Why do we set apart our “professional” lives and our “personal” lives? When a colleague ask “how are you?” do you internally compartmentalise your answer – “Things are great professionally…but personally I’m struggling,” – or vice versa? Why do some people have two social media accounts or blogs – one for their work self and one for their true self? I find this odd because, being human is what life is all about. Being yourself is your best asset in the workforce. As a millennial, I crave for authentic leadership and meaningful workplace relationships, far above salary and professional progression. People aren’t merely drive by statistics, evidence and numbers. People want to connect with people. They want a working relationship with someone they can trust. People who are true to who they are…people who exploit their weaknesses as much as their strengths…people who share their personal stories.
Last year, a colleague came to me, crying, after she had been diagnosed with cancer. Afterwards, she apologise for the emotional outburst and rambled on about how unprofessional it was. She had not been unprofessional at all.
We spend most of our lives at work. Therefore, it’s inevitable that our personal lives will bleed with our professional lives, and vice versa. In my relatively short working life, I’ve been privileged to experience a diverse range of workplaces, and have seen the full spectrum of working relationships – the good, bad and the ugly. When I stumble across meaningful workplaces relationships, either personally or by observing it through others, my heart goes all warm and fuzzy.
Why do meaningful workplace relationships matter?
Meaningful relationships at work aren’t just a nice thing to have; they’re the foundation of staff empowerment, individualism and stellar customer service. When we feel supported to be our personal selves at work, we’re more likely to reach our full potential as professionals. There doesn’t need to be a distinct separation between our “work” selves and our “true” selves.
Yes, it’s challenging to create a workplace culture that thrives on openness, authenticity and collaboration. Yes, it’s intimidating to open yourself up, without knowing how it will be received, or if your colleagues are willing to reciprocate. It’s also frustrating and sometimes hurtful to sense a lack of authenticity in others. However, there’s a liberty that comes with simply being you and replacing fear with trust. There’s no longer that self-conscious hesitation before speaking, or that stony façade in which we must veil our personal lives, and be truly “professional.” By being ourselves and cultivating meaningful relationships, we enliven others to do the same and are essentially creating a culture of compassion.
Additionally, the best customer service experiences are often beautiful hybridisations of personal and professional. People want to connect with people. All you have to do is remember. Remember to make someone (colleague or client) feel understood and accepted. Remember to give them a voice. And above all, remember to make them feel real. In order to satisfy the professional aspects of ones lives (whether it be providing quality customer service or empowering staff) we have to acknowledge the personal aspects, because it’s the foundations of everything we are.
I’m grateful to have shared authentic relationships with my colleagues, where I feel as if we’re an extension of one another; where we’re fluidic and our professional work is easier because we know each other personally, our strengths and weaknesses. However, I often feel that “professionalism” is overshadowing authenticity in contemporary organisations. This needs to change. I’ve learnt that being unapologetically who you are in the workplace, emanating radical honesty and cultivating conditions in which others are emancipated to do the same better equips us to reach our full potentials – as individuals, as teams and as organisations.
Yes, I’m a millennial, and yes I don’t have a lot of professional or life experience when I compare myself to others, and maybe I’m slightly naïve about workplace culture. However, last Friday I had a medical scare, and as the new working week approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about my work-life. A lot of what happens in our working lives are trivial, in contrast to the bigger picture.
Meaningful workplace relationships are one of the things that matter so much to me. I hope that somewhere out there, they matter to others too.