Authenticity In the Workplace; How Workplace Leaders Can Develop It

CoachHub · 18 August 2023 · 7 min read

The workplace consists of people from all kinds of backgrounds, with various lifestyles and unique experiences who work together in the same professional setting. At work, people wear various professional caps that allow them to interact with their colleagues, managers, and subordinates in various ways. Where everyone is perceived to be professional and expected to act within the ambit of their portfolios, some people turn out to portray an identity that’s different from their true selves. When authenticity in the workplace is wanting, it gives room to various negativities that affect the employees, their colleagues and the organisation at large.

In this article, we’ll explore what authenticity is in the workplace, its benefits, and how organisations and workplace leaders can develop it.

What is authenticity in the workplace?

The APA definition of authenticity describes it as the state of achieving a mode of being, that comes from accepting the burden of responsibility, freedom and choice and the need to construct personal meanings and values in a meaningless universe. In essence, authenticity describes an internal state of being true to who you are, regardless of the underlying external circumstances.

In a work setting, its meaning is also rooted here. Workplace authenticity describes the feeling of safety and security in employees to show up as their true selves with an assurance of being psychologically safe and emotionally secure while at it. This definition, although simple, is deeper in practice. Employees who will be authentic will have to learn to find a balance of being vulnerable—where they feel safe enough to show up as who they are—without crossing the lines of professionality.

That’s to say that authenticity is not about employees sharing all the details of their private life or trying to be razor blunt or be everyone’s closest pal in a bid to be authentic. On the contrary, authenticity is about the confidence each individual exudes in expressing their views, uniqueness and peculiarities, while making the atmosphere equally conducive for others to be themselves.

workplace authenticity

Why authenticity is beneficial in the workplace

Authenticity is one of many workplace values that are critical to the work culture. Leaders who model authenticity can help to foster a sense of belonging amongst employees, amongst other important benefits. Here are a few worth mentioning.

Improved team performance:

Authenticity at work can take many forms. When a team lead or manager genuinely shares how they were able to handle a challenge in the past that their subordinates may also be facing, it builds a sense of trust and they can feel seen enough to own up about how they need help. If a lady—Vera, manages a team that’s constantly struggling with meeting up with deadlines, sharing that she was able to deal with that by signing up for coaching or a time management course can help build authenticity amongst her team members.

Such authenticity can make team members realise that they are not alone in their struggles, and can look up to Vera as an example worth emulating by also seeking the help of a coach or enrolling in the same course. As a result, everyone ultimately benefits from the mutual gains of improved team performance.

Increase in employee engagement:

Without authenticity, many come to work just going through the motions, while some others may not enjoy being at work especially when it seems like everyone is putting up a show in a bid to act or be perceived in a particular way. It breeds an air of suspicion because deep down each person knows that they are not being real and they think it’s the same case with every other person too.

A lack of authenticity may make some employees feel suppressed and trapped in their jobs because they’re struggling to be real. Over time, the situation impacts how employees respond to their jobs, affects their mental health and they soon become disengaged at work. Where authenticity is present, employees feel more alive and self-aware. They understand how their uniqueness contributes to the overall workflow and they stay actively engaged on the job as a result.

A sense of interpersonal connectedness:

Working in an atmosphere where authenticity is present creates a sense of interpersonal connectedness among employees. They know that everyone is present to help the other make the work easier and the workflow is based on it. No one is trying to prove that they are better than the next person because they are self-aware enough to see the need for them and value being able to work together.

This sense of connectedness is beneficial for the organisation, as it triggers a positive emotional response that keeps employees motivated and focused on achieving the organisational goals.

Increased employee loyalty and lesser turnover:

Loyalty is a critical factor in the growth of any organisation and authenticity is vital to drive loyalty. With an increasing sense of belonging, awareness and confidence to be true to oneself, comes an increasing measure of employee loyalty. When employees feel psychologically safe on the job, they’ll do anything to prioritise their peace, ultimately making them stick to their jobs in the long term and reducing job turnover. An authentic workplace will have the employees’ loyalty and keep them working with the organisation in the long term.

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How to develop your organisation into an authentic workplace

As stated earlier, employees have varying backgrounds and unique lifestyles and this contributes to their overall perception of themselves and others as well. This means that to develop an authentic workplace, leaders would need to commit to instilling a culture of authenticity that every employee can draw from. Here are some important tips to work with to develop your organisation into an authentic workplace.

Build a thriving workplace experience:

Leaders looking to develop authenticity at work should invest in building a positive and thriving workplace experience for employees. When people feel included as a part of something, they value it and tend to show up as they are without having to hide their true identity. A thriving workplace experience doesn’t just focus on the job deliverables—it also focuses on developing an atmosphere where employees can find meaning in the work they do. Every opportunity counts in building a rich workplace experience for employees—work outings, team collaborations and volunteering events—are all areas that organisations can focus on to create opportunities for employees to play and work together and build a culture of authenticity.

Model organisational values:

Having defined the core values that govern organisational operations, workplace leaders must go ahead to exemplify and model those values to employees. When they see the commitment of leaders to the values, it builds a sense of trust and safety in the workplace that’s required for authenticity to thrive. As leaders go about managing the internal relationship at work, the organisational values must be those that prioritise empathy, mutual respect and participation among employees. Ultimately, people are confident to be true to themselves as they go about their work.

Coaching as a holistic approach:

Leaders need to look into holistic coaching for employees to help them develop habits that enhance authenticity at work. When employees undergo holistic coaching, areas such as the need for personal development, effective communication, self-awareness are unearthed. Each employee can identify what point they are at and where they need to be to achieve a deep sense of authenticity that also makes them better employees at work.

With coaching, leaders learn and improve on the appropriate ways to give feedback and employees become better at receiving and applying feedback. Authenticity fosters a workplace where everyone knows their measure of strength and is shameless about improving on their weaknesses as well. Coaching develops authenticity as it helps employees to understand how to respond to the differences of others without stifling the voices of the minority. It fosters an all-inclusive approach where everyone feels safe enough to be open about themselves without crossing the boundaries of professionalism and privacy.

Encourage openness:

Many employees will rather endure long enough till they can quit than speak up to the management about the challenges surrounding their work. Workplace authenticity research states that at least 3 out of 5 hide something from their organisation for the sake of their career. When leaders encourage openness at work from the standpoint that the organisation itself is not perfect and needs the contribution of every employee to thrive, it feels safer for employees to share. Openness connotes a level of vulnerability that comes from a sense of interdependence, where everyone needs the other to thrive. Freedom to air differing opinions respectfully, share new ideas and point out limiting procedures, can help employees to get better at authenticity.

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Final words

Leaders have a vital role to play in fostering workplace authenticity. Modelling a culture of authenticity where openness and vulnerability are encouraged can go a long way to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover in the workplace. Authenticity at work requires intentionality from workplace leaders and coaching is a significant way to help employees with varying experiences come to a place of mutual trust in the workplace.

Samuel Olawole

Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specialises in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him travelling or listening to good music.

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