Wholeness at work - what are we leaving out?
Recently while meditating a question crossed my mind – What am I leaving out?
Somewhere in my subconscious I clearly felt that I wasn’t fully embracing all of myself in how I show up. There were parts of me that I was still hiding or dialling down. Why was I doing this? Because I was afraid. If I show all of myself, my true, wholeself, perhaps some people won’t like it. Maybe it might even deter people from working with me.
But clearly my mind was nudging me that this could no longer continue. And it’s true. In the work I do I champion for people to live fully at work, but how can I encourage this if even I myself aren’t showing up in my fullest .
Like most millennials with a revelation, I took to social media and in a sense stepped out. Despite the itch to go back on and immediately delete my post, I put my phone away and got on with my day. If I can’t show up as my whole self, then why on earth am I preaching to others to do the same. Yes, at first I felt like I was living out a dream where you step out of the house naked. I felt vulnerable and bare. But then I felt something else. More confident, at ease, empowered!
This is who I am – and wouldn’t I prefer to be disliked for the true version of myself, rather than a diluted persona created to please others?
I’m privileged that in my work I get to bring all of my skills, talents and experiences into what I do. There’s not one bit of me that doesn’t feel like I’m not living my potential. But this was the last part to be unleashed.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only person who feels this way. When I shared my story on social media I had others reach out sharing how they feel like they have to act, or hide a part of themselves at work because they don’t feel that they would be accepted.
So let’s talk about wholeness.
What is wholeness at work?
Imagine a workplace where you don’t have to hide any part of yourself. Where you can feel like you can be yourself without fear or judgement. Where you can be human, show your emotions and even use your intuition. Where you can bring all of your skills and experiences into your work, and feel fulfilled and purpose-driven. This to me, is wholeness at work.
To some it may sound like a utopia, a dream ideal which could only exist in a film. But there are workplaces out there where people get to feel like this. These workplaces don’t exist in dreams, they are alive in our reality.
What stops us from being our whole selves?
There is, of course, some personal work that we need to do in order to bring our whole selves to work. It isn’t something we can just switch on and say “ta dah I’ve arrived”. As we all know, our fears and limiting beliefs do a good job at holding us back. So there is a large part of personal-development that we have to grapple with for us to take the leap.
We have to realise that exposing ourselves at work feels riskier than in many other social situations. There is a part of us that fears ridicule, criticism and even the most tribal part of us – being rejected from the group. So naturally, we are going to play it safe and hide parts of ourselves at work.
Personal demons aside, the workplace cultures we create also have a huge impact on our ability to show up fully.
For decades, workplaces have encouraged people to “be professional” – ultimately asking us to edit ourselves to fit into what is deemed as socially acceptable. We’re asked to leave our personal lives at the door and put on the proverbial mask of professionalism.
In the past few years this strange dynamic has evolved into one whereby some companies now believe that people are their property, and have no qualms about stepping over the line themselves to influence health choices and political preferences. The rhetoric it appears is “You can’t talk about YOUR personal choices at work, but we can force you to change them if it suits our own agenda.”
The traditional way we’ve built businesses plays a significant role in wholeness; the beliefs, structures and practices, constantly strip away at us. It’s no wonder energy and creativity has left the building along with all other human remains.
Don’t believe me yet. Let’s look at a few examples of outdated workplace rituals that cripple our wholeness.
Favouring masculine qualities
Vulnerability in the workplace was for a long time seen as a weakness. Instead companies would favour those who showed more masculine qualities such as aggression, strength and determination. Any displays of emotion would be seen as a weakness, and anything remotely spiritual would also be unwelcome. For women in particular, this continues to be a struggle in male-dominated industries where these masculine characteristics are looked upon favourably.
Linear career paths
Traditional career paths that only let people move up and down into positions rather than roles limits our ability to use all of our skills and talents. People are boxed into a position that is restrictive. Even worse, people can end up in positions they never wanted, purely because going up was the only option for development. Linear career paths also don’t allow us to explore other skills we may want to pursue. This is why career mapping and job crafting have grown in popularity, people can bring more of themselves into their roles, rather than being defined by a limited job description created by someone else. If you’re interested to hear more you should listen to my podcast episode with Rob Baker from Tailored Thinking.
Despite being a small practice, the way meetings are run says a huge amount about a company’s culture. In many meetings the most senior individual speaks the most, and others are only required to listen or input where relevant. The power dynamics that can occur in such meetings means it’s a hot space for people to default to hiding themselves or not speaking up.
A classic example of what can happen in these situations is the halo effect. The halo effect is when the person with the most influence in the room shares first in a meeting. If they share first, it’s then proven to shape and change the answers of the people who share their opinions after that person.
How does holding back wholeness harm us?
Wholess isn’t just another fluffy wellness trend we should be jumping on – it’s our most human way of being. Without wholeness we miss out on living our fullest potential, but we also miss out on creating groundbreaking, innovative ideas that can benefit the world.
When we hold back our wholeness, we don’t connect with others at a deeper level. Which in turn means we are less trusting, and feel less connected to our peers. Rather than feeling a sense of belonging and support, we feel at risk.
Constantly worrying and editing yourself at work, takes up a huge amount of mental energy that’s exhausting. Think of what we could be doing instead with more headspace and energy to put towards the things that light us up.
Most of all, the dark side of crippling our wholeness, is the spiral towards poor mental health. When we hide ourselves for too long, and wrap ourselves up in so much self-editing that we forget who we are, it casts us down a shadowy path of personal loss.
How do we cultivate more wholeness at work
Research has shown that work environments where people feel that they can be their true selves not only perform better, but are more creative. There are also studies which show how happy people are when they feel they are seen fully by their co-workers. So isn’t it time we began to cultivate more wholeness at work?Here are three ways you can start.
Meeting check-ins are one of the easiest habits to practice within your own work meetings. Check-ins not only create space for participation but allow people to name and share anything that might be distracting them before the meeting starts. This practice builds awareness of others and awareness of self, and helps people let go of distractions so that they can be present for the meeting.
Roles over titles
A slightly more challenging approach to wholeness is to enable people to choose their roles within the company, and step away from traditional job titles. This practice enables everyone to align themselves with roles that encompass more of who they are, and the skills, talents and experiences they hold. People feel more fulfilled and excited about the work they are doing because they can bring all of themselves to various roles. The Corporate Rebels do a great explainer video on how you can begin this process.
Storytelling may sound like a simple activity, but this opens up a space which can make people feel vulnerable, so it must be approached at a time and place where people can truly feel safe. Sharing our stories with each other builds a deeper connection. We learn about each other’s journeys, and it reveals more about people’s life experiences and the choices they make. It’s a powerful activity, and when done in a safe space fosters a greater depth of collaboration and communication. For your next team get-together, ask everyone to prepare a Hero Story. A short five minute talk about a challenge they overcame in their life. You will be in awe at the connection you feel and the stories you hear. This activity never ceases to make me feel more connected to my fellow human.
There are many more ways that we can shift the ways we work to bring about more wholeness, but it takes courage to step out from what we’ve always known and try something different.
We won’t get to wholeness over night. I certainly didn’t even on my own personal journey. However, we can take one step at a time, whether it’s starting an individual level, or a team level, and go forward knowing that trying is better than never starting in the first place.
For more ideas or to get support in building a better workplace where our human potential can thrive, contact me to discover how we can work together.