The end of our "professional" self 

Axel Schiphof

Crying babies. Attention-seeking pets. Athleisure as acceptable work attire. In this age of remote working and video-conferencing, we are showing more of our real, messy and authentic selves than ever before – and that’s a good thing.

The end of our “professional” self

You can probably relate: each day is now a steady stream of video-calls. And over the course of all those hours with the camera on, odds are you have discovered quite a few interesting things about the people on the other end of that videocall (and they about you!) Interesting home decors, children running around breaking down the house, the occasional partner casually walking by… 

The formal professional self a pre-COVID situation

And what about the clothes we wear to our home office nowadays? Male business relations that were so formal pre-COVID I half expected them to sleep in their tailored suits are now turning on the camera with just a t-shirt on, a three-day beard and half a hairdo. (I hope your hairdressers are opening again too, as they are in The Netherlands)

And I have to say, I think it’s great. Being alive, you know your life is messy and you rationally know other people’s lives are just as messy. Still, we send the professional self version to the office each day, nicely dressed, keeping up appearances and trying to convince everyone things are orderly and under control. But now, we can no longer hide. How could we, when our house is our office and our office our house? So we’re left discovering completely new sides to the people we thought we knew. And as it turns out, we only knew their professional selves.

With our professional self facade crumbling, the decorum coming down we can stop pretending as much (still a little bit though). Having to pretend less frees up so much energy. And that isn’t just an innocent way in which we are all amateur actors, day in day out. No, it’s directly tied to the engagement of your people. Because, if people feel at home in your organization, if they can truly be themselves and leave their professional self outside, they will be much more engaged

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Professional self pulls down authenticity at work

Our very own data scientist Baran Metin has research published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology supporting this. In a study of Dutch bank employees, he and his colleagues found that authenticity at work is related to higher work engagement, job satisfaction, and performance. In our own benchmark, we see that feeling the space to be yourself and getting to do what you do best are crucial drivers of employee engagement, with an effect size of almost 40%.   

Thankfully, about 85% of people feel they can be themselves at their organization but this varies wildly between industry, national/corporate culture and job type. Another 79% feel they fit in at the organization they work for.

Another real benefit of authenticity at work is that your people feel free to bring their unique perspectives with them to work as they feel less pressure to conform to dominant thoughts and conventions. And that really pushes your organization’s innovation capacity forward – which is something every organization can use in these difficult times…

So yeah, let your kids scream through your video-call, pull your dog on your lap if you have one, introduce your colleagues to your partner if they’re sitting across from you – heck, proudly show off your collection of athleisure to anyone who wants to see it. Just make sure it’s your real life you’re finally showing, in all its messiness.

And when we finally return to our offices, let’s leave our professional selves behind.

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