Nearly 75 percent of employed Americans have admitted to covering up at least some part of their personality in the workplace in order to fit in, according to a study from Deloitte.
The study notes that the term “covering” has been in use since 1963, when sociologist Erving Goffman used it to describe how a person would make a “great effort to keep (a) stigma from looming large.”
For example, a working mother may choose not to speak with her colleagues about her children, as she fears to be perceived as a mother first and one who isn’t fully invested in her work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average working American with children spends 8.7 hours per day at work or with work-related activities. That means time spent at the office is more than time spent sleeping (7.7 hours), and significantly more than performing household activities (1.1 hours).
And many experts feel that covering up your true identity for that many hours each day simply isn’t healthy.
“Protractedly acting out of character can extract a cost,” said Brian Little, a professor in the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology at Cambridge University. “These costs include increased activity of the fight-flight reaction in the sympathetic nervous system and potential burnout.”
Similarly, other research has found “that suppression of one’s natural behavior is linked with poorer health — specifically, a decrease in immune-system functioning.”
While it’s important to be yourself at work, expressing your inner self should be done in moderation said Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offermann in the Harvard Business Review.
“The honest sharing of thoughts, feelings and experiences at work is a double-edged sword: Despite its potential benefits, self-disclosure can backfire if it’s hastily conceived, poorly timed or inconsistent with cultural or organizational norms,” they wrote.
Rosh and Offermann suggested the following tips when determining the right amount of self-expression.
The right amount of self-expression starts with confidence in self-awareness. Know who you are, what you value and what your goals are. Then, through honest and open communication, seek feedback from colleagues and managers.
Share personal anecdotes only when relevant
The ability to share personal experiences or stories at work can be a strength for many employees. Sharing of such intimate information can build connections and establish relationships. However, Rosh and Offermann say only to use these stories in times of need.
“Be clear that your goal in revealing yourself at work is to build trust and engender better collaboration and teamwork, not to make friends — though that may happen. So before you share personal information, ask yourself whether it will help you or your job," they wrote.
Honesty is always the best policy
If and when you do open up about yourself in the workplace, be sure to tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate personal stories. While this may sound obvious, research from TalentWise, a hiring process solutions provider, found that more than 33 percent of people applying for a job believed that lying on their resume could help them get the job. If it’s that easy to fib on the resume, it can be pretty easy to exaggerate personal stories to your co-workers.
“Making up stories or exaggerating parts of a narrative to fit the situation may seem like a good idea, but it is easily discovered and can do a lot of harm," Rosh and Offermann wrote. "Instead, try to find real if less-than-perfect disclosures that still capture the emotions of the situation and convey empathy."
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