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Concealing True Identity at Work May Backfire

Concealing True Identity at Work May BackfireSome individuals make a concerted effort to hide their true identity from co-workers and supervisors — be it race and ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or a disability.

New research suggests this decision often reduces individuals’ job satisfaction and increases the chance that the person will leave their current position.

“The workplace is becoming a much more diverse place, but there are still some individuals who have difficulty embracing what makes them different, especially while on the job,” said Dr. Michelle Hebl, Rice University professor of psychology and co-author of the new research.

“Previous research suggests that employees who perceive discrimination or are afraid of receiving discrimination are more likely to fall into this category of individuals who feel the need to suppress or conceal their identity,” Hebl said.

Investigators analyzed the behavior of 211 working adults in an online survey measuring factors such as identity, perceived discrimination, job satisfaction and turnover intentions.

“This research highlights the fact that people make decisions every day about whether it is safe to be themselves at work, and that there are real consequences of these decisions,” said Dr. Eden King, study co-author and associate professor of psychology at George Mason University.

Paradoxically, the study showed that suppressing one’s true identity might result in exposure to co-workers’ discriminatory behavior — an action individuals are trying to avoid by concealing their true self. In fact, the research finds that expression of one’s true identity in a workplace can have a positive impact on their interpersonal relationships.

“When individuals embrace their social identity in the workplace, other co-workers might be more sensitive to their behavior and treatment of individuals like them,” said Dr. Juan Madera, a University of Houston professor and lead study author.

“And quite often, what’s good for the worker is good for the workplace. The employees feel accepted and have better experiences with co-workers, which creates a positive working environment that may lead to decreased turnover and greater profits.”

The authors hope their research will encourage the general public to be accepting of people with diverse backgrounds and become allies to them and encourage employers to implement policies that foster a positive organizational culture.

“I think this study really demonstrates that everyone can have a role in making the workplace more inclusive,” Hebl said. “Individuals tell co-workers, who can act as allies and react positively, and organizations can institute protective and inclusive organizational policies. All of these measures will continue to change the landscape and diversity of our workforce.”

The paper appears in the Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology journal.

Source: Rice University

Boss with worker photo by shutterstock.

Concealing True Identity at Work May Backfire

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Concealing True Identity at Work May Backfire. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 1 Jun 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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