What is the key to being authentic at work?
Sandra Henke, group head, and UK and Ireland director, of people and culture, Hays. Image: Hays

What is the key to being authentic at work?

20 Jun 2017537 Shares

The workplace and workforce are changing rapidly, becoming more diverse, inclusive and authentic. How will these changes affect the future of work? Hays’ Sandra Henke gives us some insight.

The question ‘Do you bring your authentic self to work?’ is often met with the response ‘Yes, except when …’ or ‘Not always, because …’. It’s not uncommon to find it difficult to give a clear response to this question and, equally, it would be rare to hear a simple yes or no answer.

Workplace authenticity is something that requires a great deal of self-awareness, and the feelings towards how authentic you feel you are being at work will evolve and change across the course of your career. This – and how workplace environment and culture can influence employees’ levels of authenticity – is something employers should always be aware of.

Essentially, bringing your ‘true self’ to work is something that we all aspire to do, yet it’s important to be aware of the elements that affect this.

The importance of culture

Research from the Hays What Workers Want report revealed the importance of culture for today’s employees. Culture was rated the second most important factor when deciding whether to stay with a company or take a new role.

At 62pc, the majority of those surveyed would also be prepared to take a pay cut to work for an organisation with a better cultural fit, suggesting that fewer people are willing to compromise to work somewhere that doesn’t fit with their values and ways of working.

Culture is an aspect that employers are often aware of, but struggle to communicate to prospective staff. 87pc of employers said they discuss culture during interviews, yet fewer than two-thirds (63pc) of employees agreed this was the case.

Taking this on board, we must build upon the way employers and leaders describe their workplace culture, and how they can continue to communicate clearly and effectively to staff. It’s important for leaders to be heavily involved in creating a positive workplace culture and, in turn, to be able to ask themselves honestly what makes their employees come to work every day, and what keeps them with their organisation.

Akin to authenticity, culture is difficult to tangibly ‘get right’ and change quickly – it must be nurtured and built upon over time. Equally, it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Within our own organisation, we are very aware of how different generations are working together, and what may work for one might not work for the other.

For example, millennial workers have openness and transparency at the top of their agenda; they want to ensure they are contributing to society and are aware of how their work fits with the bigger picture. We work hard to show this and ensure they understand the contribution their activity makes.

The importance of authenticity

Authenticity is about being fully yourself while developing and growing beyond your comfort zone. Although there may be times when you feel you can’t do this, to have some level of authenticity as you go about your day-to-day tasks is vital while maintaining a professional outlook.

Professional authenticity is important, as authenticity itself is influenced by the context, culture and codes of conduct of an organisation. While we want to be fully ourselves, professionalism is an aspect you should always keep in mind.

In a study quoted in Harvard Business Review, it was seen that, much like culture, authenticity has been proven to have a positive effect on job satisfaction, in-role performance and work engagement. Imagine yourself as a business leader, and ask yourself how your company can learn, grow and prosper if people can’t be themselves, share opinions and show they care about your business and team.

Ultimately, the level of authenticity in a workplace is directly affected by the level of open communication and the levels of trust. The notion of building and gaining trust is particularly key, as authenticity is a feeling that impels you to trust a particular individual, business or brand.

Within a leadership context, authenticity acts to cultivate a sense of loyalty, reliability and integrity. If a sense of authentic leadership is in place, this is more likely to extend to trust in an organisation as a whole.

Employees want to be trusted by their management and to be allowed to bring their authentic selves to work. In turn, employers should trust their staff to be themselves in a professional environment, and develop open communication channels across the business in order to do so.

How can we connect authenticity with workplace culture?

The world of work is changing, from the way we communicate and use technology, to the way we work and learn. For example, workplaces are becoming more agile, with more people choosing to work away from the office while still valuing the culture of the employer they choose to work for.

It’s natural that an organisational culture that encourages learning, development, recognition and respect is more likely to have employees who can be their authentic selves in work. As a result, these organisations are more likely to be successful, whether that be with staff retention rates, or the overall happiness and productivity of their workforce.

A culture that has stuck to a rigid way of working for some time – with no transparent, clear progression routes or with unapproachable management – lends itself to employees who will feel they can’t discuss their issues or problems. Approaching or rectifying this will take time, but it isn’t something that companies should ignore.

Finding out what your employees want should be the first step. Across our business, we carry out an annual employee engagement survey, and we work hard to communicate the results to all our staff and don’t restrict them to management. Each year, we put actions in place to address any issues and improve on our performance as an employer.

These types of actions and initiatives are intrinsic in creating the workforce that will drive your organisation’s success. Without feedback, and without having consistent communication in place, culture and authenticity won’t follow.

It’s important to remember that both aspects – culture and authenticity – are a journey for employers and employees alike. I’d urge both to have a clear understanding of what an authentic workforce means for them, as well as assessing how authentic they already are or, more importantly, could be.

By Sandra Henke

Sandra Henke is group head, and UK and Ireland director, of people and culture at Hays recruitment company. She is passionate about organisational culture and leadership, and how each one drives behaviour, engagement and results.

Based in London, and hailing from New Zealand, Henke previously worked for Hays in Sydney as HR director for the Asia-Pacific region.

During her time at Hays, she has been excited to see the company commended through a range of employer awards, as it works towards the UK National Equality Standard.

Sandra Henke will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to join us from 6 to 8 July in Dublin.

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