The truth about individuality in the workplace

by Jan 10, 2020

I have always been someone who has been loud and clear about who I am, what I stand for, and how I want to express myself. I remember when I was about 14 in high school, being called into the year coordinator’s office for wearing blue glitter eyeshadow, an armful of colourful bangles, and bright orange nail polish. Even though I knew it was against the strict school rules, I wanted to be seen for who I really was – a sparkly, special, unique unicorn!  

There is no doubt I still have this inherent desire to be… myself. It was only this time last year when I turned up to work with a bright pink pixie cut. Whilst hair dye fades quickly, something which has always been a constant in my life is an inability to be something which I am not.

There is a common misconception that we must uphold two distinct versions of ourselves – who we are at home, and who we ‘pretend’ to be at work. Having to constantly put on a mask is draining and stressful. I vote we ditch conversations about the weather with our co-workers, and start embracing our brilliant uniqueness by taking inspiration from the following pointers.

Close up of eyelid with glittery eyeshadow

1. Accept who you are

This is probably not new news to most of you – but it is important! I have personally read this on the pages of many self-development books, and scrolled past plenty of posts on my Instagram feed which boast the benefits of accepting who you are. If we are going to proudly be ourselves at work we need to first know and accept that person. Who we are is, of course, ever evolving with no finite ending point. However I do think it is important to sit down every so often and try to get clear on the following:

  • What do I need more/less of?
  • What is important to me?
  • When do I feel my best?
  • What do I value?

Sit with your answers… let it simmer… accept. 

Light box with text saying this is who I am

2. Reveal little by little

You might not feel ready (or that is appropriate) to turn up to work on Monday in full cosplay, but you want to start revealing a little more about who you are – take baby steps. Maybe you start wearing the amazing silk scarf you picked up on your recent travels. You might put a photo of your pet or child on your desk. Perhaps you make your favourite chocolate cake and share it with your team. All of these things will start to give people around you a small glimpse as to who you are, and trust me, they won’t go unnoticed. People will start to ask questions about your trip to India, or ask you to send them your brownie recipe… which will lead to deeper conversations and connections.

For me, I recently started wearing a small gold bunny earring which my Mum handed down which she had worn for as long as I can remember. Quite a few people at work have asked me about it, and I have loved telling the story. It feels warm and fuzzy to give insights into my life and reveal small details about my personal tapestry. My 14-year-old self is loving this moment. 

hands with rings

3. Know your boundaries

When you’re starting to let your true colours shine through at work, it is also worth keeping your boundaries in mind. Whilst I am all for breaking down superficial walls and avoiding tedious small talk, it is important to protect yourself in the process. Whilst I LOVE getting to know more about my colleagues’ hobbies and interests, sharing about mine, and deeply unpacking every minute of the latest Netflix season we are all simultaneously bingeing, I do make sure I turn to friends outside of work to chat about things which are prone to incite emotive responses (e.g. politics, religion, and money). By doing this, I know that work will always be a safe place, where I will be seen and heard, but not battled with (win-win!)

It is also important to remember that boundaries go both ways. Whilst you might be starting to lean into your sparkle in the workplace, it is vital to read the situation. If you can see that the person you are opening up to is busy, or visibly uncomfortable – which is 100% ok – there are plenty of other opportunities and people to share this journey with.

pedestrian red stop light

4. Accept others

I think this really is the golden rule of individuality in the workplace. If you want to be accepted for who you are, reflect this energy back to those around you. Whether it be your colleague’s sense of style, their questionable taste in music, or the opinions they share in meetings – welcome them with open arms! The more people see you investing in, and accepting them, the more they will do the same for you.

Ask questions, dive deeper and relish in the uniqueness which is the modern workplace.

a man and woman jumping in front of green wall

So please, don’t burn yourself out by chit-chatting about the weather forecast for the week ahead. Don’t hide yourself. Don’t dim your light. Don’t shrink yourself.

You too are a sparkly, special, unique unicorn – embrace it!


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Sarah Marlor

By Sarah Marlor

Recruitment Advisor

Sarah is a driven HR practitioner with employment experience spanning across talent acquisition, on-boarding, customer service and career advisor roles, so it is fair to say that people are her thing! With a bursting enthusiasm for helping individuals work towards being their best selves, Sarah brings a passionate vibrancy to her current role as a Recruitment Advisor at the University of Technology Sydney.