Wednesday 24 April 2019 1:13 pm

Why playing a different version of ourselves at work can cause stress

Just be yourself. It’s a mantra that’s been drummed into us since we were kids.

Yet when you leave the comfort of home and school life to start your first job, it can feel like a completely different story. People often adjust their personality in the workplace.

Sadly, research indicates that over half of employees think that changing parts of their personality at work is essential. Employees choose to make these changes to feel more in line with company culture, or meet expectations from managers.

The fear of being seen as unprofessional by colleagues is also an overwhelming driver – an understandable logic, but one which can actually do more harm than good to the individual, and the business.

Research shows that stress levels at work keep on rising. Throw these personality changes into the mix and it’s no wonder why.

The brain power that goes into playing a different version of yourself is a lot to muster five days a week.

Unless you fancy a stressed-out team, these personality changes are good for no one – pretending to be someone else is, quite frankly, exhausting.

To say “everyone is unique” might sound like sentimental guff, but the fact is that everyone has their own individual personality, set of skills, and take on the world.

It’s the companies that accept, embrace, and effectively utilise these differences that will achieve the ultimate trifecta of a happy, productive, and loyal workforce.

While we may have rolled our eyes as teenagers when people told us to be ourselves, we need to be reminded of this now more than ever.

How does this translate to leadership in the business world?

These are some of the best practices that I follow.

Listen and learn

Get to know each employee on a more personal level, whether they’ve been with you for 10 minutes or 10 years.

Everyone is unique and different, so set time aside for regular catch-ups, and make use of outside help and training to get a better understanding of how different people work.

It’s not your way or the highway

As an ex-military guy, I have a mantra from the army: “serve to lead.” You should never expect someone to do something that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.

Any good leader needs to be clear about what they stand for, and deliver on it.

We’ve all got our own ways of achieving this, and it’s important not to impose your approach on others.

Your team are the people on the ground doing the work, and you will only get the best out of them if they work in their own way.

You’re not an effigy

As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Those words have never been truer.

As a leader, you create the work environment for your team, so if you’re trying too hard to emulate Bill Gates or Richard Branson, you can’t expect everyone around you to be themselves. There’s no problem in learning from others, but bring your own personality too. Being a manager doesn’t mean becoming a robot – you need to be personal, and bring your more human side.

When people are themselves at work, working hard doesn’t feel like such a chore.

As leaders, we’re responsible for getting the best out of people, this means creating a workplace where every member of the team feels comfortable enough to be themselves.

So don’t leave your personality on the tube, bus, or train this morning – take it with you and see how the day goes.