What Does it Mean to Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable at Work?

A year ago this week, a close friend of mine died unexpectedly. I had only recently started working at Culture Amp, and I hadn’t yet gotten the full picture as to what the company’s culture was really like. I was also in the middle of searching for a new office space for the team. I had a tour of office spaces scheduled for the day, and so not wanting to let my team down, mess up the tour schedule, or make a bad impression on my new employer, I showed up and went on a somewhat grueling, hours-long traipse around downtown San Francisco. I distinctly remember being distracted, preoccupied, generally miserable, and willing myself not to burst into tears. I eventually mentioned to my coworkers what had happened. This year, however, I’ll be telling them that I am planning some time off to spend with friends in observance of my friend’s passing. So how is this year different than last?

In the past year in particular, I’ve read a number of articles and had equally as many conversations about what it means to bring your “whole self” to work. As a person who likes to keep things close to the vest and enjoys boundaries between my work life and my personal life, deciding how much of my “whole self” to share at work has always been challenging. It’s times like now when I think about what that truly looks like in practice for me.

For me, deciding to share this with people at work, and feeling comfortable with it, stems from a couple of things. One is our company culture, and our value of having the courage to be vulnerable. I have had the privilege of seeing this in action. People have shared joys of births, graduations, and other accomplishments. But perhaps more importantly, people have shared the sadnesses of death and illness. They have shared powerful and heartfelt posts about things like losing a parent. They have shared some of the things that are tough to share, and really show vulnerability.

Seeing these, along with the general groundswell of support that follows, I know that people understand we all have those human experiences, and it’s safe to acknowledge that. The message I always see and hear is for people to do what they need to do for themselves. With an environment of trust and support in place, it becomes easier to allow myself to be vulnerable at work, knowing that it will foster a sense of connection and understanding. So this year, in bringing my whole self to work, I will actually be taking some time to step away from work, and communicating about why right now is a difficult time for me.

 

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