Like many of us in market research, I spend a lot of time at work and if I am going to spend a long time somewhere I want to be happy while I am there.
One of the biggest factors leading to a happy workplace is being able to be yourself. It’s hard to spend half of your life with a mask on – at least for me, which is why I think workplaces should encourage their staff to be authentic. This is even more important for market research than other industries because we’re in the business of understanding people and wanting to know what they really think and want – and as researchers we’re no different.
What is authenticity at work and why does it matter?
Some people disagree – they think authenticity in the workplace is a terrible idea:
· “It’s crying at your desk!”
· “It’s telling your colleagues all about your latest breakup!”
· “It undermines professionalism!”
This would be a misinterpretation of what authenticity really means.
Authenticity is simply being able to be your whole self, wherever you are. That means some people might cry at their desk, or they might overshare - but that will happen in businesses which don’t focus on authenticity anyway.
It’s about being able to better connect with your colleagues and feeling accepted in your team for your professional skills, but also what makes you personally unique. This results in individuals feeling more engaged, and teams working together better.
It also means those who do want to be someone else at work - who do want a “work mask” can do so freely and without judgement. There is no pressure in authenticity.
And it really matters for businesses, too: research by Google into high functioning teams revealed that psychological safety, the sense of trust, respect, and acceptance created in an authentic workplace, is the determining factor in why top teams succeed.
So, how do you create an authentic workplace?
1. Create a working space that allows for recharging as well as efficient working
The perfect working environment is hard to find or create, but consider things like:
· breakout areas
· as much natural light as you can find
· office plants
· art that everyone loves (is there such a thing?)
Work together to create a space everyone likes; and is expressive of individuals. Obviously, this is easier in smaller companies – and indeed that is the point of perspective from which I am writing this piece. Consider also less tangible aspects of your environment; for example, I cannot think creatively with my shoes on (no restrictive H&S policies here!) and I often bring my dog to work (cue blog on the benefits of canine assistance at work).
2. Foster an environment where people trust and respect each other
Workplaces can feel disturbingly like schools; procedures to follow to avoid “being in trouble”, worrying about being late, obligations, rules with no reasons. Authentic businesses work from the basis that their staff want to work for the good of the company and are fundamentally good people – most humans are! Authenticity will not flourish if people don’t trust and respect each other.
3. Company values and employee values should align
If your company values are aligned with your own values then you are more likely to want to be at work, and to be yourself while you are there. In turn, teams are much more likely to work successfully towards the same goal. Values led hiring is a bit polarising as a concept, but overall, I think it is a good approach. I’ll more happily turn up to work and contribute somewhere if my beliefs are shared.
4. Learn about your team’s working patterns
Do you have night owls, or morning larks….or permanently exhausted pigeons? Whilst flexible hours have got more and more prevalent, the 9 - 5 (or 6 or 7) day still reigns. I’ve seen more than one brilliant brain leave a company because they couldn’t have the flexible hours they wanted. The standard working day we know now is rooted in the historical need to work during sunlit hours. This isn’t necessary anymore. This links back to trust and value alignment. If everyone trusts each other, and you are working with the same values and goals in mind, then just let people do their work.
5. Above all, have empathy and listen to your staff
If you want employees who are authentic, then a company structure that allows access to its most senior staff is conducive to this. Encourage your junior staff to share and allow them to challenge you. Let everyone be heard and understood. There is no bigger asset than the people who work for you. They exchange their time, energy and individual skills not just for payment (in our industry at least), but for self-fulfilment and sometimes even self-validation. Value and understand each employee’s unique contribution – and they’ll work better and harder.