There Are Consequences to Not Being Yourself at Work

Sometimes who you are at work is not exactly who you are at home.

Perhaps your work persona is more organized or even more extraverted.

While it’s normal to behave differently in different situations, what happens if your job requires you to regularly be someone you’re not.

PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Cambridge, Sanna Balsari-Palsule has been deeply researching this very issue.

Although personality seems to be largely genetic, people are able to act against their nature when needed. This concept named ‘free traits’ was pioneered by University of Cambridge psychologist Brian Little, who is collaborating with Balsari-Palsule.

Although capable of acting against our natures, it comes at a price. If it is done for too long, you risk increased stress, burnout, and even physical health problems.

Balsari-Palsule was curious how this would turn out in the workplace especially since your job can require certain behaviors from you that aren’t natural. She rounded 300 workers at a U.K. marketing firm and asked them to complete personality tests and surveys about their work life. She was also able to obtain information about their job performance and promotions history.

Although the data is still being analyzed, one finding so far is that it appears extraverts seem to suffer when they pretend to be introverts at work, even more so than introverts who take on an extraverted role.

Social people who were forced to perform quiet desk work reported higher levels of stress and less job satisfaction than social people who were allowed to express themselves naturally.

Suppressing your true self can also lower immune system response and have other health issues, reports Little.

Balsari-Palsule believes this research doesn’t just extend to introversion and extraversion but all personality traits. Acting out of character on any of the big 5 personality traits, can be harmful. The other four personality traits are:

  1. Openness: Includes characteristics such as imagination, insight, openness to new ideas and variety of interests.
  2. Conscientiousness: Cover attributes such as level of organisation, achievement orientation and dependability.
  3. Agreeableness: Includes features such as friendliness, kindness, trust and sensitivity.
  4. Neuroticism: Emotional stability, irritability and moodiness.

How to Undo the Damage

If you’ve not been yourself at work and feel the negative effects, you need to give time to allow yourself to revert back to your true self.

If you’re an introvert find time to recharge your batteries if you have had an extraverted day. Similarly if you’re extraverted go out to lunch with colleagues or find time to connect with other people.

Restorative periods allow you to recalibrate and remain stable at work which might be pulling you in unhealthy directions. While you may be able to fake it at work, you need to be able to restore yourself if you hope to have any longevity and lasting success and health

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