Bring Your Self to Work Day

dreamstime_14039667Memorial Day in the US signals that summer in the northern hemisphere is just beginning.  We tend to associate summer time with kicking back just a bit and enjoying longer daylight, sunshine and outdoor activities.

What if we also chose summer to be a time when we relax our business persona’s a bit and bring more of our true selves to work?

I’m not talking about a “let it all hang out” kind of relax, but rather a purposeful one.  The purpose could be to increase your contribution, your satisfaction, and/or your enjoyment.  After all, why shouldn’t we have more fun at work at a time of year when we often have more fun outside of work?

In the industrial age we created an artificial separation between work and life.  Work was no longer determined by what your home community needed from you in order for the community to function (e.g., blacksmith, farmer, baker, etc.).  It became about exchanging our time for money outside of the place we lived.  Work became impersonal.  Employees were not seen as human beings, but rather as cogs in the machinery of mass production.

Of course it was also the beginning of a much better life for many.  So I am not suggesting it was all bad.  It was simply part of our evolutionary path.  It served us and got us here.  Yet, as is often the case in evolution, the next generation is often left with vestiges that are no longer useful or needed in the current time.  Humans still have an appendix that serves no function and it often has to be removed before it causes us harm!

In today’s workplace I think those vestiges take the form of beliefs that once served us, but are now in the way of progress.   When people are paid for machine-like tasks, many of which could ultimately be done by machines, their feelings, hopes and dreams, and even their life circumstances don’t matter to the functioning of the machine or measures of success.  In fact your “personal life” could  be an impediment to successful functioning of a business designed to run like a machine.

Now that the nature of work and of jobs has changed substantially and continues to change, success is no longer a simple efficiency equation.

Most people are no longer filling jobs that amount to clearly defined cogs in the wheel of production and predictable progress.  Therefore. they can no longer be treated like machines. That is if we want to tap the full potential of our organizations anway.

As individuals. to be effective in today’s world requires that we bring our whole selves to the workplace – our passion, our ownership, and the fullness of our unique life experience to fuel innovation.  Many still have a long way to go in this regard.

It is common for people to display aspects of their “personal” life such as pictures of their family in their work space.  However, I would venture to say this is the artificial limit for many people when it comes to bringing their whole self to work.

I do not believe this is because people don’t want to be whole, but rather that the cultural norms of modern business retains an underlying context that “business is not personal”.

Yet if businesses want more from people they also have to continue to expand their beliefs and practices to embrace the whole person when they choose to show up.  And if we as individuals want more passionate and fulfilling lives we have to be willing to examine and change what we bring to the workplace.

An example of how some organizations have attempted to make work more personal is to have special days such as “bring your kids to work day”.  I often ask my clients do they bring themselves – their best self – to work?  The majority of the responses I continue to get to this question is an indication that we still have a lot of work to do.  In 2004 a few coaches banded together to initiate an actual “bring YourSELF to Work Day”. They even created website dedicated to the idea and designated a specific day.  Although it looks like they stopped in 2008, there are some great ideas on the site www.bringyourselftowork.com.

Of course it will take a lot more than a day a year to cause the kind of change we need to fuel today’s workplace and our economy.  It is, however, a great place to start on the way to making the idea of bringing your self to work the “new normal” in the workplaces of tomorrow.

What about you?  Do you bring your whole self, the best of you, to work every day?

If you don’t here is a challenge for you:  Designate a day within the next month to be a Bring Your Self to Work Day.  Either find a way to do it for yourself or include others and make it an event.  And don’t forget to share what your “Bring Your Best Self to Work Day” looked like and what you discovered in the process.

And what about your organization? Do the people who lead you encourage you and support you to bring the best of you, the multi-dimentional nature of you, to work?  As a leader, how do you support and encourage others to bring their whole self to the work they do?


Enter A Comment

Guy Farmer   |   01 June 2011   |   Reply

Great post Susan. I especially like the idea of people being whole at work. I’ve found that the happier leaders are in their personal lives the kinder and more empathic they’ll be at work. They’ll also be more open to helping others grow.

Susan Mazza   |   02 June 2011   |   Reply

So true Guy. We bring ourselves to work despite how hard we may try to separate the two – while what we do and say may be our business mask, our attitude and mood tends to come along for the ride.

Thanks for your comment.

Rich   |   01 June 2011   |   Reply

LOVE it, Susan! Given my work as a coach, it is important to bring my whole self fully and authentically everyday. I find that the more I do that, the better my coaching is, and the better my client’s results are. I think bringing that energy and focus to my coaching allows them to be more whole and authentic, which is important. As you pointed out, the vast majority of people don’t do that, especially in the corporate environment where human capital seems to equate to “cogs” and “widgets”.

Susan Mazza   |   02 June 2011   |   Reply

Great point about how important this is for coaches too. How can we coach others to be their whole and best self if we are not being that? Thanks for stopping by Rich!

Victoria   |   03 June 2011   |   Reply

Great post. Whenever somebody talks about bringing your whole self to work I feel very vulnerable. That is because keeping a corporate facade makes us more equal and focused on our achievements and potential rather than personal issues. In situations where diversity policies are not prevalent and equality isn’t guaranteed bringing your self to work can be dangerous for lgbt people, political activists (left-wing people, feminists, etc), or anyone with alternative views and lifestyles. I’ve suffered retaliation for my political views, never mind the rest of it. Therefore, I think that bringing yourself to work needs to be carried out after diversity policies are implemented and become effective, not before.

Susan Mazza   |   06 June 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience Victoria. The risks you speak of are exactly why people maintain the facade – it is safer. But there is a cost to the facade as well. Diversity takes many forms and you mention some of them here. I think you are pointing to another important aspect of bringing yourself to work – choosing a workplace whose values match your own. If at some level your fundamental values, beliefs and attitudes are at odds with the culture in which you work it is likely your job will never be more than an exchange of time for money. Perhaps the choice to make is not whether to bring yourself to work, but rather between staying where you are and keeping the facade in place or to seek a workplace (or even create one!) where you feel free and safe to express more of who you are. It all starts with one question – can I bring the best of who I am and what I have to offer here or not?

Victoria   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

Good reply! It has made me think. The thing is that if everyone who is different decides to keep within their safe spaces then nothing changes and the unequal distribution of power remains. I want to be an agent for change from within, changing myself and my environment. But I need allies. I think we need to create networks of allies (eg through diversity policies) so that we can become safer expressing ourselves and can gradually bring more of ourselves to work. And yes, this can be very costly at the personal level, but so is staying in the small spaces where self-expression is more traditionally possible.

Susan Mazza   |   12 June 2011   |   Reply

You make some excellent points Victoria. I applaud your commitment to be an agent of change.

You have me thinking though. While my life’s work has been about leading and managing change, there are times when the best decision for the individual to be fully self expressed is to find a place and a position that is a better fit for them. I have seen people hang on for dear life so to speak to the job they have hoping to change the environment so they are happier because they are afraid to leave rather than doing so because it will help the organization fulfill on it’s aspirations as well.

If your values, passions and aspirations are not a match for your position or the values and aspirations of the organization you serve, you have to ask yourself, is the purpose of the change I want to cause?

When the issue is one of diversity, I think you stand a much better chance of being successful as a change agent when your values and aspirations line up with those of your organization (and the people who are leading it).