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Do You Wear a Mask at Work?

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The great Marilyn Monroe once said, “If you’re gonna be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty.” Do you ever feel like you are living two lives? Specifically, do you feel like you act one way during the day at your job and then completely different once you’re off the clock? Of course, we all act more professional and possibly guarded during the day (hopefully), but do some of us really take on different personas? Alternative work personalities?

Sometimes I think of Michelle Pfeiffer when she played Catwoman in the classic film Batman Returns. During the day she was meek and fragile, and then at night she put on that black pleather suit (that she totally rocked) and became a total bad ass. Yes, she was pushed out a window of a skyscraper and was then revived/possessed by alley cats and became a cat/woman hybrid (that, I am pretty sure, is scientifically impossible), but you get the point.

I know that I try to at least convey somewhat of a put-together professional, stylish demeanor at work even through that morning that I slept too late, rushed through my dog’s walk, and forgot once again to bring my lunch (not to mention eat a nutritious breakfast… unless they changed the guidelines for a good breakfast to include one cup of coffee and a handful of jelly beans?).

But apparently I am not the only one that feels this way. We do have different modes of behavior depending on our environments (Thanks, Darwin). But maybe we do act certain ways at work in order to survive.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revered Vincent Nichols, told The Telegraph in September 2012:

“When businesses see themselves as set apart in some way, free to create their own value system divided from the rest of life, then they are liable to do most harm…

“Then there appears, for instance, an unhealthy focus on power or reward, or an expectation of overwork to the cost of family or spiritual life.

“This fosters a sense of living an unhealthily ‘divided life’, in which we leave the better part of our values and ideals at home when we go to work.”

I was really talking more about being really neat and tidy at work to impress people, but then going home to a really messy apartment. That could partly just be because we work so darn much that we end up putting all of our energy into work, so when we come home all we can do is collapse on the couch. Maybe we made it to the gym or out with friends if we’re lucky. I am proud of myself if I make mac and cheese instead of using Seamless Web.

But there may be some that do literally put on a mask or alter ego at work. It is good to have a game face, but you should also represent yourself, who you really are, in the workplace.

Academic research conducted by the University of Houston in Texas and the University of Greenwich in London has shown that being authentic at work doesn’t affect how happy people are with their job, but at the same time, a study conducted by Harvard Business School suggests differently—that when employers promote self-expression in the workplace, it reduces turnover and increases productivity.

I’m not saying show up naked at work and release every feeling you are thinking (your co-workers don’t need that, and I’m guessing your friends don’t either), but don’t be a whole different person at work.

Do you think it’s important to be your true self at work? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments!


#Communication Work-Life Balance Presence Lifestyle
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Not trying to play Devil's Advocate, but sometimes it pays to be different at work. I have two friends that are different at work, and their differences make their lives saner. For example, one of my girlfriends is a lawyer. When she first started at her firm, she was the sweet, quiet type who did as she was told. She doesn't like confrontations and she rarely fights with anyone. But in her professional world, she knew she needed to be more of a ball-buster. She started to take charge at work and made sure her assertiveness was an obvious quality. But when she comes home, she likes nothing more than quiet evenings with her boyfriend and coffee with her friends. She is totally different at work, but she likes it that way. She feels she gets to be two different people in life, not just one. My other friend (the lawyer's best friend, quite ironically) is loud and the life of the party. If you're having a party, you want her there. She loves people and talks to everyone. But when she's at work, she tones it down and speaks and acts professionally. She knows there is a time and place for everything. She's tried to liven it up at work and tone it down at play, but the balance is more exhausting than it's worth. I understand what you're saying, but I've seen the mask work as well.

I agree with you, Kelsey. I find a mask to be really helpful in keeping me professional. It doesn't mean that I can't inject personality, humor, or friendliness into my professional demeanor, but it sure helps me remember that foul language or dirty jokes aren't office-appropriate.

I agree with you Kelsey, to a point. When the mask begins to take over who you really are, that's a problem for me. Earlier in my career, I too had a mask for work and a different me at home. And I think that's necessary like Fatemah says, when you need to be professional. I have learned that there's a way to show up authentically no matter where you are and be true to yourself, even when you need to dress it up to go to work. As you said, there's a time and a place for everything.

I started college when I was 16 and I just couldn't assimilate until the school's dean called me in for a chat. She told me, "college is where you develop multiple personalities." As Kelsey said, it definitely pays off in many careers. I don't think it's a matter of being two completely different people, but rather emphasizing different aspects of your personality...even if others think they don't exist.

"[People] have layers. Onions have layers. Get it? We both have layers." (Cakes have layers, too!)

I'm definitely a more polished version of myself at work, but fundamentally I am the same "me" wherever I am. I personally find it very validating when my co-workers, friends, and family all attribute the same characteristics I attribute to myself. It shows that not only do I know who I am, but that it is consistently reflected externally as well.

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