Posted by: outandequal | August 11, 2011

Closet Case: How Staying in the Closet Could Hurt Your Career

Michael Aiyar, Summer Special Projects Intern 2011

By Michael Aiyar

Over the summer, I’ve been doing a lot of research about the workplace environment for LGBTQ employees, and some of the things I read surprised me – so I thought I’d share.

Did you know that being out at work can actually be beneficial to your career? Here are two ways that I found being out can benefit you at work:

 Reduce Office Stress.

Being closeted takes a lot of energy, and that comes with a pretty high cognitive cost. Hiding one’s identity from others for long periods of time is theorized to involve a process called emotional regulation, which is basically the concept of using mental energy to consciously control and manage one’s emotions, reactions, and mannerisms (Grandey, 2000).  In this case, someone would use emotional regulation to cover up or hide from colleagues his or her personal life and any other characteristics that might point to being LGBTQ. Emotional regulation of any kind (but especially something that would take as much energy as concealing your sexuality or gender identity) has been shown to negatively affect performance in reading comprehension, logic, deductive reasoning, and overall productivity (Madera, 2010). It can also lead to extremely high levels of stress and burnout for employees (Grandey, 2000).  In other words, being out can certainly reduce your stress at work, but it also might make you more productive (and in that way, better at your job) than before.

It Might Help You Get a Promotion.

While there are many ways that someone could go about getting a promotion, one of the most successful seems to be making yourself familiar to management (HBR, 2009). That way, you’ll be in the back of their minds when they are looking to promote. That kind of familiarity can only come from some sort of personal interaction, and according to the Harvard Business Review, the stifled social interactions at work (which HBR calls “workplace banter”) that result from the emotional control and regulation needed to be in the closet could be one of the major reasons that someone would be passed over for a promotion (HBR, 2009). It can also partially explain the overwhelming percentage of closeted LGBTQ employees (68%) who are unsatisfied with their promotion rates (HRC State of the Workplace, 2008).

What These Findings Mean.

It is important to keep in mind that coming out is a very individual decision, and there are unfortunately still many workplaces where it is not safe or beneficial to be out. However, if you work somewhere where coming out is an option, it could be a good idea to take a minute and consider the potential benefits. Research shows that it can help increase your productivity levels, decrease your stress, and perhaps – even get you a raise.

What could be better than that?

If you would like more information about emotional regulation, please go HERE

If you would like to learn more about why it’s a good idea to be out at work, please go HERE

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