Why is authenticity at work so hard? 5 ways to be more authentic

March 14, 2022 - 17 min read

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What is authenticity at work?

The benefits of being your authentic self at work

How to be a more authentic leader at work

How leaders can promote authenticity at work

Start showing up authentically

Like many of you, I’ve been working from home for the last two years. 

My makeshift office doubles as our back porch and laundry room. It shares a wall with my husband’s office. My “office” doesn’t have a door, so it’s easy to overhear conversations and meetings.

On more than a few occasions, he’s popped his head into mine. “Were you just on the phone with someone?” or “Who were you just talking to?” 

I’d reply, “I was on a work call.” He’s always surprised. “You sound so comfortable talking with your co-workers.” 

My work situation wasn’t always like this. Showing authenticity at work doesn’t just happen when an employee shows up for work every day. In fact, authenticity at work is actually hard work. 

It takes psychological safety, trust, belonging, inclusion, and strong relationships. It takes a level of vulnerability — and sometimes, really going outside of your comfort zone

And sometimes, it takes getting to know yourself before you learn how to be authentic at work. As an employer, it’s critical to foster a culture of belonging to bring out the best in all your employees. 

This guide will help you understand how to be authentic at work and why it’s important. You’ll also learn why authenticity at work has business benefits — and how you can model authenticity as a leader

What is authenticity at work? 

To be authentic means that you are truly showing up as yourself. As defined in Merriam Webster, authentic means you are worthy of acceptance and true to your own personality. 

So, what does authenticity mean when it comes to the workplace? 

But authenticity at work can be more complicated than it seems. There’s a delicateness to showing up as your whole self. It takes heightened and intentional self-awareness and Inner Work® to show up authentically in the workplace. 

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What workplace authenticity is not 

Some may hear authenticity at work and think the floodgates are open. Well, not quite. 

It’s important to treat authenticity with integrity. And when it comes to acting with integrity, that should factor into how you show up at work every day. Here are some tips we’ve found to be helpful when it comes to what isn’t workplace authenticity: 

  • You don’t have to share your whole life story 
  • You don’t have to connect with everyone on a deep, personal level 
  • You don’t need to share unfiltered opinions, perspectives, or comments that may be hurtful to others 
  • You don’t need to sacrifice your boundaries 

I’ve had some of these own conversations with my own coach as part of my coaching journey. For me, I struggle with what I should and shouldn’t share as part of my personal life. With BetterUp, my coach has helped me re-think what it means to be vulnerable in the workplace — and how it might best serve me and those around me. 

But it doesn’t mean that I need to be an open book for everyone to read. There’s some thoughtfulness to what it means to be authentic. With guidance from a coach, your employees can navigate authenticity in the workplace with support. 

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The benefits of being your authentic self at work

Being your authentic self at work can sound intimidating. If you’re a leader, you might be wondering why it’s even worth modeling authenticity.

Does it work? What good does it do for employees? How do I know it’s worth it? 

Showing up as your authentic self has plenty of benefits, both for the employee and your organization. Erinne Arias, Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, VMWare, shared why authenticity in the workplace goes hand-in-hand with a deep sense of belonging

 

In many ways, authenticity in the workplace happens when leaders are inclusive. At BetterUp, we’ve studied the positive impacts of inclusive leadership. Coupled with authenticity, inclusive leadership makes an incredible impact on your business. 

Here are seven benefits to showing up authentically in the workplace: 

  1. 140% increase in employee engagement 
  2. 50% increase in team performance 
  3. 90% increase in team innovation 
  4. 54% lower turnover 
  5. 150% increase in belonging 
  6. It helps people build their authentic personal brand
  7. It helps people find their purpose — and live with greater purpose, clarity, and passion  

When people feel a sense of belonging and authenticity in the workplace, the organization thrives. With BetterUp, you can build your employees’ mental fitness and ability to show up authentically. 

How to be a more authentic leader at work

We’ve talked a little about inclusive leadership and authentic leadership. And in all honesty, there’s no one right way to be more authentic. We’re human beings — and that means that every human being has their own unique way of showing up. 

But there are a few guiding principles that we can lean on to help us build this muscle. Here are six ways you can be a more authentic leader at work. 

1. Practice Inner Work® 

This first step might sound counterintuitive. But to truly show up authentically, it takes personal development. It takes getting to know yourself deeply and intimately, and understanding where you want to go. 

To do this, you need Inner Work®. Inner Work® looks different for everyone. For me, I know that I like to write and spend time outside. But I know other people who enjoy meditation and mindfulness. And still, others do Inner Work® through yoga practice, a long walk, or journaling.  

There’s really no “wrong” way to practice Inner Work®. But if you’re a company leader, you should encourage your employees to make the space for it. 

2. Model inclusive leadership 

A big part of showing up authentically boils down to inclusivity. Without a sense of belonging, your employees won’t feel psychologically safe or secure enough to show up as their whole selves. 

As a leader, it’s important to model inclusive behaviors. Our data, cited above, found these components of inclusive leadership critical

If you’re not sure how to get started, consider BetterUp. Your people leaders are human beings with unique needs. In order to meet your employees’ needs, it’s not often there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s where personalized, virtual coaching comes in. 

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With personalized coaching, you can tap into your workforce’s potential. By pairing your leaders with a coach, you can empower a thriving workforce. At its heart, it’s about helping your employees reach their full potential, but in a way that works for them. 

3. Establish psychological safety 

Psychological safety is the bedrock of authenticity. Without psychological safety as a foundation, employees won’t feel safe or secure to show up authentically. 

Especially in virtual environments, we know establishing psychological safety can be a challenge. Think of ways you can create a culture of trust in your organization — and work with your HR team to pinpoint areas of opportunity. 

This could mean that you need to establish a starting point, so you might consider rolling out an employee engagement survey. This step will take some digging into learning what your employees’ experience is in its current state. From there, you’ll be able to formulate a plan with set goals. 

4. Ask for feedback 

Employee voices need to be heard. Especially in a job market where employees are quitting in record numbers, feedback is critical. 

Make sure your managers are regularly asking for feedback. This feedback loop can happen in regular one-on-one meetings, ad-hoc meetings, or even as part of the performance review process

Regardless, it’s important to make sure there are platforms where employees can be heard. And beyond just gathering feedback, taking action on the feedback gathered is powerful. This shows you’re invested in your employees, value their perspectives, and want to see continuous growth in the company. 

5. Show vulnerability 

This doesn’t mean you have to share your life story with your employees. But you should be approachable — and lead with empathy. Lean on your emotional intelligence to help guide you. It doesn’t have to be oversharing. 

Vulnerability is a strength. While it sounds intimidating, it can have wonderful benefits for both your employees and the organization. For example, caregivers have shouldered a heavy burden throughout the pandemic. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s OK to share that you’ve experienced some struggles, too. 

At BetterUp, we recently had an all-company meeting. One of our executives presented on some recent data but expressed her toddler had her up all night. On top of a sleepless night, her coffee machine broke.

While it may sound small, this tidbit into the personal lives of a leader helped me connect with her on a personal level. I’ve never worked directly or communicated with this leader. But her story made me feel connected and made her feel more approachable. 

Think about ways you can show up with vulnerability without emotionally dumping on your employees. You’d be surprised at the connections and impact it can have, especially on company culture

Beyond these five pillars, it’s important to continue to grow communication skills. So much gets lost in the translation of the day-to-day. Great leaders are typically great communicators, and that’s so valuable to building an authentic workplace. 

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How leaders can promote authenticity at work

Promoting authenticity at work sounds like a daunting task. After all, it’s not necessarily a skill you can take a course in and immediately master. It’s artful, delicate, and tricky — all at once. 

One BetterUp Member and leader shared their experience after working one-on-one with their coach. Traditionally, the leadership development program in this organization wasn’t empowering growth. The company needed a personalized solution that offered group coaching and resources for leaders. 

“I am more confident and clear, turning situations and looking at different aspects, less pressure to make it all perfect, but rather think what is needed and doable. I am easier-going and build more trust with my clients, colleagues, and team.”

BetterUp Member, Learning Development Program Participant 

The result? Managers saw increased authenticity, empathy, and ability to guide others. BetterUp can help your leaders promote authenticity in your workplace, no matter where you are in the world. 

Starting showing up authentically 

You might still be getting to know your true self. You might be forming your own personal values and putting in the work for the sake of your well-being

Showing up authentically doesn’t mean you’re oversharing your life. It’s an investment in your work culture and your employees’ life satisfaction. And it can come to life in many different ways, from new programs to team-building activities. 

Reflect on your company’s core values. What stands out to you? How do you show up as your true self? Are you doing the Inner Work®? Are you encouraging your team members to do Inner Work®? 

With a little guidance and support from BetterUp, you can create an authentic workplace that brings out the best in everyone. 

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Published March 14, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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