A few years ago I worked at the Walt Disney Company and during my induction week I was asked about my first Disney moment: the first time that Disney had an impact on my life as a kid. It felt really cheesy at the time but looking back it was a really smart way of getting me to buy into the Disney values from my own perspective.
A recent study found that when organisations encouraged authenticity in newcomers at the beginning of the employment relationship, employees performed their tasks more effectively, were more engaged with their work and less likely to quit!
This approach is different from the typical induction where you watch videos about the company values and culture. My work on bicultural experience shows that harmony between the work culture and ethnic culture is not always easy for minority ethnic professionals. Encouraging minority ethnic professionals to be authentic may help to address this.
A Process of Socialisation
As soon as you join any organisation they want to socialise you, this makes sense. It’s important that newcomers understand the norms of the organisation. According to socialisation theory, the timing of this is perfect, joining an organisation is an anxious time for an individual because they are trying to create their workplace identity. Organisations know that individuals are anxious and use this time to influence their workplace identity while it is being created. It’s best to get them while they are young!
The military is famous for doing this, they want soldiers to interpret situations and respond to them in a very specific way. So they drill behaviour into them over and over again (NSFW). Professions are aware of this too. Being a professional is less about passing exams than behaving in a particular manner. The downside can be the elimination of diversity through a homogenous cycle that reproduces itself over time.
The Personal Cost
People who have to hide their true selves from the workplace can often feel alienated from the dominant culture. It also takes a lot of effort to play the role. This creates a huge cognitive load, a burden on the mind that saps energy that could be used elsewhere.
The Benefits of Authenticity
Imagine being encouraged to be your best self, to use your unique perspectives and strengths in the workplace. This personal identity form of socialisation offers a practical method of firms maintaining a competitive advantage by encouraging employees to be individual and contribute on that basis.
This is basically the business case for diversity because it encourages different thinking and positive deviances.
Authenticity can benefit both individuals and organisations but where do you draw the line? Most people I know have a telephone voice at work, which isn’t the same as their voice when they are outside of the office. This seems like an acceptable compromise in order to be professional but what about workplace attire? Does business casual include culturally specific outfits?
Is it ok to bring strong smelling food into the office if that’s what you eat at home?
Do you feel authentic at work? Where is the line that marks professional behaviour?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net