Being yourself at work has its downsides for many people

Being yourself has its downsidesBeing yourself at work has a lot of positive effects. Research supports the hypothesis that authenticity can lead to psychological benefits, including boosting self-esteem, and making people feel happier and more energised at work. But according to new research from academics at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) authenticity can also be a recipe for disaster. The study ‘Being your true self at work’ reviews the extant empirical work across 10 different authenticity constructs. and has been published in the Academy of Management Annals.

According to Associate Professor Hannes Leroy, Whether you have your first day at school, a job interview or are going on a date, people will always tell you: “just be yourself” and everything will be alright.  We also use authenticity as a standard by which we measure people. For instance, people get excited when they meet leaders who seem ‘real.’

However, our study found that being yourself is not equally beneficial for everybody. There can be a clear disconnect between feeling authentic and being perceived as authentic. What is really important is if you want to be successful in the workplace, meaning you want to be seen as a better leader, as someone who is good at closing deals, is that you are perceived as authentic. But only if it is also aligned with feeling authentic. And that’s where it often goes wrong,” says Leroy.

Dr Leroy hopes that people become more aware of the challenges and tensions around authenticity and shares advise to increase both felt and perceived authenticity. First, be careful with calling yourself authentic since feeling authentic yourself negatively correlates with perceived authenticity. Second, it is important to be better in authenticity as it does influence your well-being, your chance of being promoted or getting that job. But it’s complex and hard and appropriate training is needed. Find yourself a training which is not only about feeling authentic, which also is very important, but one who also makes the bridge to perceived authenticity.

Conversely, a recent report from Bupa on wellbeing in the workplace concluded that allowing people to be ‘their whole selves at work’ is essential for their wellbeing and can overcome discrimination and other negative aspects of people’s working lives.

Image by Gerd Altmann