11 October 2017

Being 'in the closet' at work is stressful for gay people

A study found that both men and women benefited when they disclosed their sexual orientation at work.

Work is stressful enough, and adding the burden of hiding your sexual orientation could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  

Work and home life suffer when people in same-sex relationships try to hide their sexual orientation from co-workers, a new study finds.

Satisfaction a factor

"Hiding your sexual orientation can be thought of as a demand of the job, in that you're having to hide it and devise strategies, from using different pronouns, not mentioning your spouse, or not including your spouse in work-related parties or other functions," said study first author Rachel Williamson. She is a doctoral candidate in industrial-organisational psychology at the University of Georgia.

Findings from the study were published online in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

"The efforts required to hide sexual orientation from a supervisor impact the partner's family satisfaction. The partner being less satisfied at home explains why the partner is in turn experiencing this family interference with their work," she said in a university news release.

Previous research published in Plos has also found that homosexual men are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses than heterosexual men because of the stress of being a social minority.

Men experience more negative consequences

The study included 89 same-sex couples.

According to study co-author Malissa Clark, "There are many reasons an employee may hide these details about their lives from their co-workers or supervisor, as well as decide who they disclose to and why, all of which are sources of stress."

Clark, an assistant professor of psychology, said that both men and women benefited when they disclosed their sexual orientation at work. But men experienced more negative consequences when they weren't fully open about their sexual orientation, she said.

An open culture at work

Williamson said, "Our results show why it's important that organisations foster an open culture and allow people of sexual minority status to feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation, that it helps not only their own well-being, but that it impacts their partner."

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