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Employers claim to encourage authenticity, but many job seekers don’t believe they can be themselves at work

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June 13, 2024
By Brandi Cowen

Although overall company culture has become more casual, 43 per cent of Canadian job seekers say they don’t feel comfortable being themselves in the workplace, and 73 per cent believe employees are discouraged from discussing certain topics, according to an Express Employment Professionals-Harris Poll survey.

The top three topics job seekers say they have to avoid at work: religion (42 per cent), salary/wages (41 per cent), and politics (39 per cent).

While job seekers may feel there are some subjects they shouldn’t talk about at work, there are others that they feel comfortable discussing. For example, discussing family (78 per cent), diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) (76 per cent), physical health (70 per cent) and mental health (60 per cent).

And, as for the traditional three topics to avoid at work, many are comfortable discussing salary/wages (59 per cent), religion (46 per cent) and politics (51 per cent). Interestingly, men are far more comfortable discussing salary/wages in the workplace than women (65 per cent vs. 50 per cent) as well as politics (59 per cent vs. 40 per cent).

Workplace etiquette can be a moving target though, as more than half of job seekers (60 per cent) feel it is confusing to know what is and isn’t acceptable etiquette in the workplace because it has changed so much. Perhaps for that reason, most job seekers (86 per cent) say they like to keep their home life separate from their work life.

Encouraging authenticity

Around three-quarters of hiring managers (72 per cent) say their company places a great deal or moderate amount of priority on encouraging employees to be authentic (i.e., bring their whole selves) at work.

A key part of the whole self of an employee is their mental health — and seven in 10 hiring managers say their company promotes positive employee mental health (70 per cent). Yet digging deeper, only around one-third say their company places a great deal of priority on authenticity (31 per cent) and promoting positive mental health (36 per cent), perhaps leaving room for improvement in these areas.

Discouraging open communication in the workplace may be inadvertently silencing employees from sharing and contributing to the company.

More than half of hiring managers (58 per cent) say there are topics employees are discouraged from discussing at their company — including salary/wages (29 per cent), religion (27 per cent), politics (26 per cent), their health, both physical and mental (21 per cent), diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (10 per cent) and family (10 per cent).

“Several company environments now lean toward a more laid-back atmosphere in the post-pandemic era; however, some sensitive conversations are not appropriate for the workplace,” said Bill Stoller, Express Employment International CEO. “While people should be comfortable being themselves at work, employees should respect the beliefs of their colleagues, creating a safe space for everyone. A healthy company culture is an inclusive and supportive one, no matter the personal differences.”

The Job Insights survey was conducted online within Canada by The Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals between Oct. 31 and Nov. 10, 2023, among 504 Canadian hiring decision-makers.

The Job Seeker survey was conducted online within Canada by the Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals from November 9-26, 2023, among 509 Canadian adults ages 18 and older.

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