Exeter study reveals why you should be yourself at work

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  • Failing to reveal ‘stigmatised characteristics’ also impacts work commitment
  • These include being gay, a history of poverty or suffering from a mental illness
  • Researchers believe concealing who you are affects your social interactions
  • Yet they add that revealing too much about yourself may also have drawbacks 

Alexandra Thompson Health Reporter For Mailonline

Hiding your true self at work may damage your career, new research reveals.

Failing to reveal ‘stigmatised characteristics’ such as being gay or suffering from a mental illness reduces people’s self-esteem, job satisfaction and work commitment, a study review found.  

Study author Professor Manuela Barreto from the University of Exeter, said: ‘People may choose to conceal stigmatised identities because they want to be accepted, but in fact doing so reduces feelings of belonging.

‘When someone conceals their true identity, their social interactions suffer – and this has an impact not just on the individual but also on the organisation they work for.

‘What we need are environments where people don’t need to hide – inclusive environments where people don’t have to make a choice between being liked and being authentic.’

Hiding your true self at work may damage your career, according to new research (stock)

Hiding your true self at work may damage your career, according to new research (stock)

Hiding your true self at work may damage your career, according to new research (stock)

DO YOU HAVE A LONG COMMUTE? YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE STRESSED AND DEPRESSED 

Those who endure long commutes are more likely to be stressed and depressed, research revealed last month.

A study of more than 34,000 working British adults found overall journeys longer than half-an-hour are damaging the nation’s health and productivity.

Yet those who have the longest commutes, deemed to be more than an hour each way, appear to fare the worst mentally.

Such individuals are 33 per cent more likely to suffer from depression and 12 per cent more likely to report work-related stress, the research found. 

How the study was carried out 

Researchers from the University of Exeter analysed ‘stigmatised characteristics’, including being gay, bisexual or transgender, having a history of poverty, or suffering from a physical or mental illness.

They assessed studies that investigated these stigmas in the Netherlands or the US.

In one study, participants were asked to remember an incident when they either concealed or revealed a stigmatised characteristic about themselves.

A different study presented participants with fictional scenarios that involved concealing or revealing their stigmatised identity.

In both studies, participants were asked how they would feel after concealing or revealing the characteristic.

Key findings 

Results revealed that concealing stigmatised characteristics from colleagues reduces people’s self-esteem, job satisfaction and work commitment, which may damage their career.

Professor Barreto said: ‘People may choose to conceal stigmatised identities because they want to be accepted, but in fact doing so reduces feelings of belonging.

‘When someone conceals their true identity, their social interactions suffer – and this has an impact not just on the individual but also on the organisation they work for.

‘Our findings suggest that openness about one’s identity is often beneficial for stigmatised individuals, the stigmatised group and their workplace.’

The results were published in the Journal of Social Issues. 

Being open about 'stigmatised characteristics' improves our social interactions (stock)

Being open about 'stigmatised characteristics' improves our social interactions (stock)

Being open about ‘stigmatised characteristics’ improves our social interactions (stock)

How the research can be used 

Despite highlighting the potential costs of concealment, the researchers do not suggest that everyone be open in all aspects of their life.

Dr Anna Newheiser from the University at Albany, who was involved in the study, said: ‘It is clear that there are times when revealing a stigmatised identity can be very costly.

‘Those effects are very real and worth avoiding in certain circumstances, but it is important to realise that there is also a cost to hiding your true self.’ 

Professor Barreto added: ‘What we need are environments where people don’t need to hide – inclusive environments where people don’t have to make a choice between being liked and being authentic.

‘Workplaces that push individuals to hide their differences do not erase difference – they simply encourage masking and concealment of diversity.

‘Given that identity concealment is by nature an invisible act, its social and organisational costs may also be difficult to detect, explain and correct.’