To be happy at work, be true to yourself

RICE (US) — Hiding your true social identity at work can result in decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover, a new study shows.

“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,” says Michelle Hebl, professor of psychology at Rice University.

“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.”


Published in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, the study examines the behavior of 211 working adults in an online survey and measures 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,” says co-author Eden King, a Rice graduate and associate professor of psychology at George Mason University.

Suppressing one’s true identity—be it race and ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, or a disability—might result in exposure to co-workers’ discriminatory behavior, as people are less likely to care about appearing prejudiced when they are not in the presence of an “out” group member, the study shows.

On the contrary, the research finds that expression of one’s true identity in a workplace can have 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,” says lead author Juan Madera, a University of Houston professor and Rice graduate.

“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 says. “Individuals tell co-workers, who can act as allies and react positively, and organizations can instituteprotective and inclusive organizational policies. All of these measures will continue to change the landscape and diversity of our workforce.”

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