Authenticity at work

There’s this ‘movement’ of sorts amongst the younger ones of us towards ‘authenticity’ and it is unfortunately rather poorly defined and gives rise to a whole bunch of misconception. It is clearer what they are railing against: self-censorship, political correctness, and maybe too a lesser extent, some ‘professional behaviours’ that are just empty-showmanship in disguise (such as ‘face time’ at work and all kinds of tactics to demonstrate work and take credit).

But not all professional behaviours are bad; and not all authentic behaviours are necessarily good. I think we have to acknowledge that it is an act of generosity for us to give others our positivity. And this generosity might not be ‘authentic’ in the strictest sense of the word. It would be authentic perhaps for a receptionist who had a quarrel with her boyfriend the night before to put on a sulky face and refuse to greet visitors but that would be unprofessional.

So before thinking about authenticity, we should think about what the work we’re trying to do really is. Because it can be professional and valuable to be authentic as well – a creative who is serving his client may think his client’s views are not going to be good for the objectives he is serving, and point that out sensitively, and then suggest for the client to seek out someone else if they’re not going to take on his idea. His focus is the work he is going to produce, not just about pleasing the client.

Of course, if the work is pleasing the client, where perhaps there is no right or wrong way but that the work is about serving the client; then one might have to be more generous about being positive and continuing to be able to deliver what the client would like to have. And very often the work we do calls for us to suspend that kind of extreme ‘authenticity’ to be able to do the work. A dentist who had a bad day with a spoilt toast and over-brewed coffee for breakfast should not be shouting at his patient who had a great avocado parma-ham sandwich and got some avocado and ham fibres stuck in some gaps between teeth.

As some of the old lines that boomers have drawn for ‘professionalism’ begin to fade away and the market shifts towards somewhat casual interactions even in work settings, we will begin to see more varieties within the workplaces. That option to choose is great and we have to value that diversity, rather than just to call out places that may not necessarily align with your ideals.