It’s OK to Bring Your Whole Self to Work

June 17, 2016 Derek Irvine

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Implicit norms about being yourself at work are a large part of the power of working human.

Have you seen this post circulating on LinkedIn?

It’s about a poster that tells new employees with the UK’s Government Digital Service that “It’s ok to…” Some items on that list that are ok to do include: ask for more clarity, depend on the team, go somewhere else to concentrate, have off-days, and have days off. (The entire poster is available here.)

Many of the things on the list struck me as extraordinarily human parts of working, as well as the challenging process of learning a new role, team, and organization. Many of us learn these types of things over time, all of the “unofficial stuff” as the post says. They are the norms and implicit expectations of how work gets done and the ways that employees behave and interact with one another. What’s the benefit of putting that all on a poster?

One reason is to improve the socialization process for new hires, especially for fast growing teams and companies. It helps those newcomers to quickly learn and adapt to the expectations that others have of them. It also helps the organization to maintain and transmit the importance of a human-oriented culture and core values. Especially as new hires begin to make up greater numbers within teams and departments, holding on to that culture and core values becomes increasingly important.

In a way, codifying these norms into an explicit and visible list is also a way to help re-affirm or reinforce the value of employee differences to the organization. Even for long-tenured employees, a reminder of what’s okay can be beneficial.

Another reason I like the idea behind this poster? The phrasing, telling employees “it’s ok” to put yourself out there (to “make mistakes”), to find a way of working that allows you to be as productive as you can be (have a “messy desk” or a “tidy desk”). It allows each employee to express their individuality at work.

The poster can easily be summed into a one-item list: “It’s ok to bring your whole self to work.”

Everyone enters the workplace with a set of unique preferences and styles of working, and the expression of all of that is ok to do. The poster is a strong signal to employees, both new and old, that an environment that supports those differences is important. It is also a signal that there are as many paths to successfully living up to a company's core values and getting work done as there are people doing that work. Appreciating those differences is a crucial part of making work human.

What makes the top of your list for things that are ok to do?

About the Author

Derek Irvine

Derek is senior vice president, client strategy and consulting, at Workhuman.

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