Should you bring your whole self to work?

Do you ever find, or get accused of being one person at home and a different person at work? It’s been a running joke in our house that there’s ‘work Dave’ and ‘home Dave’. A billion years ago when we worked in offices, if I had to ring him at wok for whatever reason he would talk to me like we’d never met. Not that I expected him to be all ‘oh hi sweetiepie, to what do I owe this rare glimmer of sunshine hearing your angelic voice offering a moment of joy in my otherwise unhappy life?’ but you know, a little recognition that we were in fact in a relationship would be nice. He’s a lot better now, and I’m possibly a little more serious at work than I used to be so we’ve kind of met in the middle. Anyway, it’s always been a wonder of mine; should you bring your whole self to work? Or should you leave some things for home?

Late last year, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with with the CEO of the organisation I work for on this very topic for his own fortnightly blog. This, in itself, other than being extremely flattering, presented it’s own challenges. We decided to collaborate because I like to write and he liked my style. But this was a blog that would be shared with the whole organisation. It was going to require a lot more thought and effort than my usual blogs, which I’ll be completely honest, half the time I write drunk (edit sober). I can’t just spout out any old shit for this one, and I certainly couldn’t waffle on about the Backstreet Boys (or could I?) which made me think, is this me bringing my whole self to work if I’m already censoring myself? Have I fallen at the first hurdle? Anyway this is the crux what I came up with in the end (some elements have been edited out for confidentiality purposes):

Writing has always been a love of mine and I’m lucky enough to be able to indulge my passion both inside and outside of work. And whilst obviously when I’m writing for work, I have to adapt for the audience, it’s nice to work in an organisation encourages individuality and the concept of ‘bringing your whole self to work’.

The NHS was established on the principles of social justice and equality and when you choose to work for an organisation it’s usually because your core values align with that of the organisation, that’s certainly why I’ve stayed working in the NHS for nearly 15 years. Through those years I’ve been lucky to work with really diverse teams of people, where we do a great job of encouraging and celebrating diversity. I find the concept of bringing your whole self to work really interesting because when I started my career as a medical secretary, the opportunity to incorporate this into my writing ‘style’ was non-existent. It was formal, factual and to the point, which it had to be under the circumstances. But it certainly didn’t allow for any kind of creative flair.

Fast forward to where I am now which has not only enabled but encouraged to use my own voice, and my own preferred communication style as much as possible. Bringing your whole self to work every day doesn’t mean having to divulge your deepest darkest secrets to your colleagues. It’s more about people understanding who you are and what you’re about. I’ve mainly worked in business support or engagement roles and in my experience, some of my biggest successes have been down to giving people parts of my personality they can relate to, as a form of reaching out and showing a more human side, rather than a corporate face all the time.

I think if the challenges of our response to COVID-19 has highlighted anything to me, it’s what a fantastic team of colleagues I have. There is no single ‘right way’ to respond to a global pandemic and the compassion and inclusivity that I’ve seen while we all try and battle our way through this has been inspiring. Whether it’s been through offering home office tech support among colleagues, keeping our spirits up with daily quiz questions or not judging if ‘someone’ happens to have the Backstreet Boys discography on their bedroom wall on an MS Teams call. I feel like we’ve shared beyond our job titles and become people.

One thing that always sticks in my mind, was a few years ago and I was preparing a presentation for an interview I had coming up I invited my friends Emma and Sophie (who also work in the same place as me) to run through it one lunchtime. When I was finished, they were like ‘bloody hell Newman, you sound like you actually know what you’re talking about’. Because Emma and Sophie only really know home me, who loves her white wine, gets over excited after too many of them and will be first up dancing on the table at Bongos Bingo. They don’t really know work Helen.

Similarly, I’m sure there are people I know in a more professional capacity who would be surprised to learn that I have no real useful knowledge in my head other than 90s pop culture facts and that I only learnt in the last 5 years that ‘clay pigeons’ aren’t a breed of pigeon that stag dos go and shoot as some kind of pest control scheme.

And that’s no to say that the lines should never blur. Bonding over common interests has always served me in the past. I got a very senior work sponsor of ours on side very quickly by picking up that she has a Black Country accent (very different to Brummie, don’t ever confuse them) and was amazed I could tell the difference.  When I explained my mum was from Dudley, we chatted away for 20 minutes like old friends and it instantly established a very good working relationship from then on.

It is, however, good that that you save some things for those closest to you. One things for sure though, my ability to shoehorn the Backstreet Boys in to absolutely anything really knows no bounds. Because some things are just so intrinsically part of who you are, you can’t avoid them, no matter where you are.

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