be yourself at work

Being yourself at work, how hard can it be?

This time, I'm delving into a topic close to my heart: feeling like you can't be your authentic self at work.

It's a common issue, and thinking back to my career at the BBC, I certainly had times when I played small and held back on sharing ideas.

A former boss once told me to "intellectualise more!” Ironically, I had no clue what he meant. The effort of trying to be something I wasn't left me stressed, tired and grappling with bouts of burnout.

I often felt misunderstood by colleagues and unable to contribute fully. A square peg in a round hole, with plenty of good old imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure!

All of these feelings come at a cost, with broader implications for you, your colleagues and your organisation:

  • Mental health: Anxiety, stress, depression and burnout.
  • Productivity:When people aren’t themselves, they’re short on ideas, less innovative and unable to solve problems.
  • Succession planning: When people play small their performance suffers. Talent may hold back on showcasing their genuine strengths and talents, making it hard to spot future leaders.
  • Relationships and communication:Inauthenticity can lead to mistrust and weakened professional relationships, poor communication and grievances.


Penny Haslam

Bit Famous works with businesses and organisations
to help them communicate with confidence.

By Penny Haslam

MD and Founder - Bit Famous

Panel discussion - Being yourself at work, how hard can it be?

Recently I heard, first-hand, how people professionals manage to be themselves at work. It’s made especially hard when perhaps they’re 'the only one’ in HR, and are so often tasked with mopping up the fallout from others’ behaviours.

I picked up some valuable ideas on supporting colleagues in being more authentic as well, and so I’m sharing the whole discussion here with you now.

Watch the panel discussion I chaired at The HR Big Meet in London:

Joining me were three fabulous people professionals, Niki Head, Penny Jones and Marcia Weekes-Spears.

Panellists' insights

In a rush? Here are some powerful insights with video timings:

Keep learning how to be authentic

7:22 Niki: "I'm still learning to be an authentic person at work because I'm used to - from a previous role - being told that I was the loud, opinionated... Get back in your box.”

Build your self-belief

8.29 Marcia: "As an interim consultant, when I go into organisations, I tend to have to shift and shape to fit in with the organisation and the people working there. I worked on a contract two years ago now which really stripped my confidence. They didn't want me to be who I was."

Spot (and reject) useless feedback

10.01 Penny J: "I left 15 years in corporate and in defence. So a very masculine environment. And I've had some really interesting feedback over the years about being too feminine, too girly, from quite a young age."

Work with people you align with

13.06 Penny J: "We do quite a long onboarding process with our new clients and it's to make sure they don't want me to come in and sack anybody on our first day. If they say yes, we're not for you. It's the end of the conversation."

Stand firm and know your values

14.00 Marcia: "What I've learned is, that I want to be able to walk away at the end of the work day and say I have been myself and be quite peaceful with it. "

Create the right environment

16.49 Niki: "It's nice now that more female developers are coming in, especially in the engineering field. And, you know, it's about nurturing those people and making sure that they find their place to fit in as well."