Leadership

Bringing our ‘whole selves’ to the workplace

How can workplaces support personal, as well as professional development? PwC have reimagined their approach - with impressive results.

By Ruby Leahy Gatfield

Leadership

How can workplaces support personal, as well as professional development? PwC have reimagined their approach - with impressive results.

By Ruby Leahy Gatfield

It can be tough to reconcile who we are at work, with who our friends and family know us to be. From the moment we start working, we’re given all kinds of advice about crafting our identity in the workplace.

‘Be professional. Look the part. Don’t talk about money or politics. Don’t get emotional. Manage the juggle!’

So we adopt a work persona, without always feeling comfortable revealing the true fun and chaos of our personal lives. But at what cost?

More recently, this line between work and home has blurred. After two years of Zooming our colleagues, their pets and their children from the privacy of their own homes, workplaces are beginning to see the value of bringing our ‘whole selves’ to work. This is part of a broader movement in corporate Australia to value workplace culture, diversity and inclusion as organisation’s fight to win a growing ‘war on talent’.

This is certainly the case at PwC Australia, which recently launched its new $15 million Signature Experience Program. The event, hosted over three nights in the Hunter Valley, is a carefully curated, immersive learning experience for almost 3,000 of PwC’s mid-career employees.

Playfully referred to as ‘Corporate Coachella’, PwC Signature Experience Program attendees revelled in the music of Song Division and its crowd-surfing lead singer Brihony Dawson.

PwC’s Future of Work Lead Partner and event curator, Lawrence Goldstone, explains that as work and home have become synonymous, it is incumbent on workplaces to support personal development, as well as professional development.

`We want our people to bring their whole self to work and focus on building lifelong skills and the relationships with their peers that will take them forward in their careers and their lives.’, says PwC CEO, Tom Seymour.

The Signature Experience Program aims to do just that, using what Goldstone describes as ‘learning reimagined’.

It’s ‘South by Southwest meets Coachella meets TED (Talks)’ and more, he explains. And he’s right – you almost have to see it to believe it. The festival-style program offers a mind-boggling schedule of speakers and immersive workshops – all set outdoors under large, fairy-lit tipis, with no shortage of beanbags, fire-pits, hot cacao and live music.

 

‘The bigger risk is not talking about our personal lives”, he responds openly. If we want real change, we need to be sharing personal stories and building curiosity among our future leaders.

 

In addition to impressive key notes from the likes of Stan Grant, Kurt Fearnley, Yemi Penn, and Ben Crowe, it’s a veritable ‘choose your own adventure’ experience. From sunrise Tai Chi to ice bath breathwork therapy, meditation and meeting your inner child, the program is designed with millennials in mind. It ‘reflects the dynamism of the world in 2022 and the way we need to be thinking about preparing our people for it’, says event host, Holly Ransom.

‘This is not a training program’ Goldstone stresses. After all, there are plenty of world-class programs available to build employees’ technical skills, but what about the often-sidelined human skills that are key to creating better leaders?

‘Eight out of ten of the World Economic Forum’s skills of the future are human skills’, he reminds me,  like ‘creativity, critical thinking and resilience’.

I ask Goldstone whether there is any risk in people bringing their ‘whole selves’ to work. Perhaps we avoid being vulnerable to protect ourselves from bias or judgement, I posit.

“The bigger risk is not talking about our personal lives”, he responds openly. If we want real change, we need to be sharing personal stories and building curiosity among our future leaders.

A PwC Signature Experience Program participant braves the cold temperatures of an immersive ice-bath.

I have to agree. While it’s easy to be cynical about some corporate investments, the genuine diversity of speakers and commitment to building better people and professionals was clear. In the ‘House of Hopes’ hut, participants wrote down their intentions on parchment paper, hung up for others to read.

‘I want to be brave and take better care of myself’, ‘I want to be more authentic in my everyday life’, they read. One participant told me, ‘I had never seen a Welcome to Country before this. The dancing was amazing’.

I left feeling hopeful. The Signature Experience Program is just one component of PwC’s Total Reward Strategy, which includes an overhaul of its pay and bonus structure and a move to improve pay transparency.

This is welcome news for gender equality advocates like myself. Be it about pay, period pain or parenting, it’s critical that corporate Australia creates more space for employees to have honest conversations at work – if we truly want to see meaningful progress.