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Bringing your Whole Self to Work

As a director of a not-for-profit organisation that has been at the forefront of Whole Person Learning for many decades, I’m concerned by what I’m hearing in a radio interview discussing the concept of ‘bringing your whole self to work’, and why it’s not a good idea.  Some valid questions are being raised about what this truly means, and examples are being cited of situations where it can backfire, with individuals facing penalties after expressing vulnerabilities.

I agree with these concerns. The notion of bringing your whole self to work is often misconstrued as bringing every aspect of our personal life into the professional sphere or speaking out without regard for context.

In our world it is a much more nuanced concept.

Perhaps a more helpful phrase would be ‘be aware of your whole self at work’.  It is very much about recognising and acknowledging the various factors that contribute to our ‘professional’ selves.

In our workplaces, our relationships with each other, the way we make decisions and how we behave are influenced by all these factors. Our emotional life is often predominant along with the way we think, our physicality and a whole bunch of other stuff that comes under the heading of psychology – including our self-image, personal hopes, desires and beliefs.

Our ways of going about our work are influenced and impacted by the whole of us, all of the time, however much we are conscious of this, or not, and understanding how power, authority and hierarchy live out in our workplaces is critical to how much of our ‘whole selves’ is taken into account, or welcome.

Bringing more of ourselves is not then an invitation to bare all, rather an invitation to understand more of what is at play for you (and others) so that you are aware of when you are, for example, making a decision based more on feeling than critical thinking, being yanked back into a negative past experience by a look or comment someone makes, or acting out of a false set of assumptions about how someone sees you. 

You may be fortunate to have found a workplace where value is placed on the development of individuals and groups to recognise and work with some of this stuff – allowing the time needed to create cultures where people feel safer, within agreed frameworks and boundaries, to have more open conversations and recognise the potential this creates for more fulfilling, effective and creative ways of working together as human beings.   

Effective human relations is an applied practice and as such inviting people to engage with more of themselves at work needs to be approached with a similar emphasis to that which is placed on the development of technical skills.  A first step is seeing how necessary it is. Both are essential for individual and organisational success.

Our Working with the Shadow workshop is all about exploring your whole self – see more HERE.

Marion Ragaliauskas