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NextGen Magazine


When You Can’t Be Yourself at Work

Jason Wong
Published Date:
Jan 29, 2016

Removing the maskSometimes, out of circumstance or economic necessity, you can find yourself in a work environment where you don’t feel comfortable expressing some or all aspects of your personality. Maybe you’re a big fan of Bernie Sanders, but your corporation is very buttoned-down conservative. Or maybe you’re a very religious person and feel out of place among your more liberal, secular coworkers. Before you start looking somewhere else or resigning yourself to a double life at work, consider asking yourself a few questions first, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review.

Is this something that is fundamentally me? While you may feel strongly about your political or religious views, a good professional rule of thumb is to just avoid these topics, as they can cause unnecessary tension. However, if it’s something like your sexual orientation, managing your identity might be affecting your work poorly. What’s more, research from Deloitte even shows that playing down significant differences at work can have negative psychological consequences.

Will I really be penalized? Is there a history of penalization for the traits you think you have to hide? Appearances can be deceiving; just because your boss is a macho stereotype, doesn’t mean he’s homophobic. And even if you’ve heard of negative consequences for say, tattoos in the past, now that almost half of millennials have them – employers can’t really afford to rule out half of their potential employee pool, especially if the tattoo(s) in question are covered in normal work wear.

That being said, 31 U.S. states still lack explicit antidiscrimination protection for LGBT workers, so implications of being out at work could be a very big deal.

Can I test the waters? You might be able to test the waters a little. Work at a seemingly humorless firm? Try wearing a creative tie one day, or cracking a (non-offensive) joke. If the reaction you get is positive, or even neutral, you may inspire others to follow your lead.