Why It Doesn't Pay to Be Yourself at Work

LONDON — Whether it comes from self-help gurus, popular magazines or parents, the advice sounds the same: Just be yourself.

And while it is true that being authentic is highly correlated with happiness, new research suggests it depends on the context.

"Authenticity correlates strongly with well-being and life satisfaction," said researcher Oliver Robinson Thursday (April 19) here at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference.

But it doesn't really matter at work, he said.

Robinson, of the University of Greenwich, and colleagues at the University of Houston used an online survey to question 533 part-time workers and professionals about where and with whom they were their true selves. For example, they were asked to rate the verity of statements such as "I feel it is more important to be myself than to be popular," and finish sentences like "I disclose my deepest feelings to …"

In general, people reported being most themselves with their romantic partners, followed by friends and parents. They admitted being least themselves in the workplace.

The subjects also filled out questionnaires that scaled their relative psychological well-being and satisfaction with life, answering questions that assessed, for example, relative optimism and sense of life purpose. While being authentic in other contexts correlated positively with these factors, being one's true self at work did not, explained Robinson.

Among the context-dependent predictors of happiness, one was particularly robust: being your true self with your partner.

So while expressing your true feelings is important, especially in intimate relationships, Robinson said, "should you bother being yourself at work?"

If the point is mental well-being, he said, answering his own question, "not really."

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