Express Yourself: Why Bringing More Personality to Work Promotes Greater Employee Engagement

Whether Madonna sang about it, or the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed it, the freedom to express yourself resonates deeply with many of us. Like my 77-year-old mom, who laces her texts with pink hearts and kissy emoticons to express love or my buddies Rich and John, whose Halloween party costumes – ranging from ghosts from the Titanic to 1960’s flight attendants – can be legendary. But when it comes to work, many corporate managers balk at bringing their authentic selves to the office. However, here are three reasons why expressing your personality can actually promote greater employee engagement:

  1. Makes you more accessible. If you manage employees, regardless of whether it is three team members or 30,000, that authority can be intimidating to others. So can senior-level titles. Ever notice how people can clam up when the big boss walks into a room, worried about saying the wrong thing? Yet if your team isn’t sharing what is really happening in the business for fear of reprisals or looking bad, that hurts the company’s performance. Expressing your personality at work makes you more approachable. For example, Chief Operating Officer Gene Long is responsible for the national and international distribution activities for our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. He’s a recognized industry thought leader and most of the company employees ultimately report to him. Instead of taking himself too seriously though, Gene diffuses tension by making funny, self-deprecating comments. His office features toy trucks representing all of the different fleets managed in his career and the day the Minions movie opened, he proudly wore a t-shirt with the animated characters to work. All of which makes him more accessible to employees and ultimately, more effective in his role.
  2. Gives employees “permission” to be themselves. Encouraging people to express their personality shows that you value them as individuals, not just for the job they perform on behalf of the company. With the U.S. economy approaching full-employment, people in high-demand jobs have more options than ever before. Especially when it comes to the 86 million millennials who will be in the workforce by 2020. They are driven by authenticity, as an employee as well as a consumer. Recognizing that as a positive attribute at work deepens one’s sense of loyalty and connection to the company.
  3. Creates a more positive, supportive culture. Getting to know the people you work with goes a long way in creating a collaborative environment. We kicked off the first-ever meeting of our Key Leadership Group (Directors, Vice Presidents and Executive Team) in April by asking participants to talk about a leader that has inspired them. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sheryl Sandberg and Lou Gerstner were mentioned, along with Julia Child, King David from biblical times and one man’s adorable seven-year-old daughter who inspires him to be a better person each day. We learned something personal about each individual that created delight and a sense of connection. Honoring, encouraging and recognizing stories about team members who volunteer in the community, do something innovative at work, have an intriguing hobby and more is part of our internal communication effort because my company understands how it brings us all together.

Finally expressing yourself at work is great, as long as you keep it professional. Let’s say that you have a passion for magic tricks. Perhaps you express this subtly in your workspace décor, perform an act during the employee talent show or delight kids with a demo during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” But you probably don’t want to start pulling pennies out of co-workers’ ears during a meeting on company layoffs or walk into a new business presentation with conservative potential clients wearing a top hat and cape.

BTW, I take my own advice here. During the 1980’s I gained the nickname She-Ra, Princess of Power, after the popular kid’s cartoon. My boss called me that one day at work last year and everyone had a good laugh. So I promptly hung a framed poster of the cartoon icon in my office to give anyone that walks by a chance to connect with an inviting conversation starter.

How do you bring your personality to work? What kind of impact has it had on others and your own career?

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