Sandra Henke, head of culture at Hays wants you to be your authentic self
Sandra Henke speaking at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Hays’ Sandra Henke wants you to be your authentic self

13 Oct 2017

Authenticity in the workplace is not only better for employee wellbeing, it also engenders more creativity and engagement.

Future of Work Week

Often when we think of the future of work, we cast our minds to a robot-filled future. Sandra Henke, group head and UK and Ireland director of people and culture at Hays, spoke from a different perspective at Inspirefest 2017.

Henke is more concerned with how the future of work will bring on necessary changes in interpersonal behaviour.

She referred to research published in Harvard Business Review in 2016 by Dr Anne Wilson, which explored the implications of authenticity at work.

This study, Henke explained, “confirms what out gut feeling tells us: when employees feel their authentic selves at work, they experience greater job satisfaction, lower levels of stress, higher levels of engagement, they feel more inspired, they feel a greater sense of community at work … it improves the workplace”.

Authentic leadership

It isn’t just employees who will benefit from channelling more authenticity in the workplace, as this is also increasingly expected of leaders.

Organisational leaders are expected to be flexible and well-attuned to their environment, to possess extremely high EQ and IQ, be empathetic but willing to make tough decisions, and innovative but risk-averse when needs be.

This ultimately boils down to trust. This authenticity and trust in leadership is more important than ever, and will only grow in importance with time. “The rhetoric doesn’t matter any more,” she explained.

The changing structure of the workplace

Organisational hierarchy is less important than ever. Organisations themselves are becoming, as Henke put it, “flatter than ever”.

“You don’t need 20 years’ experience on the board to do extremely well,” she said.

One thing that is becoming more and more important to employees is transparency. Glassdoor is a perfect example of this, as a website where employees are being honest about their employers in real time, their opinions unfiltered and publicly shared.

Hays has been named a top employer by Glassdoor for the past three years, which has encouraged it to get more involved in the conversation about transparency.

Ensuring that there is a congruence between attested values and behaviour is becoming more important, as employees ‘vote with their feet’ now more than they ever have.

The workplace is also undergoing massive physical change. Remote working and flexi-time is becoming increasingly common, and collaboration tools and improved digital communication are facilitating this.

While these practices improve work-life balance and are overall deeply beneficial to employees, they pose an issue for organisational leaders.

How do you preserve an organisation culture of authenticity and maintain personal connections when not in the physical presence of employees every day? How does an employer ensure that no employee feels isolated from office culture when they may be physically remote?

Be honest about workplace culture

Hays recently conducted a survey entitled ‘What Workers Want’, which polled almost 14,000 employees from Ireland and the UK. More than 60pc of employees said that they would happily take a pay cut for the right cultural fit.

When prospective employees express curiosity about workplace culture, what they really want to know is whether they will fit in.

In turn, it is important that employers have frank conversations about the values of their organisation. Not the ‘brand values’, but the ‘Why do I choose to work here?’ values.

Employers must strive to have open discussions about workplace culture during the hiring process.

Authenticity and professionalism

One’s digital footprint can have a large impact on whether people can build trust with you. If how you present yourself online is too removed from how you present yourself in person, this will call your authenticity into question.

Likewise, Henke highlighted the issue of possible “oversharing” in the workplace, which she said is a particular issue for young people who may endeavour to be their authentic selves and, in the process, forget the important of distinguishing between your professional self and your personal self.

It is important to know how to adapt how one speaks and relates to others, and understand the unique moderating behaviours required in various professional settings.

Advice for organisations

Henke recommended that leaders should “think about how your people explain their culture when hiring, not the brand speak, the ‘Why do I work here?’ speak”.

She also advised that leaders involve their employees in the “highest purpose of [their] organisation”, as alignment with purpose begets authenticity.

For those starting out their careers, particularly young women, Henke said that it’s best to remember that one’s authentic self doesn’t have to be “a rigid, fixed point”. She encouraged introspection, self-awareness and knowing what you believe in.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Super Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 are on sale now

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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