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Emotional Benefits of Coming Out at Work

Research Looks at Impact of Concealing or Revealing Sexual Identity in the Workplace

By Sara Gavin

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UMD-led research found that having opportunities to share your sexual identity in the workplace can have immediate emotional benefits.

Having opportunities to share your sexual identity in the workplace has immediate emotional benefits, finds new UMD-led research.

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a study surveyed 61 lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people who worked full-time in the Washington, D.C., region and had held their jobs for fewer than 12 months. 

Participants carried mobile devices at work for three weeks and used them to describe experiences in which they revealed or concealed their identities on the job. They also answered questions about their emotions immediately after these experiences, as well as each morning of the study. 

Researchers found that the new employees experienced higher levels of anxiety, anger and fatigue on days when they actively hid their sexual orientation. Conversely, workers reported feeling more self-assured and energetic on days when they were comfortable being open with coworkers. Some of these benefits persisted into the next day.

Publication of the study’s findings coincides with the U.S. Supreme Court considering arguments this month about whether laws barring discrimination in the workplace apply to sexual and gender identity. Jonathan Mohr, an associate professor of psychology who led the study, and co-authors hope their findings add to discussions about workplace wellness and diversity.

“Employers would help both their employees and their bottom lines by focusing on creating an accepting and inclusive organizational climate,” said Mohr.

Despite the clear emotional benefits of revealing one’s identity at work, the results don’t imply that LGB employees should come out at work no matter what, he said.

“Obviously, there are situations when doing so can jeopardize work relationships and even impact job security and career advancement,” Mohr said. “We think the emotional benefits of disclosure we observed in the study are due, in part, to the fact that LGB workers are able to read situations carefully and make educated judgments regarding when coming out may be met with support.”

Mohr’s co-authors included: Eden King from Rice University, Hannah Markell from George Mason University, Kristen Jones from the University of Memphis, Chad Peddle from ECS Federal and Matthew Kendra from Stanford University.

The study was funded by the American Psychological Foundation. 

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