Don’t “Fake It Till You Make It.” In the Workplace, Keep It Real.
It’s more important than ever to understand the connections among mental health, employee wellbeing, and authenticity, writes Catalyst’s Azaleah Peterson.
Everyone wants to feel accepted and engaged at work. Don’t we all wake up on a workday morning wishing to feel valued by our colleagues and excited to contribute to our organization?
Unfortunately, for some of us, these experiences are not easily attainable.
One morning was typical for me. Part of me wanted to share with my colleagues that I felt disengaged and detached from the main project I was working on. I was excluded from the opportunity to contribute my strengths and share my perspective at strategy and brainstorming sessions. The project did not inspire me because it lacked innovation and collaboration. It also didn’t resonate with the organizational mission or my own values. I was concerned that my colleagues would not understand or, worse, judge me.
It wasn’t worth the effort, and I felt emotionally taxed just thinking about it. So instead, I said nothing. I assumed characteristics that I had observed were a cultural fit—I kept a neutral face, muted my personality, and “faked it” rather than showing my authentic self.
I soon realized these practices were detrimental to my wellbeing. There is a line between adapting to challenge your limits and diluting your essence to feel more included. When I covered parts of myself to feel more included, ironically I actually contributed to an environment that lacked inclusiveness.
Many employees, especially women of color, suppress emotional conversations because we are hyper-aware that our colleagues may harbor unconscious bias. We work hard to meet our organization’s expectations but may feel we are not appreciated or connected with our organization. Feeling disconnected, our morale can plummet.
What has made matters worse is that this past year has been enormously stressful for everyone—especially for women, particularly women of color. Many employees during the pandemic have experienced the anxiety and insecurity of exclusive and harsh work environments—at the same time that they have experienced the fears and uncertainties brought by the coronavirus. Mental health resources in the workplace have never before been so crucial.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, organizations should renew efforts to create a work culture that prioritizes wellness. Post-pandemic, as Catalyst discussed at our recent Future of Work Summit, we are in a new era of empathy. We must dismantle the pervasive culture of valuing work above wellbeing. Instead, work and wellbeing must be aligned with one another. After all, organizations that fail to support employees’ mental health see chronic workplace stress, according to the World Health Organization, which can lead to a decline in “professional efficacy.”
Mindfulness is a key tactic in professional development strategy
As I developed more awareness, I realized “faking it” in the workplace was also caused by a lack of self-assessment. Promoting myself at work—developing my personal brand—in a way that aligned with the mission of my organization was necessary if I wanted to advance in my career. But to develop my brand, I first needed to discover myself. I needed to get to the point where my personal and professional identities were one and the same.
Workplace cultures that are inclusive and empathetic empower employees to feel psychologically safe to be authentic. When I was in a trusting environment, I had the space to increase mindfulness—intense self-awareness—by training my emotional intelligence and acknowledging my thoughts and feelings. I found time to honor my emotions in small but significant ways during the workday by getting creative based on my workstyle and flexibility. This practice helped me recognize that my unique identity, qualities, and culture add to my organization, and I felt more confident and engaged.
I have been particularly influenced by positive psychology, which explores the science behind positive emotions as they connect to improved health. A central point of positive psychology is to embed elements of wellness into all aspects of life—especially the workplace.
How can we achieve this goal? Here are four actions you can take, whether you are a manager or a team member:
- Use emotions as an opportunity to gain awareness about yourself and those around you. If you find emotional conversation difficult, keep in mind conversation ground rules that will help to improve communication.
- Share and celebrate your identity with your organization and team. Your unique qualities add value to the workplace culture.
- Empower yourself to be authentic in the workplace by working on a personal development plan with your professional development plan. Being in alignment will ensure that you are nurturing your mental health along with driving your career forward.
- Look to your organization for mental health aid benefits and emotional wellness activities and events to foster more human connection. Take your paid time off; don’t forfeit or delay it. Time away from work is essential for everyone.
True progress for employee wellbeing will come when organizations create a culture in which employees are able to be real with themselves and their colleagues.
Associate for Corporate Board Services
Azaleah Peterson is the Associate for Corporate Board Services at Catalyst and manages the Catalyst Women On Board™ initiative. Additionally, she supports donor stewardship and participates in the Expanding Dialogues committee, which creates internal opportunities for learning, collaboration, and conversations on race and ethnicity within Catalyst. Azaleah gratefully owes her…