Power of Haas Ideas

Truth or Consequences?

The effects of concealing who you are on the job

By Pamela Tom

Most people know that hiding something from others can cause internal angst, but new research by Assistant Professor Clayton Critcher suggests the consequences go far beyond emotional strife. In research forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Critcher found that having to conceal information about oneself (e.g., sexual orientation) disrupts one’s intellectual acuity, physical strength, and interpersonal grace—skills and abilities that are critical to workplace success.

“Our work suggests that the wisdom of non-discrimination laws should be debated not merely through a moral lens but also with an appreciation for the loss of economic productivity,” Critcher says.

Critcher’s findings are based on four similar studies. Following a rigged drawing, all participants were assigned to be interviewed. Another supposed participant—who, in reality, was an actor—was the interviewer.

In three of the four studies, some participants were told not to reveal their sexual orientation while answering questions. For example, participants were told that instead of saying “I tend to date men who …,” they could say, “I tend to date people who ….”

After the interview, participants were measured on whether their intellectual, physical, or interpersonal skills were degraded by concealment.

In all cases, the willpower necessary to conceal sexual orientation left people with fewer resources to perform well on other tasks.

“Environments that explicitly or implicitly encourage people to conceal their sexual orientation may signifi- cantly harm workers,” says Critcher. “Establishing a workplace climate that encourages openness by supporting diversity may be one of the easiest ways to enhance productivity.”

[Back to top]