Where’s your “whole self”?

Photo of wooden block-cut words spelling "who are you?"When I hear people talk about bringing the “whole self” to work, it raises some problematic questions.

First off, where are we leaving the parts that don’t come with us? I mean, this is Halloween week, so I’m already primed to have some strange thoughts about ghosts and zombies (in fact, my LinkedIn Halloween post featured a zombie…).

Okay. I know that’s not what’s meant by this concept of “whole self” and work. But even so, it’s still a problematic directive.

We are naturally different in different situations. We present different aspects of ourselves within our families, at parties, in religious settings, by ourselves, in a crowd, and – of course – at work.

This is as it should be. The “me” that shows up at a party isn’t the “me” that should come to work in the morning.

But the problems go deeper than that.

As I wrote recently in a LinkedIn post on psychological safety, marginalized people – people of color, women, disabled people, LGBTQIA, and others – have a different perspective on what it means to feel safe. Which includes whether they feel safe bringing their “whole selves” to work. They are almost certainly masking in some way – changing their behavior, their natural speech patterns, and so on – in order to fit in, blend in, within a world that they know from experience doesn’t accept their “whole selves” and, in some cases, is actively aggressive, dismissive, and hateful toward them. I can say from personal experience that there was no way I was going to bring my “whole self” to work in my early career days, and, in at least some situations, not in my later career either.

If you as a manager and leader – or the managers and leaders working for you – don’t acknowledge this reality, but instead encourage everyone to be bringing their “whole selves” to work, you’re likely to be actively discouraging any sense of psychological safety and belonging.

And creating a culture that’s the opposite of what you intend.

Psychological safety and a sense of wholeness (versus “whole self”) at work are important for having the kind of workplace you want – humane and productive, conducive to good, meaningful work. But they’re not easy to implement; it takes careful thought and considered intentionality.

Want to talk about what to do to help create psychological safety and a sense of wholeness at work? Contact me and we’ll set a time to see if I can help.