workplace also facilitates collaboration and sparks innovation. The feeling of psychological safety enables people to share their ideas, feedback and concerns more candidly, creating the space for healthier dialogue.

According to a Google study, the psychological safety, trust and acceptance created through authenticity is the key to why some teams consistently outperform others.

Another advantage offered by authentic behaviour is the ability to form strong interpersonal relationships. As human beings, we have an uncanny ability to spot fakes. When people constantly hide their true selves around us, we tend to distrust them. On the contrary, genuine behaviour resonates with us – and helps forge meaningful bonds.

Having to suppress parts of your personality or constantly make excuses for your personal circumstances can be exhausting and frustrating. Organisations that don’t value authenticity run the risk of poor performance and low employee satisfaction, not to mention costly attrition.

Many highly creative individuals tend to be outspoken and different. Forcing them to mask these aspects of themselves also diminishes their ability to solve problems and innovate, causing immense frustration. Ultimately, these talented individuals may choose to migrate to other more welcoming employers.

None of us are defined wholly by what we do. Along with being a leader, manager or team member, most employees fulfil numerous other roles such as spouse, parent, child, sibling, pet owner and so on.

Many workers also have a host of interests – e.g. books, fashion, movies, travel, sports, food etc. Along with contributing to the company’s mission and vision, they have their own set of values and priorities – including family, community, fitness and so on.

Authenticity in the professional arena allows people to share more of their whole self with coworkers, and embrace and celebrate each other – not only as employees but human beings too. Ultimately, this also strengthens an organisation’s internal culture and creates the right conditions for long-term success.

Leaders can encourage authenticity in the workplace in several ways. Here are four simple recommendations to get you started.

BE AUTHENTIC No one is better placed than a leader to be a role model for authenticity in the workplace. This means sharing important parts of yourself with your team… be it a valued family ritual, a cause that’s close to your heart or even your plans for the upcoming weekend.

The idea is to go beyond work-centric conversations and connect at a more human level.

WEAR YOUR STYLE A fun way to introduce authenticity is by bringing an element of personal fashion into the office. Why not add an item of clothing or accessory you truly love to your work attire? Of course, leaders should be careful that their sense of style doesn’t go against the organisation’s dress code.

HUMAN TOUCH Make it a practice to build authentic connections with your team during meetings. Carve out time to find out how everyone is doing, share personal stories and celebrate milestones outside work. These vital moments allow coworkers to get to know each other and build empathy.

BE VULNERABLE As you go about fostering a more genuine workplace environment, find the courage to show some vulnerability. You could talk about a difficult period in your career or personal life, and how you were able to overcome it – or even share an ongoing challenge or fear you are facing. This will make you more relatable and motivate your team to be more vulnerable in turn.