Hiding True Self at Work Reduces Job Satisfaction, Sense of Belonging

Hiding your true self at work can harm your career and reduce your sense of belonging among co-workers, according to a new study led by the University of Exeter in England.

Researchers investigated commonly stigmatized traits — being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), or having a history of poverty or mental or physical illness. They discovered that hiding such characteristics from coworkers resulted in lower self-esteem, job satisfaction, and commitment at work.

“People may choose to conceal stigmatized identities because they want to be accepted, but in fact doing so reduces feelings of belonging,” said Professor Manuela Barreto at the University of Exeter. “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.”

The findings are based on studies conducted in the Netherlands and the U.S.

In one experiment, participants were encouraged to remember a time when they either concealed or revealed a stigmatized characteristic about themselves. In another experiment, participants were presented with fictional scenarios that either involved hiding or revealing their stigmatized identity. In both experiments, participants were asked how they would feel after hiding or revealing the stigmatized characteristic.

“Our findings suggest that openness about one’s identity is often beneficial for stigmatized individuals, the stigmatized group and their workplace,” said Barreto.

However, the researchers recognize that not everyone can be open in all contexts.

“It is clear that there are times when revealing a stigmatized identity can be very costly,” said Dr. Anna Newheiser of the University at Albany, SUNY (State University of New York). “Those effects are very real and worth avoiding in certain circumstances, but it is important to realize that there is also a cost to hiding your true self.”

The paper touches on the “hidden ramifications of prejudice,” which harm both individuals and organizations.

“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,” said Barreto. “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 organizational costs may also be difficult to detect, explain and correct.”

The study is published in the Journal of Social Issues.

Source: University of Exeter