Performance In The Workplace: Are You Yourself At Work?

girl with glasses

One of the many theories I came across in my first year of graduate school is the “crystallized self” theory. In a nutshell, the theory asserts that different situations bring about different selves that exist in one identity. In our everyday understanding, we are often fond of defining people by their “true selves.” For example, that who you are on a Friday night out with your friends is not the same person that you are on a Monday morning in an office meeting. The crystallization of self argues that those are both your “true selves” – just different sides of a crystal that represents your identity.

Still, as Shakespeare acclaimed in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” So indeed whether we are out on a Friday night or on a Monday morning, I think that we are performing aspects of our identity. Identity isn’t something that just is, as most humanities scholars would affirm; identity is performed.

How do you perform at work?

I once worked in an office where people thought I was quiet. My co-workers at the time just assumed that I was a reserved person. Most people who are familiar with me don’t know me as quiet. But the way I saw it, I had to perform. In hindsight, I didn’t fit in with the company culture so I did what I always do when I am in situations where I feel out of place: I said as little as possible. Now although this may be seen as me not being my “true self” – someone who is usually conversational and friendly, I have a side that is reserved and I think that particular workplace brought this side out. Was I performing at work? Yes. But I think I was performing an aspect of my identity – albeit an often unseen one in this kind of setting – rather than being untrue to myself.

In a perfect world, we would all get to be more of the self in our identity that we believe most represent us. But alas, the world is not perfect. In the workplace, there are many performances going on from everybody from the CEO to the cleaning personnel. People are constantly negotiating and re-negotiating their identities either because they like the job or they need their job. And so this idea of “Are you yourself at work?” is a very erroneous question to consider if we accept that our identity is fluid rather than fixed. Perhaps a time when the question could be warranted is if our workplace demands that we go against values that we believe represent all of our selves. Our values more than anything else tend to be fixed, even within our very fluid identities.

Of course most of this is organizational theory which is mostly privileged knowledge. The importance of discussing this topic, however, is so that we can identify the kinds of company cultures and workplaces that best suit an individual. We will always perform differently at work from how we will in other situations. But if we can identity which self we would like to be at work, identifying the kind of company culture that would best suit that self would probably make us a lot happier in our careers. So rather than asking, “Are you yourself at work?” the better question might be, “Do you like yourself at work?”

Kovie Biakolo

Kovie Biakolo is a Drake University Marketing Graduate. Originally thinking she was headed to law school in Chicago or a year in Spain, Kovie found herself in the Windy City in digital writing and marketing for over a year. Currently, Kovie is in graduate school for Multicultural and Organizational Communication and started a blog, Life At Twenty Something to write about the good, the bad and the ugly of the twenty something life.

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