Independent workers: No mask required

Corporate America earns praise for being efficient, creating economies of scale and bringing the wide world’s goods and services right to the doorstep of consumers. Among the things traditional big business isn’t so good at: authenticity.

Corporations fail at authenticity not just in the sense of connecting with consumers as genuine when it comes to their products (though some have suggested mega brands will struggle as Facebook and the like acculturate us to expect greater authenticity and apparently personal relationships from brands). Instead, the great authenticity challenge of corporate American is in relation to workers.

Author Daniel Pink took to Fast Company recently to discuss this issue in relation to his book, Free Agent Nation. In the post, he explains that one of the biggest and least discussed drawbacks of climbing the traditional corporate ladder is a need to hide your true self. He writes:

As free agents around the country told me their stories, they repeatedly used the language of disguise and concealment to describe their previous jobs. They spoke of putting on “masks” or “game faces” at work. They talked about donning “armor” and erecting “smoke screens,” because exposing themselves in a large organization could be perilous. Only when they returned home after work could they shed the costumes and protective gear and return to being who they truly were.

The double life endured by many workers employed at big firms can be stressful and draining, according to Pink, who quotes industrial psychologist Peter Krembs to illustrate the point: “’Optimizing’ the organization almost necessarily means ‘suboptimizing the individual.’”

One of the great benefits of independent work, Pink concludes, is being able to more closely align who you are with what you do. But this collapse of work self and real self isn’t without its struggles.

“In free agency, work becomes more fully integrated with who you are. That can be rewarding. But because work is more deeply woven into yourself, it can be harder to cast off–which means work can occasionally consume and even smother identity,” he writes.

In your experience, do corporate jobs require a greater sacrifice of authenticity than independent work? Is gaining authenticity by working independently worth the increase in stress?

At Net:Work, we’ll explore how independent contractors, particularly those who work remotely, often struggle with stress and workaholism. The event will be held in San Francisco on Dec. 8.

Image courtesy of Flickr user wolfgangfoto.