Wholeness: Can you be yourself at work?

(by Katrien)

More than a decade ago, I was working at Levi’s Strauss & Co. Their recruitment tagline at the time was ‘come as you are’. I loved it back then and I still love it. In fact, I love it more than ever.

Since the years passed, I moved across continents and worked in many different places. One thing seemed to be a sad common denominator: people did not ‘come as they were’. I saw a lot people putting on a persona, living in a work culture based on fear and not truly connecting with their colleagues - in many cases not even with themselves or the work they were doing. However, like most of us, I didn’t give that much thought as it is the underlying supposition that you are one person at home and another at work. Somehow, overall society has created the idea that, if people would come ‘as they are’, mayhem would ensue on the work floor. But really: are we such ‘out of control’ individuals at home? Would things go out of hand if we showed our vulnerability, were funny, spoke up for what we thought was true or defended our values?

As my career evolved into Diversity & Inclusion, these were some of the questions that rose to the surface. How can we create an environment where all qualities are embraced, not only the typical ‘male’ ones? How can our gay colleagues feel safe to talk about their significant other and be treated with respect? Just to name a few questions… Basically, I have noticed that if we live in an environment of overall respect and openness, racism, sexism, or any other ‘ism’ has little chance to flourish.

That is why, when reading Frédéric Laloux’ book ‘Reinventing Organisations', I related so much to his idea of ‘wholeness’. There are a number of ways to define the word but this was my favourite: ‘undiminished, integral, complete’…. Picture us coming to work as an ‘undiminished’ person, what would happen? It isn’t hard to imagine that such people would be more energised, engaged and creative - for starters … In fact, Laloux names a number of organisations who strive for wholeness at work and they all turn out to be extremely successful.

Creating such an environment is both simple and hard to do because the key is leaderships’ role model so if management is not actively demonstrating the idea, it will soon crumble apart. The companies that are quoted in the book not only have this type of leadership. Additionally, they have installed practices to cultivate discussions about values. That is a huge step beyond defining so called ‘company values’ and putting them on a poster around the office… More often than not, the ‘poster values’ only give rise to cynical bitterness.

This is one of the practices that I found most inspiring: Weekly group reflections around subjects that encourage self-reflection (examples can be conflict resolution, dealing with failure, bureaucracy, risk management,…) The meeting lasts 75 min and gets a short introduction. Then, smaller groups are formed who reflect on the topic. Ideas are shared with the larger group. Collective insights emerge, a different energy is brought to the work place. Action plans or concrete decisions are put up as a 'take away' for all.  Sure, it’s a time consuming practice… but frankly, how many useless, empty meetings haven’t we sat through in our days? Meetings that lasted hours and yielded no results? If we actively encourage our workforce to think about deep human values, it will bring us closer to each other by showing who we really are. And a connected workforce is a happy plus productive workforce (as richly demonstrated in ‘Reinventing Organisations’).

Other practices include peer coaching, time for silence or mindfulness, reflective spaces and story telling.

At Indra Partners, we aim to bring ‘wholeness’ to companies because it is obvious that building connections is going to work better if people can be themselves.

Do you have an example of a time when you felt ‘whole’ and how it affected you? Let us know!

Find out more:
Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux
A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer

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