Executive Briefing

Concealing Identity Has an Economic Impact; HR Teams Rank Low In Analytical Skills

By Dori Meinert
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Concealing Identity Has an Economic Impact

Being forced to hide personal information, such as sexual orientation, can be emotionally stressful. However, researchers also have found that it can negatively affect employees’ productivity and interactions with co-workers.

For employees, the strain of constantly monitoring what they say takes its toll on their work, says Clayton R. Critcher, assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

The research adds an economic perspective to what has been primarily a moral debate over the treatment of gays and lesbians in the workplace, he says.

"Employees perform best when they feel comfortable being open about themselves and their identities at work," says Critcher, who conducted the study with Melissa J. Ferguson, associate psychology professor at Cornell University.

They conducted three studies in which some participants were instructed not to reveal their sexual orientation during mock interviews. In the fourth study, the researchers measured whether the participants’ intellectual, physical and interpersonal skills were degraded by concealment. In one study, the participants who concealed their sexual orientation performed 17 percent worse on a military spatial intelligence test than those who went through the interview without instructions to conceal. In another experiment, participants told to hide their sexual orientation exhibited 20 percent less physical stamina. In other tests, participants responded with more anger to a snippy e-mail from a superior and demonstrated poorer performance in executive cognitive functioning.

"Given that people’s sexual identities will inevitably enter into workplace dynamics, sexual orientation should not be treated as a possibly taboo secret but as a type of acceptable and welcome diversity," Critcher says. "If these norms can be made explicit early, such as in job applications or the interview process, gay and lesbian prospects can proceed openly and honestly in a way that will allow them to perform to their potential."

The study, "The Cost of Keeping It Hidden: Decomposing Concealment Reveals What Makes It Depleting," was published online in June 2013 prior to publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

HR Teams Rank Low In Analytical Skills

HR departments around the world are viewed as having lower analytical skills than other departments, leaving them ill-prepared for the era of "big data," concludes a study by the American Management Association (AMA) released in October 2013.

In a survey of 789 business professionals in more than 40 countries, only 27 percent ranked their HR staff as being "experts" or "advanced." In contrast, 58 percent gave finance departments the highest rankings, while 51 percent placed executive teams in the top categories.

Half of the surveyed business professionals—they were largely managers and directors—believe that HR professionals have only a "basic" ability. (HR professionals made up the largest subgroup of survey respondents—18 percent.)

"Professionals at all levels have to know what questions to ask and how to make wise choices based on data," says Robert G. Smith, AMA senior vice president.

The survey shows that analytical skills will become even more important in the next five years, requiring companies to ramp up training and development to hone those skills. A lack of resources and corporate culture are the biggest roadblocks preventing organizations from fully leveraging big data, the study found.

"It used to be OK that only a handful of experts in a company had analytical responsibilities, but no longer," he says. "Every function must have the right people with the right skills."

The study, "Conquering Big Data: A Study of Analytical Skills in the Workplace," was conducted for the AMA by the Institute for Corporate Productivity.

For examples of how HR departments are using big data, read HR Magazine’s October 2013 cover story, "The Benefits of Big Data." 

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