It’s absolutely more productive to bring your wild, messy self to work, study says

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For decades, a buttoned-up, reserved “work face” was the professional norm. You didn’t talk about your life outside work, and as far as your boss was concerned, you didn’t have one.

Jerry Colonna, the cofounder and CEO of Reboot, an executive coaching and leadership development firm, recently summarized it on the On Being podcast as a mindset of, “You leave the personal at the door” — you don’t bring it into the workplace. That got promulgated across multiple generations with people saying, ‘Well, don’t bring your feelings into work.’

Recently, that way of working fell out of fashion, with the “whole self” movement – the idea of bringing your entire (sometimes messy, sometimes overbearing) self to work every day. Being yourself at work, Colonna said, “It’s that we create an environment in which people have the freedom and the invitation to be fully themselves and to actually find the experience of being at work a means to becoming a more full human being and an adult — the art of growing up.”


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Being your authentic self at work was the subject of a recent study from several universities – Rice, Xavier, Texas A&M, the University of Memphis, Portland State University, and the University of California, Berkeley.

The results? Bringing your entire self to work is healthier and more productive.

After analyzing 65 previous studies on the results of employees revealing an oft-stigmatized trait, such as sexual orientation, mental illness, or pregnancy, researchers said their findings overwhelmingly indicate that those who are open regarding these non-visible traits are more productive at work and happier in life.

Unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold with more visible traits such as gender, race, or physical disabilities, researchers found.

“Identities that are immediately observable operate differently than those that are concealable,” said Eden King, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Rice, in a release. “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 the identities – are probably less central to their psychological experiences.”

Still, according to this study, you’ll probably find that people at work appreciate gaining new information about you – and may tell you something about themselves in return.