Bringing our whole selves to work

Nearly all of my speaking engagements these days share something in common. The conference organizers are choosing themes that center around bringing your “whole self” to work.

This trend goes beyond coincidence and crosses all sectors and industries where I’ve spoken these past many months. So what’s going on here? No doubt the pandemic plays a part in it, having wreaked havoc on workplaces, but also disrupting long-standing assumptions about how and where we do our work and how it is delivered.

As people adjusted to working differently, be that remotely, hybrid, or managing various ranges of safety protocols when working face to face, the notion of ‘whole self’ has become a top priority for the wellbeing of individuals and organizations.

With so much continued and relentless uncertainty, our tendency to retract and withdraw gets stronger. This does not lead to healthy, energetic, creative work teams. So finding ways to reach out, to show up, and to genuinely connect with each other is at a premium. This common thread of ‘whole self’ conference themes makes sense. How do we care for that clam-like part of ourselves that wants to stay safely inside our shells while also engaging with people and coming up with creative solutions to the many disruptions of our time?

Encouraging people to show up with their whole selves starts by creating a Wildly Welcoming environment.

An important and sometimes overlooked part of welcoming people’s whole selves is acknowledging our natural tendency to pull back in times of stress and uncertainty, and understanding the energy it can take to engage (this is more true but not exclusive to introverts). Naming and normalizing this is a balm for so many of us who don’t remember to connect the dots as to why we are so tired or irritable or forgetful or _______________ (fill in the blank).

Our dominant culture does NOT like to dwell on these things. It’s all about speed, productivity, moving on, not letting up, getting ahead. I suppose in rare cases, there can be short term gains with that strategy, but the cost in terms of people’s wellbeing is far too high.

If it isn’t already happening where you work, give this Wildly Welcoming step a try. Consider checking in with everyone, asking for a couple words that describe how they are doing, and what, if anything, the team can do to support them. If anyone shares something that warrants more attention, you can circle back with them later. Even in virtual meetings, shoulders visibly relax, jaws unclench a little, and faces soften when their whole selves are acknowledged, not just the ‘pretty’ parts.

I think there’s a fear that the meeting will break down into unproductive complaining or lengthy tangents. But managed well, being reminded about the ‘why’ behind the feelings keeps the focus on offering some relief that we are not alone or doing something wrong because of our responses to stress. It moves the conversation toward compassion and maybe even coming up with a variety of ways to support ourselves and each other.

First up, bring that gentle understanding to your own reactions. Pave the way to bringing your whole self to work – the strong, messy, quirky, creative, spontaneous, engaged parts that make you who you are. That’s what the world of work needs right now.