To retain employees, businesses are calling on HR and leadership to be aware of employee mental health challenges and help boost employee morale. It can be problematic, however, when human resources leaders and managers aren't trained as therapists. Vulnerability is necessary for more authentic interactions between individuals and stronger teams, but boundaries are also important.
Here are a few reasons how and why to have more vulnerable conversations in the workplace.
What Does Vulnerability in the Workplace Look Like?
Authenticity is a leading factor in building trust and improving productivity. Great leaders know that simply asserting orders at workers doesn't prompt a better level of employee engagement. In fact, talking about failures in management, admitting wrongs, and apologizing goes further in building a stronger bond between employer/employee. Vulnerability can look like curiosity, encouragement, and asking others to share ideas. This means that leadership understands that many failures happen on the way to success. Getting to know each other on a more personal level humanizes everyone on the team, no matter their struggles. When employees feel safe at work, they're more likely to stay with the company.
When Does Vulnerability Go Too Far?
Depending on the workplace culture, being vulnerable can be unnerving. Ask anyone who's ever had to share something personal with their manager - there's usually a concern that it could be used against them later. The fact is, when something personal is being used against an employee, it's not the right place to work.
Still, "vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability", according to researcher Dr. Brené Brown. Sharing personal information comes down to the intention behind the sharing: is it to improve the work or the connection or is it to vent something to someone who doesn't need to know that?
She provides an example in the article linked above where a CEO was in over his head and felt that the company was bleeding money. Sharing that information with a consultant or fellow leader might be okay. Sharing it in a meeting with investors and employees is a terrible idea.
Does Vulnerability Require All the Details?
In short, no. An individual can admit that they're going through something and may require extra time off or assistance, being honest and authentic. They don't, however, need to admit the details to an unsuspecting HR leader or manager who simply doesn't know what to do with that information. Human resources leaders can be trauma-informed, creating a safe space and peer support for those in distress, without therapy training. They can be prepared with resources that are helpful for those who are vulnerable in the workplace - especially if the company wants to retain employees longer.