By Sherkiya Wedgeworth

Blog archive

Are you faking it?

Many adults wear several hats as a part of their daily lives. There’s the Work hat, the Mommy/Daddy hat, the Nurse hat, the Friend hat, the Husband/Wife hat, the Therapist hat—the list is endless.

With each hat comes a different set of behaviors, and we have learned to suppress and alter those behaviors and reactions depending on which hat we’re wearing at the moment.

These responses are both natural and learned, and experts contend that covering up those natural responses (your true self) for too many hours of the day is bad for your health.

A lot of the “covering up” happens at the office—where we spend many hours of our day.

“With the amount of time spent in our jobs, our occupations hold such a prominent place in our lives," said Sanna Balsari-Palsule, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Cambridge Judge Business School. "In an ideal world, one’s job would fit one’s traits perfectly, but that’s very rarely the case.”  

Balsari-Palsule has been exploring the health effects of employees acting out of character at work in order to advance. The goal is to assess whether this behavior causes people to experience detriments in their well-being or work performance, and if it increases their chances of burnout.   

In collaboration with Cambridge psychologist Professor Brian Little, who also authored a new book, “Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being,” Balsari-Palsule is conducting an in-depth study on “free-traits,” the natural ability to alter your personality based on your situation.

Specifically, in looking at how utilizing free-traits affects an employees’ ability to get noticed at work or promoted, the researchers' findings suggest that extroverts initially experience advantages over introverts in such situations.

The pair contends that acting out of character for natural introverts is more strenuous and drains more energy, particularly when it is done for long periods, and without any recovery time. However, when a natural introvert is already a leader of an organization and acts out of character to be more extroverted, they have equal work performance ratings as natural extroverts, and report feeling less drained.

At the same time, extroverts who are naturally more outwardly confident find it difficult and just as draining to hold back their personalities and become more introverted. These differences were also mostly commonly found in younger employees.

“It may be that introverts are generally so accustomed to acting extrovertly in situations outside of the workplace that it becomes a relatively easy force of habit, particularly in Western cultures where extroversion is often highly valued,” Balsari-Palsule said. “On the other hand, extrovert employees at the beginning of their careers are much less used to being isolated in an office for long periods of time, so may feel like caged animals, needing to feed off the energy of others in order to thrive.”

These reactions can compromise one’s physical health and psychological well-being, which can easily turn into reductions in productivity and performance and increase absenteeism, the researchers say. 

The ideal working environment includes polices that are supportive of free-trait expression and support employees' ability to be themselves in the workplace, they conclude.

Bottom line: Having employees consistently fake it can be costly to organizations and employees alike. 

And there's nothing fake about that.

Posted by Sherkiya Wedgeworth on May 19, 2015 at 1:46 PM

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