Bringing your whole self to work

23 July 2021 by Grace Coleman
blog author

In today's work environment, the lines between our professional and personal lives are blurred more than ever before. Whatever is happening to us outside of the workplace, whether it’s stressful, emotional, or some of the happiest times of our lives, it follows us into work as well. We may feel under pressure to keep these realities and emotions under wraps or have to push them to the back of our minds and act as if we "have it all together." However, as I found out from the people at Acre, we can work more efficiently, lead better and be more engaged and fulfilled if, instead of trying to hide who we are, we show up fully and authentically.  

I spoke with five individuals at Acre who all explained to me their experience of being able to bring their whole self to work, the importance of a good working environment/culture, why it's important to them and how it aligns with both their role and day-to-day work life. 


“I'm from two completely different cultures, my dad is Scottish /Irish, and my mum is from the Philippines (She moved here when she was 19.) Though my mum has lived in the UK for many years, she still isn't comfortable in herself which makes me feel sad for her. Because of this discomfort, I witness that she can't bring her whole self to situations. She often gets nervous about what people may think. Even though I tell her that she doesn’t need to feel this way, she can’t help it due to some of her experiences while being in the UK. For example, one of my earliest memories is being in the car with my mum driving and a car next to us beeping aggressively and shouting ‘Get off the road you foreigner.’ It's awful and I can see how it would affect anyone into thinking they couldn’t be their whole selves when they are in a different country to the one they grew up in. 

I personally didn’t think I would ever be subjected to anything racist like that until I entered the working world after uni. I remember I was part of a great team and I really liked them all, however, there were quite a few jokes that would fly around which crossed the line. One inappropriate comment was ‘Your dad bought a Thai bride’ and at the time I didn’t even know how to react. I think I would just hear it and brush it off each time and join in on the laughter. I felt like I had to have this façade which wasn’t me on to ‘fit in.’ Luckily, now I don’t let it hurt me but as I progress in my career, what does hurt me now is witnessing people subject this behaviour towards others. I think that is why I'm always conscious of making sure that I'm making other people feel comfortable, as I have witnessed first-hand how this can really affect someone’s self-esteem and feeling of self-worth.  

Acre have recently held training around the LGBTQ community which was really eye opening for me and made me realise that even by doing small things like having my pronouns in my signature, it can go a long way to making others feel safer. I just have a genuine care for people even if I've just met them and although I know the rest of the world isn’t like that unfortunately, I think with education and awareness, the more people can make others feel safe and feel like they can be themselves. I am thankful to be part of a company where everyone genuinely feels the same way, they want you to feel welcome and be part of the team. As a new person coming into the business, it's really warming to feel this way and I feel like I can be my whole self and others can too.” 


“I remember working with a client who made an offer to two candidates, and both declined. The client wanted those people very, very badly. They gave them great remuneration, bonus etc, but there wasn't that emotional connection. One of the candidates specifically talked about D&I, and they didn't get the answer they wanted. They were a small business that was trying to catch up with their HR policies, but savvy candidates, especially if they're from diversity categories, want to know that the policies are more baked in. They don't want to be a representative for their race, or their colour or be the representative that has to change the company. As the internal consultant, I want companies to have it ready. People don't want to join an organisation that hasn't carefully thought this through.  

For me, bringing my whole self into my interview with candidates is extremely important, to always listen to them and to give them a sense of safety. And then for the candidates, if they want to bring their whole self to an interview, they're going to do it probably with me versus the client, or with both. If they're going to ask questions such as ‘what's the culture really, like?’ I tell them to kick the tires and ask really hard questions. Don't be afraid. You're a manager, you're a director, you have to find out if this is the right place for you. And when they do, it usually has to do with bringing your whole self to the interview and making an emotional connection with their future employer.  

I've mainly been working remotely as a recruiter for the past 8 years; therefore, I am used to the new remote working lifestyle that everyone is currently working in. With everyone now requesting video calls, this gives me an opportunity to show myself and often they are so much better than just phone calls. This gives an opportunity for my candidates and clients to show themselves or for us to build a connection and rapport. I am helping them find their next career move, so my role is based a lot on trust and then I can only build trust if I show them my true self.” 


“I find it really inspiring that people have the confidence to say ‘this is who I am, accept me or not’. To say ‘this is how I'm going to live the life I want to live’ - I think it's powerful. I was born and bred in Berlin, and I am lucky that it is a very open-minded city and that people are allowed to live their life freely. This upbringing and way of life is very much part of who I am. When it comes to bringing your whole self to work, I believe in having an open-door policy and allowing people to speak up and be open if they choose to do so. It has a lot to do with respect and respecting that people choose to live their life how they wish to do so and respecting them to tell you what they wish.”  

“I am proud to be able to be visible in my identity and communicate that openly with my colleagues.  

It is a privilege to be comfortable and feel safe and supported when having conversations with my colleagues. That psychological safety and respect is critical. The Alliance philosophy we have at Acre gives us the freedom to invite a wider conversation between colleagues, one that is humane, empathetic and trusting. This is really important to me.  

Being able to discuss our relationships, professional development and your own happiness, that's the whole point around this liberating idea of bringing your whole self to work.  

In the reality of these honest conversations, it’s impossible not to talk about other aspects of your life and share aspects of this with the people you work with. The joy here, is that you have the right to say, to share less or share more about your life and in a respectful and empathetic environment.” 


“I think as a human being, I find it hard not to bring my whole self to anything, it's exhausting to try and fit into a template, which doesn't fit me ultimately. That’s why as a business when you have a cultural environment, which allows people to bring their whole selves, it creates a kinder, fun, and more engaging place to work. We should be in an environment where we can express ourselves and celebrate who we are. But if we were to create an environment, where we wanted everybody to fit into a template, then we would miss out on everything that fell outside of that template, and we wouldn’t learn more about the great qualities, experiences, and lifestyles that people lead. 

The Alliance is a great mechanism for that. It’s about creating a highly transparent environment, really emphasising psychological safety, allowing people to speak up and speak out and give constructive feedback to the business, and being bold about celebrating, and sharing ideas. As innovation is one of our values, we will succeed so much in being innovative, when we get so many different characteristics coming into the business.  

What I've really learned over the last few years is the importance of wellbeing, high levels of wellbeing, equal high levels of productivity. I would imagine when people are allowed to be themselves and not have to pretend to be someone else or hide parts of themselves, that enhances their wellbeing. As someone who suffered anxiety when I was about 15 through to my 30s, it gives me empathy towards others who are suffering. I understand it and it's important to be able to talk about how we are feeling, and I would rather be a role model to create a change. Ultimately if somebody's struggling, we want them to know that they can talk about it, they'll get the right response, and it will be dealt with the right level of confidentiality.” 

The people that we work with and the environment around us have a significant impact on our own ability to fully show up, thrive in our careers, and be open about how we feel. At the same time, the more willing we are to bring our whole self to work, the more impact we can have on others, whether it's being a role model for mental health, thriving in a role as a recruiter to place candidates in the right company or providing an environment which allows both our personal life and work-life to align.

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