A 2021 survey from Simmons University recently reported that 90% of respondents believe authenticity is extremely important at work. But why? Does it make you more cheerful? Quicker? Easier to get along with? Or could authenticity make you better at your job?

Authenticity isn’t just one of the biggest buzzwords in business, it’s something you’ve heard when talking about brand voices or management styles, from HR to PR to marketing and more. Not only are consumers more likely to buy from authentic brands, but employees are also more likely to enjoy their workplace if everyone in it is as authentic as they are. Most people (71%) say that they’re able to be authentic at work, which leads them to be more confident, more engaged in their work, and generally happier. So what exactly does this magic word mean, and why is it so important to a healthy work environment?

What is authenticity?

The main attribute of being authentic is knowing who you are – which is certainly easier said than done. Many online resources, leadership programs, and executive coaches will tell you that the key to being authentic is just to be moderate in all personality traits, but not so moderate that you come off as flat or boring. You have to be open during times of hardship, but so open that you overshare. You have to be transparent, but also appropriately reserved, vulnerable yet strong, confident yet humble. The key to being authentic seems to be acting in a way that everyone else would consider authentic. But is it really?

Everybody wants to be authentic, and most people think that they are. But in reality, it’s harder to discern your own authenticity than you might think. Many people have a professional version of themselves that they use at the office, one that might utilize fewer curse words and more patience or restraint. This facade can quickly slide into the realm of inauthenticity when you’re refraining from asserting your opinion just to keep the peace, or you attempt to take on a task you know wouldn’t be the best fit for you just to please a manager. In your attempt to be ideally authentic (or what others consider to be ideally authentic), you may actually be forgoing your own authenticity.

Let’s face it: Your authentic self could have some foibles. You could be a less than perfect listener, a little checked out sometimes, or even an occasional hothead. Maybe your authentic self isn’t even a good leader or an obedient employee. All you need to do is know yourself well enough to be aware of what your own attributes and eccentricities might be. Don’t feel the need to sugarcoat your faults, or make them more palatable to those around you. Ultimately, your wish to be an “ideally authentic” person, one who treads the line between properly emotional and delicately stoic, might just be a manifestation of your secret fear of rejection.

Truthfully, authenticity is partially about feeling or acting and partially about telling those around you about why you feel and act that way. As long as you communicate who you are and what you’re about in the right way, you won’t strike the wrong nerve with those around you.

What authenticity does at work

Once you have an idea of who you are (and how to share it with your coworkers without making them collateral damage to your various idiosyncrasies), you’re on your way to a more successful career. Your sense of authenticity will eventually shine through in your relationships, your leadership, and your work, as long as you continue to work at it.

1. Building relationships

It’s no secret that being authentic will help your relationships, as people generally love to see others being unabashedly themselves with willful abandon. However, authenticity won’t just aid you in attracting people, as the more authentic you are, the more authentic others will feel they can be around you as well. As a result, you’ll cultivate more meaningful friendships – rather than having friends of convenience, you’ll forge intimate, lasting networks.

That being said, when it comes to being authentic with your peers, you’ve got to tread the line between oversharing and transparency. Many times, you might think that giving a long, personal explanation to your boss about turning in a project late would be a great way to establish an authentic relationship. But your excessive apologies or self-pitying attitude could come off as performative. If you end up confusing intimacy and relatedness with venting and ranting, you’ll drive people away without ever really knowing why.

2. Bettering your leadership

When it comes to your leadership style, monkey see, monkey do – the more authentic you are, the more your employees will follow your lead. Many times, leadership can fall flat by saying one thing, then doing another. If your message to employees is “be yourself,” but they see you acting phony or disingenuous, you’ll be more of a hypocrite than a role model. But if you make a concerted effort to act in the way you want to be treated, and act concurrently with what you claim to be your belief system, your employees will feel more comfortable around you.

Being an authentic leader doesn’t mean being tough but fair if that’s not who you are. If you’re someone who gets frustrated when deadlines aren’t met, and that results in you sending a stern email to a subordinate, don’t kick yourself for being an imperfect boss. As long as you communicate well about the cause of your emotional state, and give an employee space to have similar experiences, your team will find solace and support in your actions.

3. Refocusing your energy

The last thing authenticity will provide for you is that it’ll eliminate some of what many are calling “decision fatigue,” and give you the bandwidth for more important activities. If you’re feeling exhausted just by the little things in life, and picking and choosing everything feels like a chore, you may have lost yourself slogging through the daily doldrums of adulthood. By regaining a sense of authenticity, discovering what you really like and why you like it, the tasks that once felt insurmountable will once again become enjoyable.

Being inauthentic can be draining and demoralizing. Trying to be someone else takes a lot of energy, whether you’re thinking about what jeans wouldn’t make you stand out too much on “dress down days” or how to respond to an email in the politest way possible. A 2014 study from the Journal of Happiness Studies states that workplace authenticity is partially responsible for one’s wellbeing at work, and the more authentic you are, the happier you end up.

It stands to reason that spending most of your waking hours pretending to be someone you’re not would be devastating for your morale, work ethic, and more – which is why authenticity at work is so important.

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