Balancing your home and work personas

Some people behave differently at home and work. What's wrong with that?

Are you the same person when you arrive at work as you were when you left home?

HR consultancy Development Dimensions International (DDI) says you might expect that with flatter management structures and more relaxed workplaces, wearing a professional mask to work would be a thing of the past.

However, a survey DDI conducted of 391 UK managers and 621 employees (aged 18-65, with an equal gender split) found the opposite. Almost half (45%) said they left part of their “true selves” at home when they went to work. Almost a third (31%) said they were “playing a part” at work in order to fit in while 30% felt “under pressure to ‘conform to the corporate mould’.”

DDI Europe managing director Steve Newhall asks if this inability for people to be themselves is the “much sought-after missing link to individual and organisational performance”.

He says when employees can be themselves they are more motivated – if they are holding back, he argues, they are less likely to exhibit passion, drive and energy.

“… The real mission should be to create an environment where diversity is celebrated, where leaders are accessible and honest, and where values are the unifying and energising common force.”

But in an article about socialising with co-workers, Edwin Roman writes that people should have two personas — one for work and one for home.

“Some students have baulked at my advice, claiming that you have to be ‘phony’ and suppress the ‘real’ you in the workplace. I always respond, ‘No, it’s about survival and moving forward. Do you honestly believe that we see the ‘real’ politicians and celebrities on television? They have carefully crafted public personas’.”

Sometimes it takes a life-changing event to make you consider how much your identity is shaped by your work. Even if you don’t have a vast difference between your personal and professional persona, what you do for a job shapes your others see you and how you see yourself.

Bradley Richardson, writing on Career Journal, says losing your job can cause you to reassess your identity.

“Not being able to lean on a job or occupation for their identity can be frightening to professionals who have relied on a title, position or company name to define or shape their image.”

Richardson writes that you have several identities, depending on the role you’re playing at a certain time.

“You are an employee or professional, but you also are a parent, child, friend, spouse, brother or sister, community member, athlete, volunteer, teammate and so on. Each role changes or gives way to another, according to the situation and what you're experiencing at that moment.”

He says that you can lean on other roles when one role presents a challenge.

“In this case, your role as an employee has been temporarily diminished, allowing the others to step up. Rotating the roles you play, rather than relying on your professional title or occupation to determine your identity, can lessen the shock of a career setback.”

He also says that when you’re jobless, you can target roles that are more in line with your values.

“…this career crisis allows you to ask yourself: ‘Am I walking my talk?’”

This could mean choosing jobs that give you a work/life balance; a high-paying job; a career that lets you be creative; a job that lets you interact with others and so on. And of course, choosing a job that lets you be yourself.

What do you think? Does the IT industry let you be yourself or do you find yourself putting on a workplace persona? And how much of your identity is tied to your job?

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at

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