Why being authentic at work matters


authentic at work

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to be a different person at work? Career literature is abuzz with the call to “just be yourself” and be authentic at work.

It’s true that feeling like you can’t relax and be yourself at work creates a lot of stress.

Maybe because it takes a lot of work and energy to act like someone you’re not. I assume you have real tasks to accomplish today that require your good energy.

Why do you feel like you have to create a persona so that others take you more seriously?

Some of this is good old-fashioned conditioning from the school days

How did your teacher most likely treat the “class clown?” You remember this endearing classmate, the person who had no problem yelling out a hilarious punch line during a teacher’s lecture.

How was that rewarded? Most likely in a punitive way.

While the whole class may have laughed at the joke (maybe even the teacher), the message was clear.

We are doing serious work here. Keep your funny for:

  • recess,
  • lunch or
  • playing in the backyard with your friends (kids used to do that).

In my day, schools even gave awards at the end of the year for “Most Humorous.” It wasn’t as prestigious as “Most Likely to Succeed,” but hey, at least you got some recognition for the special way you brought your game to an otherwise dreary academic setting.

So fast forward to the work setting. You enjoy using humor at work, but how does that fit in a more serious work environment? “Most Humorous” doesn’t get promoted over the more well-politicked “Most Likely to Succeed.”

So you suppress your genuine gift of humor in favor of what you think is more “professional.”

Authenticity in the workplace has come to be known with being obnoxious in telling the truth

You have those people on your teams who are like this. They are always the one to spout off whatever’s on their mind, usually with no filter.

When their comments injure or stir up trouble, what’s their response?

  • “I can’t help it if I just tell it like it is. That’s just who I am.”
  • “I’m not afraid to speak the truth. If people can’t handle it, that’s on them.”
  • “Someone had to say it!”

In turn, what do we say about these people?

We bristle at their words, but we hail them as authentic. Their willingness to say uncomfortable things, in spite of the consequences, seems like they’re being real.

So if you use emotional intelligence and try to measure the words that come out of your mouth, you might feel like you’re not being real.

What does it mean to be authentic at work?

1. Authenticity means leveraging the best parts of your personality in the work you do.

Are you the coworker who lends an ear to others who need to offload some frustration?

That’s hugely authentic because it allows you to show others in a very real way that you care about them. And it might mean that you helped them purge some negative thoughts so they can refocus on their work.

This can be a huge boon to your own productivity simply because it feels good to help others. Because of you, two people at your job feel better today.

Nice job.

Are you the funny one in the office?

Think of how your favorite comedian exploits shared experiences just for a laugh. We consider people “funny” because they find a different perspective to something we’ve all experienced and can all relate to.

Humor is a highly creative act.

Your comedic outlook can help you create and produce work that really stands out. Why would you hide this?

Also, please know that funny people help diffuse the effects of a toxic work environment.

You are our Obi-Wan. Please bring your funny.

We need you.

Are you the one who gets emotional about your work?

If this is you, you know that feeling. You go to bat for a project that your team spent real time and energy on. You feel the shakiness in your voice as you say more than you wanted to about why this project matters and why it shouldn’t be shelved.

You feel your heart in your throat while you’re talking, and you’re embarrassed because you felt like you couldn’t keep your cool.

Congratulations, you’re not a robot yet!

Your passion sets you apart from those who are just trying to check the boxes.

While it may be uncomfortable for you, it’s inspiring others around you who want to be just as brave. You are willing to be uncomfortable because you believe in the work. Don’t apologize for this.

That’s an advanced move.

2. Authenticity means giving real thought to how you speak your own truth. 

Being authentic does mean speaking truth to power. But it doesn’t mean throwing your power in the face of others or calling others out.

Just because you’re louder than me doesn’t mean you’re being more authentic than me.

Somehow we have to lose the idea that activism is the only way to be authentic.

We’re leaving out a whole bunch of people who want to be thoughtful and measured in how they approach the more human side of their work.

So how do you go about being authentic in the emotionally intelligent way?

Always speak to difficult issues from your own experience.


Your experience is unique to you, and it’s the only thing you know to be 100% true. You will never guess others’ real motives or expectations because you are not in their heads.

Saying something because “Someone had to say it!” is a terrible diplomatic strategy. It doesn’t present a path forward that everyone can feel comfortable with.

Speaking from your own experience also has the advantage of keeping others off the defensive. They might actually try to understand your perspective because you’re not combative.

Even if they don’t, you’ve put an issue out there that honors what you know, who you are and how you like to work with people.

3. Authenticity can be a career strategy.

The very things that make you who you are can actually help you craft an interesting career that you love.

If you are among the 70% of Americans who are disengaged from their work, then listen up.

Your career is less about the technical work you do and way more about who you are.

I would say that again, but honestly, you can just go back and re-read it. That’s how reading works.

Probably anyone can make the same widgets that you make. But they won’t do it with the same vision or passion, if you allow yourself to fly that particular flag.

The technical part gets you in the door. You as the complex human has to do the rest.

Using the skills and traits that come so naturally to you is the best way to stand out because it’s not forced. And you’ll find it pours out of you like melted butter with no effort at all.

Focus on those skills and put them together to create something unique. You may have to do some real work to put the puzzle together but it’s a super hope-builder when you pull it off.

Let’s use me, for example. I was always the trusted sidekick in my corporate career. Honestly, that’s who I’ve always been.

I can’t help but listen to people, ask questions and help them find different perspectives.

While I have a whole litany of more measurable skills in other areas, this is the one thing that people always seemed to appreciate about me.

After a while, I was no longer content to be a marketing professional who happened to be a good listener. As it turns out, there’s a whole profession of people who actually get paid to listen, guide and teach.

I flipped a very big switch to become a mental health professional and start a new career based mostly on the way I interacted with my peers at work.

You don’t have to flip a big switch like I did. You can bring to work those parts of your personality that crack you up or make you feel good about yourself.

People notice this and appreciate you for it. And it may inspire them to do the same because you were brave enough to go first.

You can create a new path where you’re at right now based on who you are. Being your authentic self may create opportunities you don’t know about yet.

You can’t leverage those opportunities if you’re hiding who you are.

So what do you think?

What are three things you can think of right now that ooze out of you every day that you can start elevating to be more authentic at work?

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