David Heinemeier Hansson

May 5, 2022

Bring your work self to work

If employees are expected to spend the majority of their life at work — pulling those 60-80+ hour weeks — it's no wonder they in return demand work embraces their "whole self". But that's a terrible trade in both directions. What work and you really need is for everyone to show up with their "work self".

Your work self needn't be a facade, it can still be you — just not all of it. It's the part that shows up to be courteous to coworkers (even when you don't really feel like it), engaged in solving the tasks at hand (even when you'd rather do something else), and with no more of your outside-of-work self than you'd be comfortable sharing with a kind stranger on a long plane ride.

That doesn't mean work can't be a place where you form deeper, fuller bonds. I've met some wonderful friends at work that I've shared far more of my so-called "whole self" with during lunch, in side channels, and after work. But those relationships meant something extra exactly because they were special, and developed beyond work, even if they originated there.

Your whole self is a vulnerable show. Far more easily rattled, disturbed, or offended than the much slimmer slice that work is owed and due. Holding some of yourself back means having something in reserve. Not putting it all in play. A smaller surface area to rub others the wrong way and vice versa.

All this used to be obvious. Self evident. Encoded in our work-place uniforms, even. A tradition of restraint and reservation literally dressed in a suit or similar business attire. While I have no affinity for the business suit – hell, I don't even own one! – I think we lost something valuable when we collectively gave it up.

Same too with using the same devices at home and work. It's still the norm that workers in tech use a single phone or even computer to play double duty. All your work with you at all times. Microsoft celebrated this a decade ago, and most of us are living in that world now. Again, not at all certain this is for the better.

Work isn't owed all of you. Don't offer it.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.