Personal Expressiveness: When Your Work Aligns with Your Skills and Values
Do you feel like you can express yourself through your work? If so, you are quite fortunate, as self-expression in the workplace can deepen the extent to which you find your work meaningful and can even enhance your overall quality of life. Alan Waterman (1990) coined the term personal expressiveness to describe the idea that people are most fulfilled when what they are doing aligns with who they are. When experiencing a personally expressive activity, an individual can report one or more of the following:
- An unusually intense involvement in an undertaking
- A feeling of special fit or meshing with an activity that is not characteristic of most daily tasks
- A feeling of being complete or fulfilled while engaged in the activity
- An impression that this is what the person was meant to do
The root of personal expressiveness is eudaimonic well-being, which stems from the ancient Greek philosophy of living in accordance with your true self, or “daimon” (Waterman, 1990). Unlike hedonic well-being, which is defined by attaining pleasure, eudaimonic well-being is about living a meaningful and fulfilling life (Deci and Ryan, 2001). Research by Turban & Yan (2016) has shown that experiencing eudaimonia at work can have a direct, positive influence on work outcomes such as commitment, turnover intentions, interpersonal helping, and taking charge. Those who experience eudaimonia also engage in more extra-role behaviors. Therefore, when you experience personal expressiveness at work you are experiencing eudaimonic fulfillment of purpose, rather than mere hedonia, or the extent to which it is fun and pleasant.
Waterman (1990) defines personally expressive activities as having two essential qualities:
- They provide an opportunity for people to convert their untapped potential into new skills and talents, and to further develop those they already possess.
- They are vehicles for making progress towards goals that represent a life worth living.
Personally expressive activities occur more frequently than one might think. For example, whenever I send out our online newsletter of how to incorporate positive psychology in the workplace, I am experiencing personal expressiveness. I’m translating my knowledge of the subject to a new format, which is using my potential while enhancing my online marketing skills. Sharing the subject of positive organizational psychology with others is also working towards a fulfilling goal for me.
Now that you know the meaning and importance of personal expressiveness, take a moment to think about your own job. Would you say it engenders personal expressiveness? When is the last time you remember experiencing a personally expressive activity? Here are some tips you can use to increase your own personal expressiveness at work:
- Think of what you are good at; do you have a chance to use and develop your skills and talents at work? If not, brainstorm ways that you can integrate them into your daily activities. This could mean meeting with a manager or supervisor to discuss how to implement and enhance your skill set.
- Do you feel like your role is contributing to the company’s overall mission? Research has shown employees are more likely to experience eudaimonia when managers highlight how employees contribute to the firm’s mission, and/or allow employees to meet beneficiaries of their work (Grant, 2007).
- Reflect on your core goals and values. Is your career aligned with these values? Does it contribute to something bigger than yourself, and does it feel meaningful to you? If not, it may be time to consider a career change.
To recap, personal expressiveness occurs when what you are doing in your work and daily life aligns with your internal values and interests. Whether you need to make just a slight adjustment or a full-on career change, personal expressiveness is a state that anyone can achieve. Experiencing personal expressiveness at work can lead to actualizing your potential and to positive work outcomes.
Grant, A.M. (2007). Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Academy of Management Review, 32 (2), 393-417.
Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2001), On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.
Turban, D.B. & Yan, W. (2016). Relationship of eudaimonia and hedonia with work outcomes. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 31(6), 1006-1020.
Waterman, A. (1990). Personal expressiveness: philosophical and psychological foundations. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11(1), 47-73.