top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureElena Scaramellini

True Colours: How Authenticity Transforms Workplace Culture

Are We Truly Ourselves at Work?


Responding to this question may be more complicated than we might think.


Each one of us has unique personalities and core values, dictating the ways we form connections with others, and defining how much of ourselves we are comfortable revealing.


Being our “true selves” requires self-awareness, as well as the strength to uphold our core values and remain true to our essence, regardless of external circumstances.


It generally involves maintaining integrity, and being the same person in all areas of life.


In a professional context, authenticity typically refers to the extent to which we remain true to our own personalities, values, and beliefs. And, it includes our cultural, academic, and professional backgrounds.


In fact, being authentic at work may involve bringing cultural influences into the workplace, rather than suppressing or hiding them.


Our work experience and profession also form part of our “authentic selves”. They are integral components of our professional identity, and play a vital role in how we approach tasks, collaborate with colleagues, and contribute to our organisations.


When it comes to professionalism, it would be important to consider that even though being professional does not mean we should abandon our “true self”, it may involve adapting our behaviour to align with the expectations and norms of the professional environment.


And, it can be a delicate balance between authenticity and adaptability, where we stay true to our essence, while also respecting and adapting to the workplace we are in.


Is Authentic Behaviour Appropriate in a Professional Setting?


I believe that not only is authentic behaviour appropriate, but it also adds significant value to the workplace culture.


When we behave authentically at work, we are adhering to our core values and principles, all while respecting the established norms and values within the professional environment.


Imagine you are Sam, an individual known for a great sense of humour and an informal, friendly behaviour. Outside of work, you are the person who lightens the mood and makes everyone feel comfortable through jokes —this is your “true self”.


Now, your workplace, a prestigious law firm, has a professional environment with formal communication protocols to adhere to—these are the “professional expectations” in this example.


Being in such a formal setting does not necessarily mean you have to abandon your informal, friendly manner entirely. You can still be the friendly, approachable colleague who brings positivity to the workplace. However, you may adapt your behaviour to align with the workplace norms.


For instance, in meetings, you maintain formal etiquette, address colleagues respectfully, and keep communication formal. But, you can use your light-heartedness and humour appropriately, to ease tense situations or to make your peers feel at ease during casual interactions or team-building activities.


In this example, you are being authentic by maintaining your friendly and positive personality, and also professional by respecting the formalities of your workplace.


What Are the Common Misconceptions about Authenticity?


There are common misconceptions about authenticity, especially in the workplace.


Authenticity, though a revered attribute, does not serve as a free pass to act without consideration for others or the workplace's established norms.


It is essential to understand that being genuine is not synonymous with being disrespectful or tactless.


For instance, voicing our opinions is a right, but it should be done in the appropriate forums and at suitable times to avoid unnecessary disruptions or conflicts.


This respect for timing and context is vital for maintaining a harmonious work environment.


Take the example of dress codes.


While we might feel most "authentic" in casual attire, it is essential to consider the workplace's standards and the feelings of colleagues.


Dressing too informally in a professional setting where others adhere to a dress code can come off as disrespectful or inconsiderate.


It may give the impression of disregard for the company's values or for how other co-workers make an effort to dress according to the company’s code.


This kind of behaviour is not an expression of authenticity but rather a lack of awareness or understanding of the workplace culture and expectations.


True authenticity would involve recognizing the company's norms and finding a balance between personal expression and respect for those standards.


What If We Don't Feel Safe Being Authentic at Work?


At times, we might perceive that the organisation we are part of does not cultivate an environment that allows us to be our true, authentic selves.


In that case, it would be important to look at a key component in the professional environment that can promote open dialogue and authenticity: psychological safety.


Authenticity and psychological safety go hand-in-hand.


Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, is renowned for her work on teaming, psychological safety, and organisational learning.


She explains that psychological safety is a sense of assurance that we can present our authentic selves, voice opinions, convey ideas, and make mistakes without fear of adverse consequences.


In safe environments, we tend to feel free to be ourselves without fear of negative judgment, and in turn, we feel we can speak up, ask questions, and admit mistakes.


When organisations value individual uniqueness and open, honest communication, they foster a psychologically safe environment where authenticity can flourish.


However, it is also important to note that while organisations and leaders play a significant role in fostering psychological safety and authenticity in the workplace, the responsibility does not rest solely with them.


Every one of us within an organisation has a part to play in cultivating a safe and authentic environment.


When we take the initiative to be our authentic selves, and share feedback, ask questions, and voice concerns in a constructive manner, we can actively strengthen a culture of psychological safety and authenticity.


After all, it is a collaborative effort, where every team member, regardless of their position, can be both a beneficiary and a contributor.


Can Being Authentic Boost Our Wellbeing?


Authenticity and well-being are closely interconnected, impacting both individuals and the organisational ecosystem as a whole.


A psychologically safe environment, where employees feel comfortable being themselves without fear of negative consequences, fosters a sense of belonging and emotional security, crucial components of wellbeing.


Gallup’s recent insights highlight that employee wellbeing is key for workplace productivity; and employee engagement is “the single biggest driver of career wellbeing”.


According to Gallup, “the impact of wellbeing extends far beyond how people feel -- it affects the number of sick days employees take, their job performance, burnout, and likelihood of leaving the organisation”.


In addition, authentic interactions help foster deeper connections and mutual respect among colleagues, which is crucial for mental and emotional wellbeing, often providing a buffer against workplace stressors.

In general, when employees can be their authentic selves at work, they tend to experience higher job satisfaction, feel more engaged, and have a greater sense of wellbeing.


This is because they can align their work with their personal values and preferences, leading to a more fulfilling work experience.


Let’s imagine Jane, a programmer working in a technology company.


Jane is an enthusiastic programmer who loves experimenting with new coding languages. Outside of work, she is passionate about promoting tech education in underrepresented communities.


At work, she is encouraged to be her authentic self. The company values not just her technical skills but also her unique perspective and passions.


They even support her community work, allowing her to spend some company time on outreach efforts.


In this supportive environment, Jane does not feel the need to hide her interests or mask her true self.


She feels psychologically safe, knowing that if she voices an unconventional idea or mentions her off-work projects, she won't be ridiculed or side-lined.


Because of this, Jane genuinely looks forward to her workdays. She hardly ever takes sick days, and has not even considered looking for another job in years.


Her engagement levels are through the roof, and she often talks about how her job at the company does not just feel like "work."


It is a place where she feels she belongs, and her wellbeing is positively impacted because of it.


How Do Organisations Benefit from Authenticity?


For companies, it is more important than ever to “be authentic”.


In an era where information is at everyone's fingertips, and consumers are more enlightened and discerning, the pursuit of authenticity is no longer optional but essential for companies to remain relevant and successful.


Authenticity in organisations is a complex concept that intertwines brand image, organisational culture, and relationship with both employees and consumers.


There are many reasons why organisations aim to be authentic.


For example, customers are more likely to trust and stay loyal to brands that they perceive as authentic and transparent.


Authenticity helps in building an emotional connection with customers, making them more likely to choose, stay with, and advocate for the brand.


When it comes to organisational culture, authenticity can often be a key driver to improve workplace morale, increase job satisfaction, and foster overall wellbeing of employees.


In general, authentic companies tend to attract employees who share similar values. This, in turn, increases retention as employees feel more aligned with the company’s mission and values.


After all, authenticity, when aligned with organisational values, enhances organisational culture as it fosters a sense of belonging, and encourages the expression of diverse perspectives and ideas.


How Can Leaders Drive Authenticity?


Leaders today stand at the forefront of driving authenticity within the workplace.


To foster a culture of authenticity, mutual respect, and learning, leaders should openly share their thoughts, listen attentively, and admit to their mistakes. This, in turn, would create an environment where openness and vulnerability are valued and encouraged.


By doing so, they cultivate a space where open dialogue is the norm, and showing vulnerability becomes a strength rather than a weakness.


This approach signals to all employees that their experiences, concerns, and insights matter.


Authentic leaders tend to regularly recognise and celebrate the mosaic of diverse thoughts, backgrounds, and perspectives that each team member brings.


They key lies in not merely endorsing but actively embodying the principles of psychological safety and authenticity.


On a personal note, I deeply appreciate a manager who truly understood and championed authenticity in my career.


A few years ago, I stepped into a role as a senior project manager at a new company, overseeing a pivotal technology project.


Beyond my certifications as project manager and organisational change manager, I had a university degree in English-Spanish Translation.


I also carried with me a deep-seated passion for teaching and communicating effectively: I was a teacher at heart, and a strong believer in the transformative power of clear communication in any project's success.


My unique background in translation, with a specialisation in literature, might have seemed out of place in the world of technology.


But in this new role, being my authentic self, wasn't just accepted—it was celebrated.


My manager recognised the intricate art of translating, not just words, but their underlying meaning and connotations from one language to another.


Instead of side-lining this unexpected facet of my background, he embraced it.


He offered words of encouragement, was genuinely intrigued by my journey, and welcomed my creative contributions, allowing my translation and communication skills to enrich the delivery of the project.


In that environment, I felt more than a mere employee. I felt seen, valued, and believed in.


My manager's authentic interest in my professional journey, coupled with his acceptance of my vocational persona, reinforced my belief that success isn't solely based on technical skills but also on meaningful communication and the unique backgrounds each of us brings to the table.


What Really Matters in the End?


A workplace environment that values authenticity and fosters a sense of belonging, respect, and mutual understanding, requires intentional efforts from both individuals and organisations.


We must be willing to unveil our true selves, to bring our whole selves to work, and to be champions of our own values and beliefs.


Remember, maintaining professionalism does not necessarily require adopting a strict and formal persona. We can be professional while being approachable, empathetic, and showing our personalities.


Organisations must cultivate an atmosphere where such openness is welcomed, respected, and valued, where diversity of thought, background, experience, and expression is seen as a treasure trove of innovation and strength.


It is a mutual commitment to building a professional world where everyone's unique qualities make the workplace culture richer, a place where the power of collective ideas fosters innovation, collaboration, and shared success.



Elena Scaramellini

Executive Trainer


Would you like to learn more about this topic? Contact us today and follow us @intellectibus for more tips, articles, and upcoming events.







15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page