Take a moment and consider this: What does authenticity mean in your life?
Many of us lean on authenticity to bring our true selves into everything we do. It’s a form of transparency that instills trust in those we meet throughout our lives.
Authenticity is the strongest predictor of employee job satisfaction, positive attitudes, and happiness, according to a recent Learning & Organization Development Journal (LODJ) study. Thus, it’s apt that Merriam-Webster named authentic the word of the year in 2023. While many quickly see the relevance of authenticity due to the staggering growth of new technologies and correlated challenges it introduces in authentic connections and accurate information, others see the greatest connection to organizational success and creating a positive workplace. Even better, it can be fostered with intention by leaning on honesty.
Workplace Authenticity Starts at the TopAs leaders today navigate a five-generation workplace, achieving authenticity for an entire team may feel like an impossible feat. But the true value of authenticity is not necessarily aligning the values of the workplace with the values of each employee. It is cultivating authentic leadership that echoes throughout the organization and inspires employees to act the same. Therefore, when evaluating what changes are needed to create an authentic workplace, it is important to start by addressing management from the top down and using the authenticity created at this level to reach the entire organization.
Employees value leaders who foster an authentic workplace that allows them to feel connected and aligned with the company’s vision and goals. As Gen Z works their way up the corporate ladder, they are emphasizing the importance of authenticity more than ever. In fact, 92 percent of Gen Z survey respondents indicated that authenticity is the most important personal value, according to EY.
This means that Gen Z professionals are seeking positions where their personal values are aligned with that of the organization, and which prioritizes authentic connections. Companies that wish to survive and thrive with this new generation must address and foster authenticity now.
Fostering Authenticity Within TeamsAs a professional executive coach, I work with many C-suite leaders navigating nearly every workplace challenge you can imagine—from unengaged teams to turnover to low morale—all to find solutions that create a positive work environment for all involved. Authenticity has always played an important role.
But authenticity is more than creating a great work environment. It’s the line between fact and feeling, which can alter the way those around us perceive us. Think about a time when you had to deliver bad news to someone at work—or had to be on the receiving end. What did you need to ease the stress of that moment? While it’s important to be truthful, and this does play a major role in authenticity, incorporating personal feelings is what makes us human. This blend of truth and emotion comes together to form authenticity. When done correctly, it can make all the difference in how your team communicates.
When leaders take the time to learn what is most valuable to their teams and try to make connections between those values and goals with the organization’s needs and values, the result can be an authentic workplace where teams feel heard and leaders have engaged and productive employees. There are several ways in which a manager can implement a “coach approach” to guide their team toward a workplace driven by authenticity. This can start with something as simple as words of encouragement to motivate team members to share what’s most important to them.
Another method for fostering authenticity comes from active listening. It is not enough to simply ask your team about their values and goals. A manager must listen, reflect, and come full circle by connecting the values expressed to the work done each day. When an employee sees how their role within a project connects both to their personal values and goals, as well as to those of the organization, authenticity is established, and a greater connection between the person and their work is realized.
Naturally, not every goal or value of every employee will cohesively align with the organization. But that is not the most important part of this process. The element that cannot be lost is listening—truly listening—and trying to connect the dots between the person, the job, and the organization.
Authenticity as a Framework for Reaching Psychological SafetyAuthenticity at work does not mean sharing every personal thought or opinion, nor does it mean that a manager or leader must open a forum for their teams to express their thoughts about anything and everything. Acting authentically in a professional setting does not extend to personal oversharing or polarizing commentary. While there is great value in bringing your full self to work, showing your team that you are a person, and allowing them the same grace, it is crucial to remember that certain topics are simply not appropriate for professional settings. This may include political opinions, comments about employee’s personal lives, and feelings about team members that are not constructive to collaboration.
Authenticity at work should instill a sense of psychological safety among all team members, allowing each person to feel safe to share their ideas and fail in front of the team without fear of serious punishment, so that all can collaborate, share feedback, and work together toward the best results. It should allow employees to bring their best selves to work each day.
Value-Driven Authenticity Provides the Best ResultsThe LODJ study further shows that authentic leadership improves collaboration, professional development, and retention. Similarly, the impacts of a coach approach include boosted employee engagement, increased commitment, better employee relations, improved team functioning, and more, according to a 2023 International Coaching Federation and HCI study. Leaders and managers who implement a coach approach through methods like active listening, adaptability, and connectivity between individual and team values are deliberate about creating authentic work environments.
Looking beyond the workplace, authentic behavior should enable others to feel confident that they are getting the truth when they engage with you. In turn, they’re more likely to be truthful back. Step one on your organization’s journey to authenticity comes down to a commitment for each team member to treat others the way they wish to be treated. When you bring your true self, whether to work or in life, you’re acting authentically whether you realize it or not. Being authentic is not just for the workplace, it’s for the human place. Once you’ve implemented this form of honesty into your life, you’ll notice that it becomes easier to navigate challenges.