- Employees are more productive at work when they can be their authentic selves on the job, according to a study shared Feb. 3 by the University of Arkansas.
- In a study of 2,500 working adults, researchers analyzed two types of emotion regulation people use at work: "surface acting" and "deep acting." Surface acting involved faking positive emotions; deep acting involved an attempt to change one's emotions. With deep acting, individuals try to feel more positively in an effort to be more pleasant, the researchers explained.
- "We found that people who put forth effort to display positive emotions towards others at work — versus faking their feelings — receive higher levels of support and trust from co-workers," said Chris Rosen, a management professor and study co-author, in a media release. "These people also reported significantly higher levels of progress on work goals likely due to the support they received."
While authenticity at work can build trust among co-workers, it has its limits, according to Laura Small, vice president and people director at Rubin Postaer and Associates. In today's less formal work environment, the line between informal and formal behavior in the workplace can get blurred, leading to unacceptable self-expression, she warned in a 2018 op-ed for HR Dive. "We’ve bent over backwards to encourage authenticity, and had that invitation abused by employees who are either too inexperienced or too unprofessional to know how to manage it," she said.
This shift will require employers to find a balance, Seth Mattison, co-founder and chief movement officer at Luminate, told attendees at a recent conference. "With freedom comes ambiguity and uncertainty as things move and change very fast," he said. For example, as employers like Zappos experiment with flat structures, Mattison noted that hierarchy makes many workers feel safe.
For HR, this means carefully constructing a culture that encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work, while maintaining the desired level of professionalism. HR can, for example, set conduct rules that require respect for co-workers. While such rules must not interfere with workers' National Labor Relations Act rights, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes the position that employers are free to require respectful behavior — whether that's generally following a hierarchical reporting structure or using an employee's proper pronouns.