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Hiding Who You Are in the Workplace Could Decrease Job Satisfaction

Update Date: Jun 04, 2012 06:41 PM EDT

Hiding your true social identity — race and ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or a disability — in the workplace can decrease job satisfaction and increase turnover, according to a new study from Rice University, the University of Houston and George Mason University.

“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 Michelle Hebl, Rice professor of psychology and co-author of the study.

Past 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 their identity, said Hebl.

The researchers studied the behavior of 211 working adults who took an online survey and measured factors such as identity, perceived discrimination, job satisfaction and turnover intentions.

The study found that hiding one’s true identity might result in exposure to co-workers’ discriminatory behavior, as people are less likely to be concerned about appearing prejudiced when they are not in the presence of an “out” group member. On the contrary, when a person expresses his true identity at work, it can have positive impact on his relationships with others.

“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 Juan Madera, a University of Houston professor, Rice alumnus 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.”

“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, titled “Bringing Social Identity to Work: The Influence of Manifestation and Suppression on Perceived Discrimination, Job Satisfaction and Turnover Intentions,” appears in the Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology journal.

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