Picture this: it’s Monday morning and you have had a difficult and draining weekend at home. You have been up half the night worrying and only got a few hours’ sleep.

Maybe you had a big row with your other half, or perhaps you were worrying about your finances or a family member. You get up, make yourself presentable, hit the caffeine and drag yourself into work. When you get there, you put on a smile, wish your colleagues a good morning and sit down at your desk as though everything were fine.

You don’t mention anything to your colleagues about your worries because you want to remain professional. But adopting a professional persona is actually detrimental to our health and wellbeing, according to philosopher and School of Life co-founder Alain de Botton.

“When we go into work we put a mask on and become a caricature of ourselves,” he said, at a conference earlier this year. “We are, in fact, cutting ourselves off from humanity by trying to appear professional, rational and intelligent.”

Instead, employers need to create an open culture where we can embrace and admit our frailties, and develop our softer skills, such as empathy and honesty, Botton said.

Tell your story

So how can today’s managers help their teams bring their ‘true selves’ to work, and connect emotionally as well as professionally with their colleagues?

Storytelling can be one way to get people to ‘open up’, says Dr Penny Moore, a social

psychologist and research fellow at Henley Business School. “When a leader shares their story and meaningful life experiences, it helps to put people at ease and create an environment where they can open up and share their story too,” she notes.

The context and environment in which people communicate is, however, crucial. “People should have a designated time and space to share their stories and be their true selves,” Moore notes. “It’s about giving them a window to talk about the important stuff, the things that have shaped them or made a difference.”

Sarah Stein Lubrano, head of content, and designer of learning and development workshops at the School of Life, says it is also about bringing the ‘right’ part of yourself to work. “One of the ways you can do this is to listen more deeply in conversations and to try to more closely address what the other person is saying, including the emotional subtext,” she notes.

Slowing a conversation down and paying attention to any pauses can help you read the emotional subtext. “We can also ask smarter questions to draw out what the other person is really getting at,” explains Stein Lubrano.

One of the best ways managers can demonstrate their authenticity is by owning up to their mistakes. “The leader or manager who can admit where they messed up and demonstrate awareness of their own blind spots doesn’t just earn trust, but makes other people comfortable admitting their own mistakes,” says Stein Lubrano. “That, in turn, allows the manager much greater visibility over how things are going.”

Moore is also noticing a link between sharing stories and employee performance. “It’s still early days in my research, but it seems that the workplaces where leaders share their stories are definitely more productive,” she notes.

Matt Russell, managing director, talent practice at Lee Hecht Harrison Penna business psychologists, says that is not surprising. “People are more likely to stay at their job if they have a human connection with their manager and feel comfortable coming into work each day,” he notes.

Russell believes that managers who share certain aspects of their home or family life with their team come across as more personable, and that this could have a significant impact on productivity and retention.

“The team will start performing better if they develop emotional relationships with each other and feel as though they can be more honest in giving and receiving feedback,” he notes.

As the mood dictates…

A recent study by The Institute of Leadership & Management, however, painted a somewhat bleak picture of today’s managers in terms of their emotional evolution.

Half of the 1,200 managers surveyed by the Institute and YouGov in summer 2016 admitted

to allowing their personal mood and state of mind to dictate the climate of their workplace, and a quarter (26%) also said they did not seek to build trust with their colleagues.

Overall, the Institute’s Five Dimensions of Leadership: Authenticity report, based on the research, found that good leadership was a work in progress, with self-knowledge being the starting point.

Lydia Amoah, a business coach, says it’s up to managers to understand and contribute to the objectives of the business they represent. “It falls upon their shoulders to then communicate the company’s vision and goals to their teams,” she says. “It’s important for them to set the tone and act as a positive role model in a firm, but fair, way.”

It seems our American cousins have thought of some increasingly weird and wonderful ways to ‘set the tone’ and introduce humour in the workplace in a bid to help workers bond with their colleagues.

A recent study by Management Learning journal road-tested some of the methods suggested in Gung Ho!, a book on motivating employees written by management gurus Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

These included managers dressing up as animals, such as beavers, geese and squirrels, in training sessions to reflect and mimic the qualities of the animals. Researchers from Anglia Ruskin and Lancaster University found, however, that some of the employees who took part in the animal culture-change programme found it “patronising” and “hard to take seriously”.

As with most things in life, there is an app to help you measure your emotional well-being at work. The Remente digital coaching app allows users to chart their satisfaction with various aspects of their lives over time, including their career.

“The app asks users on a daily basis how they are feeling, and how happy they are, and lets them set goals towards the directions in life and at work that are important to them,” explains entrepreneur and Remente founder David Brudö.

Remente, which was launched in 2016, aims to prevent users from ‘bottling up’ their feelings. “This technique will likely lead to a more serious issue later down the line, such as stress, conflicts, lower productivity or sick-leave,” Brudö notes.

“Being aware of one’s feelings, and charting them with regularity, allows employees to be more self-aware and better communicators.”

Yet there is such a thing as ‘too much information’ and it is important to know where to draw the line when it comes to disclosing personal details about your life to your colleagues, warns Aisha Oakley, head of HR consultancy and outsourcing at Bradfield HR consultancy.

“The tipping point that pushes others away from trusting us as managers or leaders, is when we overshare or allow our emotional self to dominate or affect our business decisions,” she notes. “Self-reflection and managing our own emotions is important, but oversharing is a big

‘no no’.”


Holly Barry, a digital PR executive at Distinctly PR, says one of the best things about where she works is the fact that the MD brings in his dog, Dolly, every day. “She’s a Hungarian Vizsla and she is absolutely adorable. There are a couple of people in the office who are more cat people, but everyone loves her,” she says. “Having the opportunity to walk her at lunchtime means we can get out of the office for a breath of fresh air and do a bit of exercise.”

Luke Hughes, founder of Origym, a provider of personal training courses, runs a daily quiz on a subject of an employee’s choosing. “Each staff member will suggest five areas where they are knowledgeable and we then draw a random topic out of a hat,” he explains. “Today, for example, the questions were about previous Wimbledon winners. It’s a fun way for everyone to get involved and tell us what their interests are.”

Mary Hughes, a senior sign-writer at HN Signs in Birmingham, says her company encourages staff to personalise the office space. “We pitch ideas about the images we’d like to go on the wall until a final decision has been made,” she explains. “We’re all big music lovers, so much of it is music related. We’ve got pictures of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Blondie. If it were just a blank space, it wouldn’t be an inviting environment to work in.”

Georgina Fuller is a freelance journalist, editor and digital content provider

For further thoughts on understanding yourself, check out this learning item from the Institute

This article was taken from the Yule 2017 edition of Edge magazine

Edge is the quarterly magazine exclusive to members of the Institute. To become a member and receive your copy, click here