By Jimmy Guterman
Who are you at work?
That’s a more complicated question than you might think. There’s a side of us that we emphasize when we’re among our coworkers: our work selves tend to be more buttoned-down than the people we are on evenings and weekends. The things that preoccupy us outside work often get pushed to the back when we’re at corporate HQ. Emphasizing your professional strengths and “workplace demeanor” makes it easier for both the people who you report to and the people who report to you to feel confident in you. But such an approach can feel little bit fake sometimes, can’t it? Like we are putting on a show.
Well, you might be able to bring more of yourself to work than you think, and certainly more than just family pictures or the logo of your favorite team pinned to a cubicle wall. Indeed, one management directive that’s become almost a cliché in recent years is the idea of bringing your whole self to work. There’s a nugget of good advice in there — the excitement and passion you bring to your life should show up at work, too — but it has led to a blurring between work and life that can sometimes get unwieldy and confusing, both for you and the people who work with you. The trick is to know when to share the non-work parts of you and when not to.
I had to face this dilemma recently at work. I work for a collaborative consultancy and, I wrote a post for work about learning, one of our big concerns here, that used a new theremin as its primary example. One can argue how well I did it, but my goal was to find a way to call on a personal interest — the theremin — while keeping my company’s business needs front and center. (I’ve written previously about how, when you’re blogging for work, it’s no longer just about you.)
So bring your whole self to work, sure. Who knows where your experiences and interests might help you and your business? But a smart manager knows to deploy elements of that whole self only when relevant to the business issue at hand. If you’re a Breaking Bad junkie and you want to share that enthusiasm during a business meeting, your example had better be relevant and timely. If you’re trying too hard to create a link between your work goals and your personal interests, it might be because there isn’t one.
Tracy Brower’s Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations focuses on how best to match individuals with the businesses they work out. A good place to start is the section on making sure people’s lives and corporate cultures align. The chapter on how leaders can make work-life supports function better is also particularly helpful.
Figuring out where personal interests and business needs overlap — and where they repel one another — is at the center of Phillip W. Braddy, Marian N. Ruderman, Ellen E. Kossek, Kelly M. Hannum’s An Ideas Into Action Guidebook: Managing Your Whole Life. It is particularly strong when it comes to helping the reader manage work-life boundaries.
Cheryl Pepper and Alan Briskin’s Bringing Your Soul to Work emphasizes spirituality and has an overt self-help tone, but it does have some down-to-the ground practical advice; try the chapter on finding purpose in work.
Ian Sanders’s Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life showcases the 13 myths of what I’d call work-life imbalance and offers a useful manifesto for juggling that you might want to print out and tape to the wall of your office.
And, finally, if you want to consider these issues with a sense of humor, try Steve McDermott’s How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work, and Everything. It may be the only management self-help book ever that suggests that you should not be creative or innovative.