“The worst kind of loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself”, wrote Mark Twain. The idea of self-acceptance, of being ‘comfortable’ with your identity, your actions and behaviours, has been a common trope in the world of motivational literature for as long as anyone can remember. Beyond the ‘Self-Help’ aisle in your local bookshop, however, being comfortable with oneself in the workplace continues to be an important issue for HR and people leaders to this day.
Facilitating this mindset of self-assurance and comfortability surely falls to the HR function, as the representatives of employee wellbeing at work. That being said, how it manifests itself, and to what degree it should be a priority in the workplace, is a controversial issue.
The concept of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ has not been lacking in either praise or criticism in recent years. Major proponents if this idea include Sheryl Sandberg in her bestseller, Lean In, and major business leaders in every industry.
‘Bringing your whole self to work’ has been interpreted in many different ways – from feeling comfortable with sharing your personal life in the workplace, to notions of ‘authentic communication’, to more practical wellbeing initiatives such as flexible working and revised office layouts.
Alternatively, the idea has been labelled as wholly inauthentic, misguided, or “fatuous”, as this article in the Financial Times claimed.
But being comfortable in the workplace isn’t necessarily synonymous with this concept of the whole self at work. Comfort at work can manifest itself in different ways, with different practical implications.
Being comfortable with yourself at work could simply mean feeling comfortable enough to confidently voice an opinion, to make a suggestion about a new direction, or to object to what seems like an unwise business decision. In this way, encouraging your employees to feel comfortable with themselves makes strategic business sense.
More than ‘bringing your whole self to work’, being comfortable with yourself at work means feeling your own sense of purpose as valuable in the workplace, confidently aligned with the purpose of your organisation.
If helping employees to feel comfortable with themselves at work has the potential to be so beneficial, why is it so difficult to achieve?
“Navigating the workplace can be a bit like being back at school”, says Anji McGrandles, wellbeing coach and founder of The Mind Tribe, “The cliques, the awkwardness and not wanting to put yourself out there in fear of humiliation.”
“Most people will work an average of 65,000 hours in their lifetime, so feeling confident and accepted in the workplace is something we all strive for. Being confident to do your role and share your views influences your productivity and your opportunities to grow and develop,” Anji continues.
“No matter how smart and skilled your employees are, if they lack confidence that they can make a difference or that their voice will be heard, they’ll perform below their potential. This can then have a knock-on effect on their mental health.”
How can you support colleagues who don’t feel confident and comfortable in the workplace? Anji McGrandles gives her top tips for helping employees to feel comfortable with themselves at work.
How HR can help employees to feel comfortable with themselves at work:
Connect with them
You can’t support someone if you don’t know them, so making a genuine connection and getting to know employees is key. Understanding what makes them tick and where they are lacking in confidence will help you support them in the right areas.
Assign a mentor
Having someone to work closely with, learn from and just chat to will help unconfident employees. Try and connect people with similar interests so they have a common ground to build on. As their confidence grows, reverse the process and get them to mentor new starters and colleagues.
Set them up to win
People lack confidence when they don’t feel in control of situations so giving a detailed brief and helping people prepare will give them confidence. Encourage managers to spend a bit of extra time giving a full clear brief and ensuring people feel well prepared.
Encourage autonomy and opportunities to lead projects
Giving people autonomy and a project to run themselves is a great way to build confidence. Don’t throw unconfident people in the deep end – they’ll drown. Instead give them a framework that provides support and regularly check in with them.
Encourage Fail Forward
Ensure there’s not a ‘blame culture’ within your team. If you are feeling uncomfortable at work, any mistake, however small will make team members feel inadequate. Work through challenges and mistakes with employees, and come from a place that recognises that failure is an essential part of learning and growth.
We thrive on praise, so recognition for achievement, however small, is going to help people feel more confident and comfortable in their role and with how they are perceived at work. Make sure it comes from a genuine, authentic place, otherwise people see through it. No one wants to feel like a pet project
The Mind Tribe was set up by former PR Director Anji McGrandles. Anji’s passion for wellbeing in the workplace motivated her to quit her job, retrain and start a wellness company helping people transform their business and working lives. Anji and her team of wellbeing associates are trained in specialist areas from nutrition to fitness through to meditation. Find out more here.