What Does It Mean to Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ to Work?

Life is a mashup of passions, purposes, and pursuits.The role we play at work is only a small part of who we are. Yet often, it’s the only part employers care about.

Traditionally, when we arrive at work, we leave something at the office door—and the same applies to getting home. We almost separate into two different personas.

In fact, a fascinating study by Deloitte found that more than half of us cover up some part of our identity at work to try to fit in—underrepresented groups feeling the most pressure of all to “cover” aspects of themselves.

covering by percentage

Stewart Butterfield, the CEO and co-founder of Slack, sums up this “covering” feeling perfectly and even named it as a major influence in creating the chat app:

“We believe there is a widespread feeling that people are meant to check a lot of stuff at the door when they arrive at work. Some of that makes sense, but there’s a risk of having people feel diminished or unable to contribute fully—that’s the part we hope Slack can have a shot at correcting.”

This “checking at the door” feeling, while commonplace, can be damaging not only to your morale but also your health.

Research suggests that suppressing your behavior is linked with health issues including a decrease in immune-system functioning.

So what’s the remedy? At Buffer, we think it might be bringing our whole selves to work.

What is wholeness?

Throughout my Buffer bootcamp, the question “How can I bring my whole self to work?” was frequently on my mind.

I wrestled with the concept a lot, and in this post, I wanted to share my learnings and experience during my first six weeks at Buffer.

First, I needed to know: What does wholeness really mean?

The book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux has been a crucial piece of research for our team in uncovering the answer to this one.

As Laloux describes it:

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”

Wholeness means we bring all the elements of who we are to work—our passions and strengths, our side projects and relationships, our partners and kids.

It allows us to be truly ourselves and alleviates the pressure to leave some of our personality behind during the hours between 9–5 (or whichever hours we choose to work).

Leaving nothing at the door

In previous roles, especially as a freelancer, my work environments could feel very focused on my professional persona, with much less focus on who I was outside of work.

At Buffer, things were different from the off.

When I started bootcamp, I was lucky enough to have Kevan as my role buddy and spoke to him most days in my first couple of weeks. Our conversations ranged from work and role-related topics to much more personal topics such as hobbies, friends, family and weekend plans.

After just a couple of days, many of the Buffer team already felt more like friends than colleagues. I was able to wholly be myself and share my passions far more than at any other role.

Wholeness at home

More than just bringing my whole self to work every day, this change was also about bringing my whole self home again.

That may sound a little strange, considering I spend 80% of my time working at home. But in the past I’ve found that remote work can mean that the people closest to me feel disconnected from my work life.

With colleagues based all around the world, it’s harder for our partners, family and friends to make a connection with our work.

This is something I hadn’t realised until I started at Buffer and Jade, my girlfriend, mentioned how great it was to feel more included in my work life.

From the bigger things, like inviting partners on retreats, to small things, like a private Buffer team Facebook page for team members and families, Buffer has been amazing in helping me to create a deeper connection between my work and home life—something I hadn’t realised was missing in the first place.

3 results of wholeness I’ve experienced

Before joining Buffer, I’d never really thought too consciously about wholeness at work. But that changed after I had three standout experiences that really helped me to embrace wholeness.

1. I learned to embrace vulnerability in my writing

Oftentimes, in a work environment, we’re primed to show only our strengths. Always putting forward the best version of ourselves and avoiding our weaknesses.

At Buffer, I’ve learned the importance of vulnerability and realised that it’s only when we embrace our vulnerability that we’re able to reach our potential. 

embrace vulnerability

Sometimes this means admitting I don’t know the best way forward—quite a difference from many other companies I’ve worked with.

The approach we take at Buffer is to instead be suggestive, avoid words of certainty and focus less on creating a solution ourselves, and more on collaborating with others to create solutions.

I’ve learned that without vulnerability, it’s hard to create excellent work. I’ve started to enjoy the slight feeling of discomfort when I click “publish” on a new blog post.

As I look back through my articles, it feels like the content I’ve published has become more vulnerable over time.

Posts like Why Building An Audience Is So Hard (And Why I’m Still Trying) and The #1 Mistake We All Make on Twitter included more personal stories, anecdotes and experiences—and made me feel more open and vulnerable upon publishing.

Vulnerability is essential for growth. The more freedom we have to do work the way we feel we should, and admit the times we don’t quite know the solution, the more chance we have of making an impact.

2. I experienced what it feels like to value kind over clever

In a lecture at Princeton University, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos re-told something his grandfather shared with him as a child: “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

That statement is something I can really relate to.

Before joining Buffer, I’d never understood the impact small acts of kindness can have. But from Day One of bootcamp, I experienced overwhelming kindness from the Buffer team.

At times I’m sure I was asking questions that had obvious answers, but every single time I received an amazingly kind answer. My teammates were extremely happy and grateful to be able to help out.

When I think back to my first couple of days on the team, I remember Dave and Tom reaching out and taking time from of their schedules to get to know me and help me settle in. This really meant a lot.

clever vs kind

Cleverness is often displayed at the expense of others.

On the other hand, kindness helps people to grow and connect. My bootcamp really helped me to realise this.

3. I made time to reflect

One of our values at Buffer is ‘make time to reflect’, and this has really helped me since joining Buffer.

It’s amazing to be able to put time aside to focus on the bigger things.

One of my favourite things to do is disconnect from my laptop (usually on a Friday afternoon) and reflect on the past week. I love to open up a fresh page of my notepad and use this time to scribble down notes and thoughts on the challenges and successes from the week.

This reflection time doesn’t have to be limited to work-related things either.

Throughout my time at Buffer it has been brilliant to be able to converse with teammates about goals and challenges outside of work.

These types of conversations also lead to stronger connections with each other.

What I’ve learned: Wholeness is about simply being yourself

Over the course of bootcamp,  I realised that initially I’d overthought the concept of bringing my whole self to work.

As time progressed, I realised that it’s not so much about focusing on bringing your whole self to work, but more about simply being yourself and not leaving anything at the office “door” when you start up for the day.

Are you able to bring more than just work into your workplace? What does it feel like to you to think about bringing your whole self to work (and home again)?