Why Honesty Isn't The Best Policy At Work

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Ever wondered what that fake smile you pop on as your boss walks by might be doing to your mental health? Well, according to psychologists, how authentically people act at work has no bearing on their overall wellbeing.

So next time you’re grinning wildly at your manager’s latest ‘great idea’ you can take heart from a survey that suggests such behaviour does no major psychological damage.

Scientists from the University of Greenwich assessed levels of “authentic self expression” in 522 volunteers to see how far they opened up to people they interacted with socially.

Participants were much less likely to “be themselves” with work colleagues, than partners, friends and parents, researchers found. And while those who showed their true selves to partners tended to have greater wellbeing and were more satisfied with life, the same benefits were not seen from being authentic at work.

Dr Oliver Robinson, from the University of Greenwich in London, said: "You hear self-help gurus say that the secret of happiness is 'being yourself' or 'expressing your true feelings', but that doesn't seem to apply in the workplace.

"So in some circumstances, it may be that a polite smile or tactfully keeping quiet may be more conducive to your wellbeing than saying what you actually think and feel to work colleagues."

But Eve Menezes Cunningham of Wellbeing At Work suggests that being ‘authentic’ and ‘professional’ can go hand in hand.

“Authenticity, to me, is about honouring your feelings but not acting them out,” Cunningham told HuffPost Lifestyle

“People vent and bully and behave in other unprofessional ways calling it ‘authentic behaviour’ when really it's poor impulse control. Other times at work, we feel stressed and think we have to hide it, when we would do better to tell our colleagues in a professional manner, so the situation can be managed.”

Valerie Young, author of Changing Course adds that while it’s natural to go into “protective mode” while at work, to ensure you don’t create a negative impression, individuals should resist taking this too far.

“If your authentic self is afraid to take risks - or worries that you're not smart or capable enough to move ahead - you shouldn't listen to that part of yourself regardless of how "authentic" it feels. Rather you need to act confident despite any normal self-doubt or fear.”

But, don’t get so used to acting confident, polished and impervious to criticism that you take the pose home with you, warns Dr Oliver Robinson.

“In our study, being inauthentic at work had no negative impact on wellbeing and life satisfaction, unlike inauthenticity with partner or friends, which was significantly related to reduced wellbeing and life satisfaction.”

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