Maybe it’s time for a more casual LinkedIn photo
For decades, creating a fake “work persona” to keep aspects of oneself hidden while on the clock was the norm, says Maggie Kruse, vice president of people and strategy with Nav. “When I grew up in organizations, you never showed any kind of emotion. You left all of your struggles at the office door [when you walked in in the morning] and you looked at these people in positions above you and their lives seemed perfect,” she says. “There’s so much guilt and shame about not being perfect at work.”
Though creating a second, emotionless work persona might seem like a great way to increase productivity, it actually does quite the opposite, according to a study from Frontiers in Psychology. In fact, when employees are forced to create fake personas, they’re less happy, less productive, and less likely to spend extended periods of time working with any one company.
Fortunately, the culture behind fake personas in the workplace is changing as younger generations enter the workforce, and working from home becomes the norm. Over the past year, it has become evident in online job postings and company mission statements that companies actually want you to bring 100 percent of yourself to work.
“We ask our employees to bring their full selves to work because this allows us to find solutions to difficult problems,” says Jason Meredith, vice president of operations with Northrop Grumman, a company that explicitly asks employees to bring their full selves to work in their job postings. “Our goal is to really have these employees come in and provide these wildly different perspectives.”
Despite efforts put forth in job postings and mission statements, the study says as many as 61 percent of employees are still uncomfortable showing their “full selves” in a work environment―even if that is starting to change now that bosses can be seen in their homes, meetings take place in sweatshirts, and kids can be found lurking in the background of conference calls.
Toss the headshot
Like many professionals using LinkedIn, Lauren Griffiths, an HR consultant with Cisco in Raleigh, North Carolina, had a staged corporate headshot as her profile photo, complete with a power suit and stoic expression. But since Griffiths was now at home―tasked with raising her children while working full time during COVID-19―she didn’t feel like her headshot was representative enough of the person who was now appearing on her webcam for Webex meetings.
So she ditched the staged corporate headshot and changed her LinkedIn profile photo to one where she is completely makeup-free, wearing a hoodie instead of a tailored suit. In only a few days’ time, her post about the switch, which detailed the importance of being honest about yourself in a work environment, went viral, gathering over 800,000 likes and 30,000 comments from individuals praising her ability to showcase herself honestly in a professional environment. Since then, thousands of other LinkedIn professionals have also taken part in Griffiths’ #tosstheheadshot movement in an effort to be open with their own coworkers.
“What really sparked [the photo change] was that I had seen so many staged corporate headshots and I really experienced [feelings of] dissonance, like this person I’m putting out there wasn’t really who I am,” says Griffiths. “Changing my photo was a really profound moment because my photo is now a true reflection of my work life at the moment.”
While not every comment on her post was one in support of the movement (some called her change “unprofessional” or her attire “lazy”) she says most were grateful because her post started a much-needed discussion about being your true self at work. And this kind of discussion, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, she says, is often the first crucial step in creating an environment where employees feel they can open up about their struggles, personally or professionally.
“When we blur the lines between our home and professional lives, we become more successful professionally. People who are themselves perform better, they’re happier, and they stay with a company for longer,” Griffiths says.
“Maybe [the movement at your company] starts by employees sharing a selfie or other things about themselves,” says Griffiths, who suggests that all employers encourage their employees to show 100 percent of their personality in some way at work this year. “There are two sides to me, I’m home Lauren and I’m work Lauren, and a lot of people struggle with this same divide. But by putting up a casual selfie, I was calling attention to who I am at all times.”
Sharing yourself at work
Though casual LinkedIn photos are a good starting point when it comes to inspiring employees to share, Nate Gardner, chief customer officer with MX says there’s a lot more that goes into creating an open environment where employees feel comfortable sharing themselves within one’s own company, especially if you’re an executive.
“I’ve always been a really ‘what you see is what you get’ type of human in the workplace and outside of it,” says Gardner who also, coincidentally, sports an incredibly casual photo on LinkedIn. However, Gardner recognizes that this level of openness can be hard for those who don’t already have some kind of deeper connection with their executives or coworkers.
“Bringing your whole self to work does require a degree of fortitude because you are bound to come across someone who probably thinks that your whole self has problems,” says Gardner. “It’s important to remember that everyone is a work in progress, no one is impervious to making mistakes.”
The trick to help foster an open company culture where no one fears being themselves and communicating their struggles, Gardner says, is to make sure that company leaders have enough time to personally connect with every employee on their team―whether it be over coffee, Zoom, or something else―at regular intervals throughout the year, not just when it’s time for performance reviews.
These one-on-one discussions shouldn’t be about performance or metrics, Gardner says, but about connecting. Talking about life, career goals, etc. in order to understand an employee better and build the rapport needed for an honest workplace with open communication. “Foundationally, I think a really important part of [an open company culture] is creating this dialogue that’s open, transparent, and genuine between executives and employees.”
In order for these conversations to be a success, executives must also open up about themselves, what they do in their spare time, and especially their own struggles in a work environment, says Griffiths. “[The full-self movement really] starts with leaders, leaders need to talk about their mistakes and discuss their own struggles and stresses in order to create an environment where employees model that.”
Kruse agrees and says that opening up about her own struggle with depression to her team at Nav has helped everyone within her team feel comfortable expressing themselves in a workplace setting and asking for help when needed. “You’re always taught not to cry right? Like it’s a sign of weakness, but I have cried more at work in the last year at Nav than ever before,”
Kruse is talking about how a round of layoffs at the company earlier this year left her emotionally crushed and exhausted. In the past, she might have been expected to put on a straight face. But Kruse felt fulfilled letting it all out and expressing her sorrow with those around her.
“I don’t think I got through one layoff meeting without crying, and I think that says way more than words ever could in regards to a personal connection,” she says. “It’s hard not to be embarrassed, but it’s really just learning how to normalize [moments like these] and being like, ‘everyone has an ugly cry and it’s okay if you do it at work because this is coming from a place of passion and emotion.”
The (nonexistent) risk of oversharing
Vulnerability and honesty at work have historically come with the fear of oversharing or crossing boundaries into unprofessional territory. After all, no one wants to bring their “full selves” to work only to offend another coworker and earn a write-up and an uncomfortable conversation with HR.
Kruse says some things―like detailing a graphic medical procedure―could come across as fine to some, but as oversharing to others. In this case, it’s important to read the room and be cognizant of others. That being said, she warns against calling out an employee for sharing, as it could prevent them from opening up in the future.
“There just has to be this trust between employees where they can say, ‘hey thank you so much for sharing, but next time, maybe share this instead.’ It’s more about helping people see their blind spots, versus being like, ‘why the heck did you share that?’” says Kruse.
“For example, my casual LinkedIn photo probably does represent crossing the line for some people,” agrees Gardner. “So instead of actually being offended in those moments when someone may not appreciate your whole self, see if you can mend that thing [with the other person.]”
While the thought of potential oversharing might have executives wary to invest in the “full-self” movement, it should be mentioned that none of the experts who participated in this article felt that oversharing was an issue within their own workplaces.
“I don’t think we’ve had any issues with oversharing. There’s a lot of trust afforded to people here,” says Ellen Thompson, learning and development manager with Lucid. “Even in our current times with politics, racial injustice, D&I, and all of those things. Everyone has always been super respectful, there’s never been a massive push back or conflict when tough things are discussed.”
Northrop Grumman similarly reported that oversharing hasn’t been an issue. And if an issue does arise, they believe this kind of conflict only spurs new ideas and solutions. “Honestly, this is part of what we drive as our culture,” Meredith says. “We accept one another bringing different perspectives and ideas. It may be a unique perspective, but those are our expectations, that’s part of it.”
The benefits of sharing it all
For companies like Nav, who has always been committed to creating an open culture, COVID-19 only expedited the culture-building process. On their company-wide, twice-monthly Zoom calls it’s easy to determine the true personalities of co-workers when video chat grants access into everyone’s homes.
“Our employees [came and discussed] how stressed they were about going back to school last year,” says Kruse, detailing a problem that in years past probably would not have been brought up in a work environment. “So we asked them, ‘what’s something that’s going to relieve you?’ and they said things like help cooking meals or laundry, and Nav was able to provide that relief.”
“The benefits of encouraging employees to be themselves are real,” reminds Griffiths. “Things like increased productivity and an increased level of overall job fulfillment―if companies start to understand that, it’s only to their benefit.”