Well-Being//

Why You Should Bring Your Whole Self to Work, According to Science

A new study suggests being your authentic self in the workplace can boost your happiness and improve your mental well-being.

Westend61/ Getty Images
Westend61/ Getty Images

How you present yourself at work is about more than your presentation style, or the jacket you wear for every important meeting. What you choose to bring to your job can seriously impact how you feel about the work you’re doing, and even how you feel outside the office. Bringing your full self to the workplace is a core tenet at Thrive, and according to new research published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, doing so can make you happier, and more productive.

The study’s research team, made up of researchers from Rice University, Texas A&M University, University of Memphis, Xavier University, University of California-Berkeley, and Portland State University, worked together to analyze 65 workplace studies in which individuals were open about their identities at work. The researchers looked at specific stigmatized identities, spanning from sexual orientation to pregnancy to mental illness, and found that those who showed up to work with their authentic selves were found to be more efficient in their jobs, and generally more optimistic.

“Feeling like you belong is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior,” Eden King, Ph.D., associate psychology professor at Rice University and co-author of the study, tells Thrive. “That powerful feeling of belonging is really only accessible to people who feel like they can be their authentic selves.”

King says having an internal sense of belonging is what makes us feel comfortable being ourselves around our colleagues — but for people who face certain stigmas in the workplace, it’s instinctual to hide that identity while at work. “Our findings suggest that being authentic is particularly important for people who would otherwise feel like they have to hide something,” she explains. “It is stressful and depleting to have to hide something important about who you are.”

The stress King touches on, which often leads to the lingering anxiety of being accepted, is backed by research as well. Studies show that pregnant women in the workplace often face significant challenges and stigma once they notify their managers — and some cities are even passing new laws to prevent individuals from facing racial discrimination at work because of the style of their hair.

According to King, change starts at the top. “Inclusive leaders need to demonstrate their support for people with invisible stigmas before those identities are even known,” she suggests. “To be inclusive, leaders need to visibly demonstrate their support before they know that one of their colleagues is gay, pregnant, or has a disability.”

And while some corporate cultures still have strides to make in order for employees to feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work, it is possible to make the process easier for yourself in the meantime. According to King, making the brave first step comes down to mindfully selecting to whom, and how, you’d like to disclose certain aspects of yourself that you’ve so far kept out of the workplace. “It has the potential for both positive and negative consequences,” she notes. “[But] one of the reasons people are seeing benefits of disclosure is that they tend to be thoughtful and strategic about to whom, how, when and where they are revealing their identities.”

How you decide to show your authentic self is up to you, but the important thing is that you’re putting in the effort to come as you are, and that you’re not apologizing for doing so. As King says, there’s an inherent feeling of “power” in being your authentic self — and that alone is worth the effort.

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