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'We work better when we are being ourselves'

PUBLISHED: 10:00 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:01 29 November 2017

Blogger Michelle Gant at her home in Dereham with daughter Thea (2). Picture: Ian Burt

Blogger Michelle Gant at her home in Dereham with daughter Thea (2). Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

Michelle Gant is founder and director of the Engaging People Company in Norwich.

Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative MediaMichelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media

There used to be two versions of me: a work version and a non-work version. The work version was very task focused, giving away little of myself. The non-work version was... well, me.

Early in my career I believed it was necessary to adopt a professional persona, sharing little of my true self. It was my understanding that this would make me more effective, more capable of delivering my goals.

Part of the reason for this was I – erroneously – believed that as a woman, I had to prove myself that little bit more to get on. I grew up when men still predominantly held the positions of power and women were fighting for their place at the boardroom table.

It was also partly because, like many other women I have met, I was struggling with Impostor Syndrome – a sense that any achievements within the workplace were purely mine by dint of luck. I even used to joke that I was “waiting for them to find me out”.

This sense of being a fraud at work is shared by both men and women, but studies have shown that women are likely to suffer from it more intensely than men. This perhaps explains why some of us, including myself, may feel the need to hold ourselves back within the workplace.

But over time, those feelings of being a fraud, of having to prove myself, began to recede and the real me took centre stage.

“It’s really great now you’re just being yourself,” a colleague pointed out one day. And I realised he was right – that when I was being myself, sharing my views, giving myself freely, talking about my life, I was more relaxed.

I wasn’t afraid of showing vulnerabilities as these didn’t detract from my ability. In fact, it probably made me a better employee as I could be truthful about my strengths and weaknesses.

Employers have a great opportunity to empower us all to be ourselves at work: through a supportive, non-judgemental organisational culture where the dialogue is encouraging of everyone; through leaders who share themselves too; through inclusive commitments, activities, training, and communications which engage all; and through support, such as coaching, to allow individuals to overcome those thinking errors which are holding them back.

Because we truly work better when we are being ourselves.

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