It takes some time to get comfortable at a new job. So many names to remember, so many new workflow processes to get down, so many weird office power dynamics to privately intuit on your own time. It takes a while before you feel like you can let your guard down, and be yourself.
How much time does it take? This is the question a team of social psychologists — Vanessa Buote and Anne Wilson of Wilfrid Laurier University, in Ontario, along with research firm Plasticity Labs — recently set out to investigate. In Harvard Business Review this week, Buote outlines the way they did their research:
Two hundred and thirteen employees completed an online survey on authenticity at work, workplace characteristics (e.g., dress code), and workplace sentiment (job satisfaction, engagement, sense of community, etc.). The survey asked participants to respond to statements such as “My workplace environment encourages all employees to express who they really are,” “When I’m at work, I don’t show the ‘the real me,’” and “I would like my coworkers to show more of their true selves at work.
Most of the employees surveyed recalled it taking about two or three months before they felt like they could be themselves at their new workplace, though some said it took much longer: Nine percent of the employees said it took up to a year, and another nine percent said it took even longer than that. Overall, about two-thirds of the respondents said they did eventually feel like they could be some authentic version of themselves at work.
So that suggests, on the other hand, that a third of the employees at this company felt like they needed to fake their personality at work, for one reason or another. It’s not clear how widely we can extrapolate these results — it could be something about this particular firm’s culture —but, even at the individual level, it’s a potential problem.
A quick caveat about the research summarized above: It hasn’t appeared in an academic journal, which means it hasn’t been peer-reviewed — which means there may be some issues with the way the study was conducted that we don’t know about. But the findings do echo previous studies on the subject — in 2013, for instance, researchers found that when people feel like they can be their authentic selves at work, they tend to enjoy their jobs more, and to feel more highly engaged in their work.
This is not to say that you should behave at the office exactly the way you would in your own home. (Please do not do this.) “People are multidimensional: There can be variations in the way people express themselves at home and at work, yet both expressions may be consistent with their true selves,” Buote writes. “As employees, we should be asking ourselves not whether we express our true selves in the exact same ways at home and work but rather whether our self-expressions at both home and work reflect who we really are.” You still have to be polite. You still have to wear pants. But you should also still be you.