Be yourself at work -- It's healthier and more productive

Rice research finds disclosing non-visible stigmas to co-workers leads to a happier life

25-Feb-2019 12:05 PM EST

Rice University

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Newswise — HOUSTON - (Feb. 25, 2019) - At work, it's healthier and more productive just to be yourself, according to a new study from Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Memphis, Xavier University, Portland State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, "Stigma Expression Outcomes and Boundary Conditions: A Meta-Analysis" will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Business and Psychology. It examines 65 studies focusing on what happens after people in a workplace disclose a stigmatized identity, such as sexual orientation, mental illness, physical disability or pregnancy.

Eden King, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Rice, said the decision to express a stigmatized identity is highly complicated.

"It has the potential for both positive and negative consequences," she said.

However, the research overwhelmingly indicates that people with non-visible stigmas (such as sexual orientation or health problems) who live openly at work are happier with their overall lives and more productive in the workplace. King said self-disclosure is typically a positive experience because it allows people to improve connections, form relationships with others and free their minds of unwanted thoughts.

Workers who expressed their non-visible stigmas experienced decreased job anxiety, decreased role ambiguity, improved job satisfaction and increased commitment to their position. Outside of work, these workers reported decreased psychological stress and increased satisfaction with their lives.

But the study found that the same results did not apply to people with visible traits, such as race, gender and physical disability.

"Identities that are immediately observable operate differently than those that are concealable," King said. "The same kinds of difficult decisions about whether or not to disclose the identity -- not to mention the questions of to whom, how, when and where to disclose those identities -- are probably less central to their psychological experiences."

King said that because most people appreciate gaining new information about others, the expression of visible stigmas is likely to be less impactful.

"Also, people react negatively to those who express or call attention to stigmas that are clearly visible to others, such as race or gender, as this may be seen as a form of advocacy or heightened pride in one's identity," she said.

The researchers said more work needs to be done to understand the motivations for expressing different stigmas. They hope this meta-analysis will be used to help workplaces and policymakers protect individuals with stigmas from discrimination.

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The study's lead author was Rice alumnus Isaac Sabat '12, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A&M University. Co-authors were Alex Lindsey and Kristen Jones of the University of Memphis; Carolyn Winslow of the University of California, Berkeley; Ashley Membere of Xavier University; and Nicholas Smith of Portland State University.

For more information, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or amym@rice.edu.

This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu/.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Eden King bio: https://psychology.rice.edu/eden-king

Rice Department of Psychological Sciences: https://psychology.rice.edu/

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,962 undergraduates and 3,027 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 2 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.

If you do not wish to receive news releases from Rice University, reply to this email and write "unsubscribe" in the subject line. Office of News and Media Relations - MS 300, Rice University, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005

David Ruth 
713-348-6327 
david@rice.edu

Amy McCaig 
713-348-6777 
amym@rice.edu

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