Many of today's companies claim they value "authenticity," and want employees to feel comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas. But often, it's the companies themselves that keep their workers from being genuine in the workplace, especially during times of job insecurity, according to new research.
A study from the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business suggests that employees who feel their jobs are threatened are more likely to engage in creating "facades of conformity" — or constructing a more "acceptable," if not fully authentic, self-image. However, the research also shows how these facades can negatively impact an employee's performance and possibly even lead them to quit.
"Our study … shows that employees create facades of conformity to cope with job insecurity, but, ironically, facades of conformity can have an adverse impact on one's feelings of attachment to the organization," said Sung Soo Kim, assistant professor of management at the Daniels College of Business. "In other words, the actual effort to better 'fit in' via inauthentic expression can become taxing and foster a level of detachment from the organization."
There are a number of other company culture-related reasons why employees might be inauthentic in the workplace. Perhaps an employee views the company's values as different from his or her own, or maybe the employee believes the workplace is intolerant to certain perspectives. The employee may even want to impress an influential person within the organization. Whatever the reason, these facades of conformity carry the potential to derail creativity and innovation, as well as damage the employee's productivity.
So how can businesses help prevent employees from feeling the need to fit a certain mold?
The researchers suggest that the best way to avoid the construction of facades is to welcome dissent. Doing so will help employees feel as though they don't need to suppress personal values or embrace any values they don't actually identify with. The study notes that this is especially true for younger workers, as older workers are more likely to express divergent opinions regardless of their perceived job security.
"Employees … across multiple industries are facing job insecurity as a result of layoffs, mergers, and acquisitions," the researchers wrote in the study. "The results from our study highlight the importance of organizational leaders to build environments where members can be authentic and not feel pressured to suppress personal values and pretend to embrace organizational values in a job-insecure workplace.
"During economically vulnerable times as these, it is particularly critical for organizational leaders to gain diverse, and even divergent insight and views to help their organizations learn and identify solutions to the unique challenges of today," the researchers wrote.
The paper on the study, entitled "Creating facades of conformity in the face of job insecurity: a study of consequences and conditions," was first published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.