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  • Writer's pictureAwatif Yahya

Work Personas vs True Identities – Why Are they Different?


Why do some people feel the need to adopt different personas while at work? Sometimes with a paradigm shift between their true selves and the character they become as soon as they walk into their work environments!

Growing up, I remember being told I had to maintain a professional look while at work. It meant I had to dress formally, often in less than comfortable shoes, and behave is a manner skewed closer to being cold and distant. Showing emotions at work was a no no. Laughing too hard or rolling tears were deemed unacceptable and unprofessional, especially when such emotions are demonstrated by women!

Back then, that made sense to me. But as time passed and I grew a little wiser, I started questioning: what is a “professional” look? Does it look different in one work environment to another, or country to country? And most importantly, does it have to be any different from the “look” we adopt in our personal lives?

My partner and I recently discussed a behavior of a colleague he had interacted with. This particular individual was rude, obnoxious, and generally unpleasant to all around him. We wondered if the man in question behaved differently in his personal life. He must have a family or at least friends he grabs drinks with, he might even have a significant other or kids under his care. We concluded that he must be nice, at times, showing kindness to those around him otherwise he would be all alone. So why then does he feel the need to act like a “jerk” at work?

It is really hard to separate our personalities and act differently depending on the environments we are in. And for those who pull it off, it must be exhausting. We no longer leave our work behind when we leave at 5pm (or whenever our workday ends). Technology has changed the definition of standard working hours, we are connected 16 hours a day, assuming we stick to the recommended 8 hours sleep per day.

Our professional lives and personal lives are not in two separate domains, what happens in one affects the other. Stress at work can influence personal relationships and vice versa. So, the question is: how do we create a work culture that truly invites everyone to be themselves rather than giving it a lip service? What kind of leadership skills must we adopt to create such cultures and get people to believe in them?

In my humble opinion, allowing people to be themselves in their work environments and show their true colors will support high performing teams, encourage diversity, innovation and promote a growth mindset. It will also help weed-off inappropriate behaviors by calling them out and discussing them openly.

But we cannot start until we decide what kind of work culture we want to adopt. How will we conduct our business? How do we act internally with our employees and externally with our customers and shareholders? What will be our public image?

Culture is the DNA of an organization. There is no formula or a cookie cutter we can replicate from one organization to another. It is unique to the operation of the business. I encourage organizations to start by defining their culture first then build strategic goals, company mission and vision on top of that culture, rather than the other way around. Only then, will they succeed in creating an environment where everyone feels safe to be themselves, and reap the fruits of their talent resources.

For more information on creating a best-fit culture for your organization, look up Creating Inspiring Workplaces from Awe Horizons.

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