At work, it’s healthier and more productive just to be yourself, according to a new study.
The study examines 65 studies focusing on what happens after people in a workplace disclose a stigmatized identity, such as sexual orientation, mental illness, physical disability, or pregnancy.
Eden King, a coauthor of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Rice University, calls the decision to express a stigmatized identity highly complicated.
“It has the potential for both positive and negative consequences,” she says.
The research overwhelmingly indicates, however, that people with non-visible stigmas (such as sexual orientation or health problems) who live openly at work are happier with their overall lives and more productive in the workplace. Self-disclosure is typically a positive experience because it allows people to improve connections, form relationships with others, and free their minds of unwanted thoughts, King says.
Workers who expressed their non-visible stigmas experienced decreased job anxiety, decreased role ambiguity, improved job satisfaction, and increased commitment to their position. Outside of work, these people reported decreased psychological stress and increased satisfaction with their lives.
But the study found that the same results did not apply to people with visible traits, such as race, gender, and physical disability.
“Identities that are immediately observable operate differently than those that are concealable,” King says. “The same kinds of difficult decisions about whether or not to disclose the identity—not to mention the questions of to whom, how, when, and where to disclose those identities—are probably less central to their psychological experiences.”
Because most people appreciate gaining new information about others, the expression of visible stigmas is likely to have less of an impact, King says.
Have you read?
“Also, people react negatively to those who express or call attention to stigmas that are clearly visible to others, such as race or gender, as this may be seen as a form of advocacy or heightened pride in one’s identity,” she says.
The researchers say more work will help understand the motivations for expressing different stigmas. They say they hope the meta-analysis will help workplaces and policymakers protect individuals with stigmas from discrimination.
The study appears in the Journal of Business and Psychology. Additional coauthors are from Rice University; Texas A&M University; the University of Memphis; Xavier University; Portland State University; and the University of California, Berkeley.