If you’ve ever had a job, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something like this:
I always remember my manager at my first ‘real’ job sitting us all down and telling us ‘you must leave your personal life at the door when you come to work. It’s unacceptable to bring your personal problems to work with you.’ I didn’t understand this: did she really expect us to just forget who we are? Were we supposed to become robots who did nothing more than the tasks listed in our job description?
We’re often told that we should keep our personal lives separate from our work lives, but I don’t agree that we should leave our personal lives at the door when we go to work. In fact, I think we should encourage employees and colleagues to share more about their personal lives. Here’s why.
Aside from the fact that it is unrealistic to expect people to just forget about their family and personal lives for 8 hours a day, should we really want them to? What are we missing out on if we don’t share in these things? Architect Iris Regn and artist Rebecca Niederlander are investigating the relationship between family and creativity in a project called Broodwork. Their research shows that family is ‘a pivotal influence to produce profound and unexpected work.’ In her TED Talk, Anne-Marie Slaughter argues family life is undervalued in society, particularly in the workplace. She recognises that employees who are also caregivers are not only more patient, adaptable and efficient, they also have a wider range of experiences and contacts. Put simply: family life helps with creative practice.
All good businesses have a broader purpose than to make money, but at the end of the day we all need to make a living, so the job needs to get done. Allowing people to share their personal lives (good and bad) at work doesn’t have to mean that the job doesn’t get done. In fact, it can help to build better teams.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says that having a strong and well-connected team helps people to feel more motivated: ‘Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about. To really care about others, we have to understand them – what they like and dislike, what they feel as well as think.’
A team who is well connected not only work better together, but are more committed to each other. If people like each other they want to help each other and in order to like each other they need to understand and connect with each other.
I’ve witnessed this first hand. Over the last few years, we’ve changed our focus when hiring new staff from looking for the person with the best skills for the job to looking for the person who is the best fit for our team. Don’t get me wrong, ability to do the job is crucial, but team dynamic wins every time. We now have a fantastic team who work very well together and who are always willing to help each other out. They relate to each other on a personal level as well as on a professional level. They are not expected to leave their personal lives at the door.
At the end of the day, business is about people. Yes, we’re at work to do a job, but we’re all human. We all have good days and bad days, highs and lows, fears and dreams. If we want the best out of people, it’s only fair that we support them through their highs and lows.
We spend a lot of time with our colleagues. If we’re going through a hard time, it’s nice to know that we have some support. While we might not be able to solve each other’s problems, moral support goes a long way. Professional decisions are often driven by emotions. Allowing and encouraging our employees to express their emotions enables us to have a better understanding of their needs and can help us to tailor solutions that work for everyone involved. In turn, this is more likely to lead to satisfied and loyal employees.
Its not all negative though, we should share in the good just as much as we should support people through the bad. One thing I love about taking my daughter to work is that my colleagues have watched her grow with me. I wouldn’t be my true self if I came to work and acted like she didn’t exist.
I often hear of parents who feel like they have to hide their family when, for example, they leave work early to get home for dinner with their kids or or come in late after a class assembly. We’re all going through the same thing, so why should we have to hide this in a professional setting? Surely it will become easier to manage parenting and a career if we are all open and honest.
Employees who have a supportive workplace are more likely to return the goodwill in the employer’s time of need. Not only that, showing that we are human can only make us more relatable and, therefore, better leaders and mentors.
As Sandberg says, ‘an all-business approach is not always good business.’ We should accept and encourage people to be their full selves at work. This means both revelling in the good and supporting through the bad.