Someone once asked me what I wanted from a job. Among other things, I said I wanted to work somewhere I could be authentic. I wouldn’t say I have been actively inauthentic in my various places of employment. I’ve never lied about my experience or education. I’ve never misrepresented aspects of my personal life or interests. I’ve never offered false compliments or tried to deceive anyone. But I’ve never really felt like I was truly free to be who I was except in a few start-up technology companies I worked for in San Francisco in the early 2000s.
A recent review of studies in The Atlantic would indicate I’m not alone. “Men and women are united on at least one thing… the feeling that work is alienating. When adults in the United States, England, and Russia were asked how authentic they felt in the presence of various people, work colleagues came in dead last.” Does our feeling inauthentic at work matter? The article does go on to say that, “…for Americans and Brits, being inauthentic at work didn’t significantly impact overall well-being.”
Perhaps the experienced and sage among us know better than to expect to be authentic at work and are consequently not bothered feeling compelled to be inauthentic. Work does involve getting along with colleagues all of which have a unique personality and agenda that may be different from our own. We can’t really expect to go about espousing our personal theories and opinions as we would in our own home. For the collective to achieve anything there must be compromise. Inauthenticity could be another word for diplomacy. Or perhaps it is the experienced and cynical who have given up on finding a place they are free to be authentic, and because they no longer expect to work in an environment they can be authentic are less bothered by it.
It is most likely we can be both, sometimes the sage and sometimes the cynic. If we pay attention to our rationale when we choose to keep quiet or carefully frame our response to a colleague’s question we will know which one we most often are. And if we are the cynic, even if we have accepted inauthenticity as the norm, it is worth asking ourselves if it is time to consider a change in job or a change in perspective.