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Why having a ‘work personality’ can be bad, actually

13 Nov 2023

To reveal thyself or to conceal thyself, that is the question. In more modern parlance, how much of our lives should we share with our colleagues?

According to a recent survey of 1,000 Ireland-based workers by Workhuman, nearly three-quarters (73pc) of employees admit to having a ‘work personality’ that is different from how they interact with their family and friends.

When asked why they have adopted a work personality, 57pc admitted that they don’t want to be their true selves around colleagues, while 52pc don’t know how to be their true selves. While this might seem a vague response, the research found that the work personality defence might actually be an unconscious tactic that people use to get more done. Switching into ‘work mode’ helps productivity; 84pc of respondents with a work personality say it makes them feel more engaged at work, while 88pc feel it helps them to be more productive.

Nervous and uncomfortable

But there is a downside. Some employees expressed nervousness about being more open about themselves in their place of work. When asked how they feel about bringing their ‘whole selves’ to work and being authentic in who they are in the workplace, 17pc of employees say they are uncomfortable doing so. One-fifth of respondents say their colleagues don’t know the real them – and 49pc of those want it that way. Reading between the lines, we could ask does this mean Irish workplaces are not supportive of diversity among employees?

Research by Hays into the subject of diversity, inclusion and equity in Irish workplaces surveyed 500 professionals and employers. It found that one-third of the respondents hid their true selves in order to avoid workplace judgement.

Nearly half of respondents (45pc) feel their chances of being selected for a job have been limited by their background or other identifying factors, according to Hays’ research. Age, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic background are the main factors professionals feel could lower their chances of securing a job. Worryingly, a quarter of respondents lack the confidence to confront exclusionary conduct when it comes from senior members within their organisation.

A sign of workplace disparities

Is it any wonder that workers are feeling the need to hide their true selves and develop workplace personalities? The responsibility for the cultural change needed to provide a nurturing, open environment for workers lies at the feet of management.

Maureen Lynch, managing director of Hays Ireland, commented, “These findings serve as a compelling reminder of the ongoing importance of addressing workplace disparities. It’s essential that employers continue to nurture a workplace culture that fosters a profound sense of belonging for every employee.”

Workhuman’s research found that the majority of employees in Ireland are seeking meaningful connections in their workplace despite their use of workplace personas. More than three-quarters (78pc) of those surveyed by Workhuman feel their workplace should provide more opportunities for people to show their true personalities, while 77pc would like more social events with work colleagues such as after-work drinks and office birthday celebrations.

David Burke, senior director of global talent acquisition and employer branding at Workhuman, said that the key to helping employees feel they can be themselves “is not to force people to become an open book but to be receptive to however each individual chooses to interact and make the right channels and social occasions available to them”.

“As we spend large amounts of our time at work, it is vital that employees feel at ease around their colleagues, which will contribute to a happier and more well-rounded workforce.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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