What is genuine authenticity? What does it look like in the modern workplace? Our culture is still trying to figure it out. The problem is that we do not have a concrete definition of what authenticity should be. Thus, we don’t know how to apply it correctly. At least one HR director thinks the place to start is with the policy of ‘do no harm’.
Doing no harm, or primum non nocere if you will, is part of the Hippocratic oath. It is a foundational concept of being an ethical and professional medical provider. HR Zone contributor Raf Uzar maintains that the same principle can be applied to workplace authenticity. He explained why in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain how.
Evidence That Authenticity Is Good
Much of Uzar’s piece was listing scientific evidence supporting the idea that authenticity is good. He cited numerous studies showing the physical and emotional benefits of being truly authentic. He connected the dots to help readers understand how those benefits pay off in the workplace. None of that is disputed.
The question is how we get from here to there. How does an employer encourage genuine authenticity without encouraging chaos? Is doing no harm the answer? Possibly. It could be the answer as long as it applies equally to everyone.
The biggest conundrum employers face is that their companies are representation of them. Business owners want their companies to project a certain image. But what if some employees, in an effort to be genuinely authentic, run counter to that image? One party needs to give in, or both need to compromise. But is there harm in doing so?
Perceive No Harm
Imagine feeling like you cannot be your authentic self at work. It bothers you enough that you start your own company with the goal of encouraging promoting genuine authenticity. That is exactly what the founder of New York-based Plurawl did. He and his company now sell LatinX T-shirts, sweatshirts, artwork, and more. The company works to inspire, encourage, and empower authenticity in the LatinX community.
The point to be made here is that this particular business owner perceived that he could not be authentic in the workplace. Did he perceive that he was being harmed by it? This post will not attempt to figure that out. But it will question whether the perception of harm is evidence that it’s real.
One of the arguments in favor of workplace authenticity is that it empowers people to reach their full potential. But if the boss requires something that an employee feels does not equate with their authenticity, does honoring the request harm the individual?
A Very Fine Line
Genuine authenticity is very difficult to achieve in the workplace because there are so many competing interests. Get five employees in a room and you will be dealing with five distinct personalities. All of them striving to be truly authentic are eventually going to come into conflict. At that point, whose authenticity prevails?
If the goal is to do no harm, each person striving to be authentic would defer to the others. And if everyone in the room deferred to everybody else, there would be less conflict. It is a very fine line. But it’s a line that can be walked when people are willing to do what they do in the best interests of others.
Unfortunately, such thinking is often perceived as the opposite of authenticity. That is why we struggle so much with authenticity at work. We want it both ways, but we understand deep down that we cannot.