In the first chapter of my book “Differences That Make a Difference,” I talk about how the “How” matters more than the “What.” As I think about the space we are inhabiting as (mostly) remote workers, the fact that there is such a disconnect between what companies say that they value and how they are turning their values into action is shocking.
Companies know that when employees feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, employees are more happy and companies are more profitable. Yet a Cigna study from earlier this year shows that 47% of Millennial employees feel like they need to “hide their true selves when they go to work” (and this is even higher for Gen Z). In the virtual workplace, inclusion and belonging are more important than ever. The lines between home and work have blurred and if employees don’t feel accepted as they are, they will find another place to work where they can feel like they belong. Companies are grappling with not only how to attract talent from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but more importantly, how to retain them. We know that being your authentic self at work is correlated with being happier, but authenticity can be risky, and if an employee’s “whole self” does not align with the majority’s “whole self,” the employee can feel excluded, or even worse, face repercussions.
My recommendation for company leaders: don’t just tell employees that they can bring their full selves to work, show them that they can, risk free. Often this is best modeled by openness and vulnerability in management. Although it may be harder to cultivate authentic company culture virtually, employees know what it looks like, and the difference truly makes a difference.